I don’t often write about my daughter Morgan. Those who do read my musings, (and thank you) know that she died on October 30, 2016 after battling eating disorders for over seven (7) years.
But, here is the cold reality. The world has moved on. Even her closest friends have moved on with their lives. Whereas, her transition will always remain a personal tragedy for me and her mother, the eating disorder community and industry has moved on. That is understandable. I expect nothing less.
To address an even greater, perhaps even more harsh reality is the fact that if I constantly posted photos of her on social media, if my musings and writings focused almost exclusively on Morgan and her death, I would be readily dismissed as a grieving father who will never get over her death. A person to be pitied … and then, quickly dismissed.
Now, I will always be a grieving father. That is also a reality. But, pitied and dismissed? No.
Before Morgan died, life had made its own plans for me. I led a life of relative anonymous superficiality. The depth of my soul was measured by the thimble-full. I represented clients in courts, including at least 20 federal courts outside of the State of Texas, with passion and what I thought was purpose. Creativity and expertise were those qualities to which I aspired. My character flaws were many. At the end of my days, the wording on my tombstone inevitably would have read, “Steven Dunn, He was a damned good attorney and pretty good dad.” And then, October 30, 2016 happened.
In the blink of an eye, a person’s world is turned upside down. A person’s life is shown to them in stark patterns of contrasting black and white. And you may wonder, is that all there is? Is the wording on your tombstone the sum total of your existence?
After a beloved child is taken, for persons of a certain constitution, those persons’ burning passion drives them to bring meaning to the death. By God, there will be a great purpose to what may appear to be a senseless death! You will change the world for the better. And through your sheer force of will, people will stand up, understand and be inspired. Your child’s legacy will not be minimized! And so your journey of redemption and salvation begins.
While you pursue this holy crusade, you often feel like a lone pilgrim in an unholy land. You believe your vision is clear. But, it is not. That “clear vision” is a façade. And you are not even remotely aware that you are operating in a complete fog. You reach out anywhere and everywhere believing you are helping. You are creating “awareness.” Your child will not be forgotten! You raise money. If you have the resources, you arrange mini-conferences or speaking engagements. TEDx talks? Sure. Anywhere. Everywhere.
Then, if you are lucky, as more time goes by, clarity starts to come to you. If you have some skill at writing, you encounter times when the words just flow through you. Words just appear on the screen. Those words are not coming from your head. You feel as if you are a conduit for a deeper, stronger message. And you learn to just let the message appear.
Perhaps you question your religious or spirituality notions or ideas. Not in a mean spirited or aggressive manner. But, in a more inquisitive, open, non-judgmental way. Perhaps you read texts or treatises you would never have previously considered. And you feel your heart open to possibilities never before considered. You marvel at the wonder of God, the soul, the infinite possibilities of our existence.
Perhaps you rededicate yourself to exercise. On walks through your neighborhood, you notice the wonder of life surrounding you. How certain trees bloom at different times and in different colors. The dazzling robin’s egg blue of the sky after a front with rain blows through town, leaving a pristine cloudless sky.
Yes, you grieve still. That is a part of you just as surely as any other emotion. And always will be. But, that grief starts to manifest itself in different ways. As you feel yourself staying on a “path of enlightenment,” the messaging just seems “right.” You are able to look deeper into and overcome your past perception of people. Fresh ideas. Open minded listening to other people.
Internal strength, hope and resolve within grows on a daily basis. And with it, a realization that those qualities, instead of receding, are increasing in intensity. A peacefulness within your heart, your soul, envelopes you. You reach a point where you no longer have to force a direction for your gifts or skills. You no longer have to hunt opportunities. Instead, those opportunities seek you out. Becoming a conduit for a greater, powerful message requires that you completely remove your own ego from the equation.
And when you are successful at that, your mission, your vision become so incredibly clear. For the first time, you realize that the mission and vision you claimed as your own, never really belonged to you in the first place. They belong to something far more powerful. You realize that this vision and mission have always existed. They exist within us. They surround us and exists all around us. Your vision and mission were created and honed by the millions of people who came before you. Those who previously suffered through pain and anguish and tragedy. And who came out the other side.
You realize you are but part of a far greater calling. In opening your heart and your mind, in opening your very life essence to possibilities you not only never before considered, but you didn’t even know existed, you reach a place of strength and peace, of joy and understanding of sadness, of wisdom and tolerance of foolishness even when it is your own. You have begun your arrival.
Immediately after Morgan died, a dear friend gave me a card which in essence read: “When faced with an unspeakable tragedy, 1 of 3 things tends to happen to people; (1). It destroys them, (2). It forever defines them in a negative way, or (3). It fills them with incredible strength and resolve.”
I believe that people do not get to choose which of the three things happens and comes to define that person. It wasn’t until this past week that I encountered a possible name and identification for the third aspect. Some people call it, “Post Traumatic Growth.” (“PTG”)
I am attaching two articles on PTG:
For the most part, the Pro-PTG article seems to track some of the observations and experiences I have encountered along the way. The con-PTG article tends to discredit the notion of the existence of PTG.
The pro-PTG article indicates that not only is PTG very real, but it is something that can be acquired. It can be learned. The con-PTG article attempts to debunk this supposition and draws a distinction between “perceived growth and actual growth.”
Both articles are compelling. And yet, I believe where both articles fail is that they do not explore the possibility that we can no more control whether PTG will define us as we can control whether PTSD will destroy us. Our soul, our life essence cannot be recreated in a laboratory. Our very nature, who we are at our core is beyond science. It is beyond our corporeal understanding.
PTG? I don’t know. I do know a path has been placed before me. And it is the right path for me. A path that was paid for with the dearest blood possible. Who would I be if I chose to leave that path?
To that last question, I will not have an answer. The path is before me. And I am finally ready for the many rigors and challenges which await on that path. The next step beckons and calls. And I answer its call with an open heart, open eyes, strength and resolve within … and I hope, wisdom and understanding.
My tombstone has been wiped clean. Only now, as I stay on this path, the words being carved on that tombstone could read, “Steven Dunn … In His Daughter’s Name, He Helped Save Many Lives.”