I’m so honored to bring my dear friend Christie’s story to this space. Her friendship and courage is a constant in my life since meeting her. She’s taught me more about loving myself than probably any other friend I’ve had in life. Not because she is trying to teach me, but because she just lives her damn life so unapologetically. Maybe it’s because we met in mid-life or maybe it was because she’d lived through more than I can even imagine, but either way I believe this to be true, if I learn to show up in my life like Christie shows up in her life, I will be living a wholehearted life. With days filled with laughter, coffee, art, deep conversations, tears, music and hopes and dreams of building brave communities where children can thrive.
Courage compounds when we tell our stories. We practice courage by listening to those stories even when they become almost too much to bear. Read more about Christie Johnston’s unique perspective on being resilient after dealing with extraordinary loss…
Guest: Christie Johnston
I thought this was going to be easier to write, to put my story down on paper. A story that I have shared with many over the last few years. And yet, I have started writing this 20 different ways. Because how do you start your story when you think in terms of before and after. Before you learned what soul crushing grief was and after, when you had to learn how to breath again, rise and move forward. I have decided to start when it happened, when my whole being would forever be altered.
Our first son, Guinn, was born in July 2015. A big boy; beautiful, fuzzy blond hair, he had my nose and mouth and his fathers’ long arms and legs. Guinn was born with global brain trauma. Doctors and specialists described the trauma yet had no answers as to the cause. We spent five days in the NICU surrounding Guinn with family, friends and medical terms that I couldn’t comprehend. After a discussion on short and long term effects of the trauma, we made the decision to pull him off all supports that were keeping him alive. We spent his last night telling him stories and playing him a list of our favorite songs. I held onto him for as long I could and then he was gone.
I felt raw and numb all at the same time. I spent the next few months waking up to what I can only describe as grief induced rage crying. Willing myself to take breathes, steps, eat or get out of bed. Parents who had also lost a child, came forward and offered words of wisdom that I wrote down and kept. I go back to them every so often when I can’t catch my breath or get off the bathroom floor. I learned the true meaning of community. We experienced family, friends and strangers showing up in unexpected ways. We received cards, visits, calls, emails, texts, flowers, gifts and a doomed tree sapling.
My husband, Parrish, and I decided that losing Guinn wasn’t going to take us to a place that we couldn’t come back from. We decided to focus on the good that we continued to see bit by bit. We decided not to dwell on the reasons why, or how the trauma happened. Deciding to try to have another child gave me peace of mind. It quieted the story I had been telling myself that it was my fault, I had done something wrong during pregnancy or that Parrish would never forgive or trust me again. We talked about Guinn to each other and those that would allow us. I forced myself to face waves of grief. I began walking in the morning with a new friend. She called me strong and resilient in a Facebook post. It had now been a year after losing my child and I was shocked to see that someone saw me as strong and resilient. What happened next was nothing short of a seismic shift in my mind.
I finally picked up a book by Brene Brown, ‘Rising Strong’. I read more of her work. I continued to read and rumble with thoughts of resiliency and vulnerability, showing up with integrity and calling truth to bullshit. I was finding my voice after losing Guinn and I felt okay. Don’t get me wrong, I was still waking up clutching Guinn’s baby blanket with wet puffy eyes every morning. I was also able to feel the pain, sit with it, feel it roll over me and away for now. I was giving people the benefit of the doubt for the first time, understanding that everyone has a story, often unseen. And yet, I found that I no longer had the patience to spend time with people who had little to no respect for others and those stories. I was done with people’s bullshit. Parrish, grieving in his own way, was getting the initial brunt of my new found resiliency and vulnerability. He listened and supported me as I worked my way through all of this. We learned that resiliency and moving through pain and grief looked different for everyone and that was okay.
I used all of the above through my next pregnancy. I gave birth to another beautiful boy. A child that brings my emotions to the top of the charts every day, all of them. I like to think that I’m a better mother and parent because of my journey. I give him the benefit of the doubt, most of the time. I am doing the best that I can, most of the time. And l fall. And I will continue to fall.
Almost four years later and I am still learning that resiliency happens in small steps and big bounds. On my wall at work I have the quote that Brown shares in ‘Daring Greatly’ from Theodor Roosevelt’s 1910 speech in Paris. Reading it reminds me how far I’ve come. I have been face down in the arena, marred by dust, sweat and blood. And I got up and tried again. I choose to get up because would we be honoring Guinn if we didn’t? Like any mother, I want to teach my child that you can be vulnerable and strong. That life is beautiful and challenging at the same time. And that you can fall and rise, stronger than you were before.