An altar of broken fragments

In a previous post, I said I don’t need to find meaning in Natan’s death. I can’t believe that G-d needed another angel or that I survived because of a special plan for me. I guess I don’t believe in modern-day miracles, at least in the form of individual events revealing divine agency. My sense is that I’m not really so significant that G-d would need me to do particular things. But even still, losing Natan has spurred an epistemological crisis for me. My sense of my own self has changed, because obviously my plans for the future have been corrupted unalterably.

I have, for example, entirely lost interest in what I do, which at the moment means being a doctoral student writing my dissertation. It’s not depression, because I am motivated to do so much else – write this blog, talk to friends, read anything not having to do with what I work on. I just no longer am interested in the meaning the topic I write about previously held for me.

I want to do something else. Problem is, that something else I want to do is actually what I’m already on the way to doing. I want to teach at a university level. It’s not like I want a new career, I just want to be there already. I’m not prepared to set the clock back 3 years by starting a new project. So what can I do to make what was my life before pregnancy meaningful again? Because I am finding that academia is not just a job, nor is it like “school” in earlier days where I could just write the damn paper or exam regardless of any passion. But it’s nearly impossible to just sit down at my computer and plug away for the sake of finishing a project that before my pregnancy encompassed most of my time and happily dominated my thoughts, but now seems utterly uninteresting. The only real choice is for me to just finish the thing, but I seem incapable of just doing anything, of trying just to get by.

This post’s title refers to a quote from Rabbi Yehuda HaChasid, “I will build an altar from the fragments of my broken heart.” But not only is my heart broken, the fragments themselves are broken. The pieces of my heart before this loss – my family life, my plans for children and for a career – I know they are changed but I’m not sure yet how they fit together.

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6 responses to “An altar of broken fragments

  1. This is a very wise post. I really do believe that just by asking ourselves these questions we take one step closer to finding the wholeness we seek.

    Rabbi Wolpe talks about the hole that is left within us when we suffer terrible wounds. He says that in the beginning we bleed from that hole, and our loss is completely about what we have lost. But over time, while the hole remains, it also becomes the place where new things are permitted to enter.

    I too do not believe losses are given to us in order to fulfill a specific purpose, or that the loss itself has meaning. What I do believe is that *we* have the capacity to bring meaning to our lives in the aftermath, and as the result of, our losses. I think the meaning that comes out of loss is not because of the loss, but in spite of it.

    Enough… clearly I have too much to say about this. I will save it for my own space. In the meantime, I wish you peace.

  2. A mutual friend referred me to your blog – Ursula. I am so sorry for your loss. My baby was stillborn at 7 months. This was just about 3 months ago. I would be due in about two weeks. I know that will be a hard time for me.

    I feel exactly like that – that my heart is broken, that my purpose is somehow misplaced. We had been planning for our baby for so long – we really very purposefully planned getting pregnant. Then where does all of our love and hope go.

    I’m sorry for the long comment. I will read more of your blog and keep you in my thoughts. I don’t think there is any good reason this happened to us or anyone else.

  3. Thanks, Mary. I’m sad to see you here but glad you found me. December/January must have been a tough month for Ursula. She’s a good friend. Take care and I hope to hear more from you.

  4. I lost my motivation after Nicolas died and i haven’t exactly got it back yet. I had a job lined up before he died, so i have continued struggling on in my ‘chosen career path’ though i have serious difficulties feeling excited about my research. (i had to rephrase that so it is less harsh than i originally wrote…) I doubt i would have been able to finish a dissertation after he died — in fact i just recently published the paper i was working on when he died (ok, i have put out other things in the meantime, but finally gave up on that one & sent it in). So i don’t have any words of wisdom for you. Four years later i see the need to change my direction but am at a loss exactly how to do so.

    On the other hand, before i finished my phd i also had some serious motivational issues and i think that is common amongst grad students — some level of sheer burnout. It is different after a baby dies, though, a different kind of lost.

  5. Perhaps the pieces are never meant to be put back together. The sum of the parts are greater than the sum of the whole.

  6. as humans, for some reason we need to find meaning behind our suffering. i’ve experienced so many devestating losses that it has actually made me wonder about God and faith. but at the end of the day, meaning or no meaning, God or angel, we still have to find a way to keep living life, without letting loss cripple us completely.

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