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The 'Before' Life

by Jessawhy

I admit it. I’m walking around in my ‘BEFORE’ life right now.

My kids run and play (or hit each other in the face with a bat, whichever). I go out to dinner and a movie with my husband. We have food on the table, a roof over our heads, a big network of family and friends that love us.

We even have Rock Band (best. game. ever.  Just ask EmilyCC, she’s amazing on the guitar)

Yeah, we’re coasting, doing fine.

Recently, my list of people to pray for has grown longer and longer.  So many people are having life-altering trials. I’m trying to understand what’s going on around me and frame these struggles in a way that makes sense to me and prepares me for similar catastrophes in my own life.  I know we’re currently living the ‘Before’ life.

Before cancer.

Before a child dies.

Before a terrible accident.

Before a parent dies.

Before discovering a pornography addiction.

Before a sibling or friend is injured and scarred for life.

Before you have to bury your baby.

Before divorce.

Before a spouse dies or is disabled.

All of these people are living in the ‘after’ part of their lives. Some of them are friends that I know and love. Their ‘befores’ didn’t look much different than mine.  So many of life’s challenges blindside us and we can only look back at the ‘before’ days like they were a dream. Although we don’t all go through the same trials, most of us can relate to the ‘before’ and ‘after’ days.

My only bit of hope is that there are so many people I know who are here, who are walking around ‘after.’  They say that it’s hard, that it’s not by choice, that they’d lie in bed all day if they could. But, they still do, they get up and live.

Jessawhy

Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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  1. Deborah says:

    Thanks, Jesswhy. It was a rough weekend, one where I was stuck trying to use metaphor to describe my emotions to my husband . . . as if I am untethered, unmoored, wondering where the tide is taking me. After the confluence of events this last month, I keep returning to Zora Neale Hurston’s line in “Their Eyes Were Watching God”: There are years that ask questions and years that answer. I’ve been struck by the “after”-survivors who have reached out — in particular my father-in-law and step-mother-in-law who have both buried spouses and who are dealing with health issues of their own — and yet who have treated my grief for my father as something unique, something worth encircling about with their stronger arms than mine. I think we are each others angels . . .

  2. ZD Eve says:

    Great post, Jessawhy. I’ve had a lot of reason lately to think about what a “before” life I’m currently living. Maybe the most important aspect of a “before” life is that those periods give us the emotional and spiritual reserves to reach out to those who are doing all they can just to survive the aftermath of the “after” life.

    Deborah, I’m so sorry about the loss of your father. Best wishes for comfort, healing, and peace.

  3. Jessawhy says:

    Deborah,
    Thank you for your beautiful comment. It deserves it’s own post.
    I love this line especially,
    “I think we are each others angels . . .”
    Absolutely. Your words really fill the void that my (somewhat depressing) post creates.
    Life isn’t just about noticing and preparing for tragedy, it’s about loving and ministering to others through theirs.
    I am glad that you are finding support through your struggle and I hope you find healing in the weeks and months ahead.

    ZD Eve,
    I like your perspective on the “before” life. We certainly do need a time to gather emotional and spiritual reserves to help people around us who are struggling.
    What I’ve found most difficult, in watching my friend struggle with the death of her one year old son, is that the people who can most help her are the ones who have lost children themselves. It’s almost like a club. Only the “after” people can really comfort someone who’s going through the worst. The rest of us don’t seem to get it, although we do our best.
    It seems a bit ironic to me.

  4. Caroline says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Jess. Lovely post.

  5. cornnut32 says:

    thank you for your post. it really made me think a lot about my life, and wonder if it is a before or after. the conclusion i came to is that it’s almost always a before. there is always another person whose struggles are wose than mine, someone who needs my love, understanding, and support. i should concentrate on helping others instead of my problems.

    thank you for helping me regain some perspective.

  6. EmilyCC says:

    Beautiful post, Jess!

    Ok, this is going to make me sound crazy, but sometimes, I get scared living this “before” life. I walk through the house and think, “What tragedy will come here?” (because my family has this strange idea that if we worry about something before it happens, it will, I don’t know, be less shocking, eaiser to deal with–whatever, not a thought process I would recommend going through)

    Lately, I’ve been wondering if, in some metaphysical way, we alleviate each other’s burdens when we witness and engage in the “after” lives…when we mourn the divorce of another, when we grieve for the lost life of a child.

    When we choose to feel a small part of the pain of a loved one/friend/stranger does it dissipate the pain that is felt by those who feel it most acutely?

  7. LCM says:

    We are currently living in the After life. After 2 years of chemo treatment for my 4-6 year old. 1/3 of her little life. I just hope we get to keep living in this after life and not have it be a before life of something horrible.

  8. Jessawhy says:

    Caroline, thanks.

    cornnut32,
    It really is almost always the before life, isn’t it? It is most important to focus on helping others, rather than on our own struggles.
    Thanks for your comment.

    EmilyCC, I know what you mean about being scared. I do feel that way. But you and I both are in the after phases to some extent, dealing with children with special medical needs. That’s something, but we both know it’s not everything.
    I mean, I even have all 4 of my grandparents still living. I’m scared that someone I love is going to die anyday. But, if it happens, it happens. And we get through it.
    I had exactly the same feeling about sharing the pain of friends when I was sitting on the couch with my friend who had just returned from picking out the casket for her little boy. We just cried and cried and I held her hand.
    I don’t think I can alleviate her suffering at all. But, I think that grieving with her is all I can do, and perhaps it’s something.
    I really think the only person who can take our grief is God, and I don’t even know how well that works for people. There is just a lot of time and places for grieving in this life.

    LCM,
    I assume that from your comment your daughter is in remission. What a hard road that must have been. I hope that you are solidly in the after part of that struggle, but you are right that there is always another struggle on the horizon. Thank you for your comment and I wish you a nice long break from that kind of trial. (perhaps you can have the trial of a grumpy neighbor down the street, where you just have to take him cookies occasionally.) Wouldn’t it be nice if our trials were that easy to fix? 🙂

  9. gladtobeamom says:

    I have been thinking along these lines as well. My dear friend lost her daughter to DIPG just Monday morning after 11 long months of treatments and praying for a miracle. I have thought about how hard it is going to be the day after the funeral when my friend and her family have to pick up life and get back to “normal”. No more treatments, more then likely the huge amount of help they have been getting will grow less and less yet they will have to go on with life with the rest of their children. I am imagining the after can be more difficult then what they have experienced the last year.

  10. I think that you are right Jess with the “before” and “after.” I would like to add though… we all have before and afters. We have them daily. Each experience, each child, each trial, each special needs child, each person we meet can be put into the category of “before” and “after.” My life before and after meeting you will forever be changed (of course for the better :)).

    But I would also add that we define a new “normal.” While we may not like it or appreciate it or want it, the new “normal” is defined as each stage of our life is completed or begun, whether it be daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, or after a huge event big, small, good, or bad.

    Only thing that stays the same is “change”

    PS any chance I can get the email address of the mom who lost her 11 month old? There is a blog I would like to invite her to.

  11. Oh sorry, she wasn’t 11 months old, but the one who lost the little girl

  12. Kiri Close says:

    For some strange reason, Rob & I seem to be living in the “before we pay off my school loans” epoch of our lives.

    Sounds trite, I know, but that’s the liminal phase we’re in right now. It’s been a serious blessing that we can get rid of all our IOU’s and significantly save in one felled swoop over the next year or two: my hubby the nurse, myself a full-time teacher (and I only teach twice a week! life is too lovely) at the Oglala Lakota College on the notorious, fabulous Pine Ridge Reservation (‘rez’ the Lakota say) few minutes north of us. My professorship was a surprise offer when we first landed here in Nebraska (just a teeny serving of pleasant pride worthy of mention).

    It’s not that I am waiting for the aesthetics of my life to REALLY begin. I think, for me, there’s no lack of artful activity to dive into. I always tend to find something enjoyable to do (even if I hate some or much of my environs). Aesthetic living is not the problem as I never put a hold on that.

    It’s just that we’re anxious to shed some financial burdens (thankfully, not too, too big) and begin saving toward sustaining wealth ASAP. For a while I was considering investing, but my Spidey senses clearly scream “no” for now on that (thanks to Lehman Bros & Merrill Lynch – no longer the kings on the hill).

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