What Grief and Loss Taught Me about Gratitude

Select Image from “It Happens” (2014) Series by Stephanie Brown

I won’t bury the lead, instead I’ll come out front with it. The loss in my life over the past year alone, along with my continued transition into the depths of my 30th year alive have taken me on a tumultuous emotional roller coaster. And yet I’m here, I’m present, and despite it all I’m thriving in the midst of my healing. My Saturn Return is not my end, nor my beginning, but a transition to everything I was built to become.

In the past 11 months, chronologically, I lost my father-in-law, found out my Dad had cancer, got fired from my job, watched my Dad decline and take his last breath, and experienced a miscarriage at 6 weeks pregnant.

*Deep Breath*

I know that’s a lot. But I’m writing not to dwell on my losses but to ruminate on what I’ve learned through all this loss and grief. These are things both my husband and I experienced together. All these moments in time that were tragically different in their own ways were surrounded by several joys, revelations, and pure blessings that honestly make the grief harder but simultaneously makes the process of healing more rewarding.

In those same past 11 months, chronologically, we bought a house, I sold the my largest amount of art since moving to Atlanta at Articulate ATL, bought our dog Taro, I supported my best friend giving birth in New York, celebrated 2 years of marriage, hosted family in our home, had Thanksgiving with my parents in Florida, accepted a new remote full-time job that actually paid me appropriately, spent Christmas with my entire family in Florida, supported my mom in-person while my Dad transitioned, went on a 2 week remote artist residency in the woods, accepted a new challenging part-time role with ADAMA, and got pregnant.

I spent a lot of time being angry, depressed, and crying almost daily through several of these moments. Everything changed for me during my time away at the artist residency, Hambidge, where the silence and disconnection from everyone really set it. I was forced to rest in a way I hadn’t in what felt like years. My brain poured out letters, poems, rants, and everything. Just a backlog of emotions and thoughts I had been holding in with no place to put them. I got to read again. Literally sit and read a book all day from start to finish. It had been so long since I read a book cover to cover. Like my dear friend Sierra suggested, Hambidge is truly where I remembered why I began. I left Hambidge so thankful not just for the time but for the clarity and introductory lesson on gratitude.

Everyday since that trip I have struggled to get that same level of remote peace, but I have succeeded in finally feeling present. As a planner and big picture thinker, it is very difficult for me to exist in the present moment. But loss over these 11 months alone have rudely slapped me into being present and feeling trapped in its grip of uncertainty. Phillip’s dad passing and my dad passing trapped me in the realization of us both being 29, without Dads and no grandpas for our kid(s). Our only solace was accepting that our dads could meet our kid(s) spiritually before they get sent to us and that our mothers were still here to know them and how we’d have the honor and duty of teaching our kids to venerate their grandpas as we tell them stories about how dynamic they both were.

Stephanie holds hands with Father (2022)

I learned that loss and grief can manifest beyond the death of a human but also in the death of a time, or place, or station in life. I had never been fired before and the entire experience was traumatic and had me in complete disbelief, but God. Sometimes our transitions from A to B are gradual and gentle. Sometimes those transitions are chaotic, jarring, and forceful. For me it was the later, but in either case it was necessary and only the most High knew what I was being prepared for and sent to accomplish but I was left in the dark at the time. I was forced to be present and exist in the WTF comes next cause IDK zone. The revelation from this job loss is that I needed to go and wasn’t willing to leave until I felt my work was done and tied up with a neat bow. However, at the end of the day your employer is going to do what they want and if I’m being honest I was scared to leave the stability of the job and made a conscious choice to put up with a toxic environment cause I thought that would be easier. God had other plans and pushed me out. My abrupt exit and time of unemployment permitted me to seek remote work like my heart wanted, and it afforded me the opportunity to support my dad and Mom in real time, in person, in Florida for literally months. Those final months with my dad and family were priceless and taught me another lesson on how no job is more important than my family and loved ones. I’m so grateful for everything that happened cause it brought me to where I am today.

Select Image from “It Happens” (2014) Series by Stephanie Brown

After all that loss and grief, you’d imagine that news of pregnancy would be amazing right? I mean don’t get me wrong, it was amazing and exciting and very much planned. I’ve written here before about preparing and thinking about getting pregnant. I’m a researcher and I like to be prepared as much as possible, but I also acknowledge that getting pregnant and having a baby is a gentle balance of science and magic. For someone with PCOS, I was shocked and impressed that I got pregnant after just 3 months of trying. For someone with high performing anxiety, I was shocked at how calm I was every day. It’s like being pregnant put my anxiety in check. However, I already ran all the worse case scenarios through my head the moment I saw 2 lines on the hcg test. I’m the artist that did her undergraduate senior project on miscarriage and infant fatalities because I had so many women in my life who had experienced them and shared their stories with me for my research and artwork. I know the stats are 1 in 5 for miscarriage and I also know that not talking about it just makes it worse. Socially, most birthing people wait until the end of their first trimester or so before sharing the news with others. So, I made a conscious decision and told Phil I don’t want to wait to tell our family. They should know and get a chance to celebrate with us because getting pregnant alone is worth celebrating! I told him God forbid if anything does happen, they can also be there in support of the loss. I didn’t want to pick up the phone and tell my mom: Hey so I was pregnant but not anymore, in the same sentence. From the work that I did on the topic before as well as books and personal stories I received, the common thread was silence hurts the most, silence and secrecy encourages a sense of shame and solitude, and no one should go through that alone.

*Deep Breathe*

You might be wondering, are you okay?! And the honest answer is yes. I told my therapist people might think I’m lying or crazy when I say I’m fine but I really am and for 3 main reasons:

1 — I’ve had so much loss over the past 11 months I’m honestly over it. My loss cup is full and any new additions to the cup don’t even shake me. Life is short. I’m choosing not to get trapped in despair/depression while I still have the choice. (Not everyone gets a choice)

2 — I choose gratitude. I was disappointed, yes, but so grateful to have been pregnant and I’m choosing to be grateful for that win and allow that to bring me joy and hope that I will be pregnant one day again.

3 — We have so much love to give and grow. Phil and I are both thriving and actively elevating ourselves professionally and transitioning to exactly where we want to be. All our life events revealed to us how much we do want to start a family and that certainty is warm and welcomed.

#psfleming19 forever

I’m finally living in the present without feeling trapped or stuck. I’m living in the present with joy, protecting my peace, stepping into my strengths, and not backing down for no one. I’ve got places to go, things to achieve, and people to love on and spend time with. Loss and grief have set my priorities straight, took me off the hamster wheel for good, and propelled me into a mission driven mindset to truly just do me and what brings me joy. I’m leaving more room for the unknown and giving myself more grace and space. For how ever many years I am blessed with I will live them well and live them now. I’m so grateful for the 29 years with Samuel Brown Sr. and the 7 years with Hansel Fleming. I look forward to additional things grief and loss will continue to teach and bless my family with. I am because they were.

What are you grateful for? What kinds of loss have you experienced lately? Are you far away enough from a recent loss to identify the lessons and/or blessings it presented to you?

P.S. For you video/visual learners check out more and follow my journey on my YouTube channel.

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I’m an exhibiting artist and learning experience designer. Questioning everything and sharing of myself. AKA Stephanie Brown in those art streets.

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Stephanie Fleming

Stephanie Fleming

I’m an exhibiting artist and learning experience designer. Questioning everything and sharing of myself. AKA Stephanie Brown in those art streets.

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