Emerging from Winter: Finding Persephone


Note: It takes an abundance of bravery to share our most painful experiences. My many thanks to Laura who chooses to open her heart to the world and be a voice of honesty and inspiration. She reminds us that no matter how cold and dire our metaphoric Winter may be, it is by no means forever. Seasons will shift, the days will warm; the sun will linger longer. And suddenly we find ourselves surrounded by the palette of Spring: the renewal of hope. The renewal of life.


Spring Flowers in Greece



 Emerging from Winter: Finding Persephone

by Laura Lifshitz-Hernandez

It was a clear day without a rustle in the sky when the beautiful goddess Persephone went outside. She noticed a precious flower, and since she was so beguiled by its soft dewy petals, she decided to pluck it from the ground. As she went to grasp its green stem, a crack in the earth appeared and out came Hades, the god of the underworld.

He tells her, “You are coming with me to the Underworld. You will be my bride.”

She feels the rapid horse hoof beats of her heart as she goes to scream out for help, but before any noise could escape from her lips, he covers her mouth and seizes her. She bites his hand in an attempt to wrestle a scream free, but he is strong, and pushes her down into the crack to meet her new home in the Underworld.

Demeter, the harvest goddess, looked for her daughter, happy to tell her some story she had heard while she had been tending to the grain crops. To her surprise, her daughter was gone. What had happened to her precious daughter? Only two people were privy to this information: Zeus, Persephone’s father, and Helios, the god of the sun who saw all on the ground during daylight hours.

Clearly not the nicest dad in the world, Zeus had given Hades, who was his brother, permission to take Persephone for his wife. He left Demeter in the dark, and went about his business while she ravaged the earth, and questioned everyone in her path. Who knew where her daughter was? Who might have seen her last? No one was to be trusted. Her instinct told her to trust no one.  As she made her journey, Demeter stopped growing grain, and the world sunk into a vicious famine.

I am alone at home, playing with my daughter. It is my favorite time of year—fall, yet I am consumed with grief. Despite being a social butterfly, I avoid people and social media. What could I really post on Facebook or Twitter that would be acceptable to write? I read statuses of happy families and people, and I boil. No one wants to be honest, and I can’t share my pain in such a public forum right now. I would be too honest.

This past summer, I conceived a child yet due to extreme illness and stress, I lost the pregnancy.  This would have been my second child, and my due date was in March, just two days before my daughter’s birthday—right before the start of spring.

I imagined the child’s name and face. Where he or she might sit at our dinner table. If he or she would look like our daughter, or maybe more like myself. I wondered how our family dynamics would change. I wondered how I would handle two kids, and how much they would love (and sometimes, hate) each other.

The pregnancy was slow hell; I had hyperemesis gravidarum, and lay in bed attached to an IV pole around the clock, while fluids and medications ran through my PICC line.

My daughter, only 16 months old at the time, stood at my bedside requesting, “Up, Mommy, up please! Up mommy!”

I request that her babysitter bring her up to sit on the bed with me since I wasn’t well enough to pick her up and put her down. At this point, I was malnourished and about to be put on TPN—total parenteral nutrition, since I couldn’t keep enough food in to sustain me. I had gone through this with my daughter, yet despite what the doctors told me, the second time around was no better, and actually quite a deal worse. After being a mostly stay-at home mom who took constant care of my child, all I could do was talk to her as she sat beside me, or read her a book during one of my good moments. I wasn’t even able to change her diaper. I was just curled up in a comma shape, day after day, while I literally and metaphorically disappeared from my daughter’s life.

My daughter always cried when she was away from me. She would call for me, and I would listen as someone else met  her needs.  She started to cry less and form a bond with her sitter. I knew it was better for her to not be distressed, yet  I felt as if she were parting from me…forgetting the bond I had strove very hard to make and maintain.  No more mommy, now I was an invalid. I watched television reruns, and attempted to sleep. I puked and puked, while waiting for the next day to come quickly.  I rarely left my bed. I called or texted people when I felt well enough as I was desperate for others to help us. It was humbling in the worst way.  Have you ever asked people to vacuum your floors or help do laundry and you weren’t paying them?

A few months later, all I could conjure up is pain and embarrassment for needing so much help…and struggling to get it, minus a few good friends and our babysitter. Family members were either unable to help, or didn’t offer; some even made the most ridiculous excuses to avoid really helping us. This didn’t make life any easier for my little family. The emotional stress underlying the physical discomfort made every day feel like I was ready to snap, and my husband was on the edge. I barely recognized who he was underneath his anger and stress.

I don’t talk to people often, because I know that the question “What happened?” or “Will you have another child?” is in their minds. Some days, I think the same things.

When I tell people, it’s the sad face I hate most. That pitying look that life has dealt this woman, me, such a blow. How I will never feel complete with only one child (them). How I wonder if they are right, and that maybe, I will grieve for the rest of my life (me).

I feel uncomfortable when I see a pregnant woman, and find myself saying extra nice things to her that way my real feelings of envy won’t come out. While I watch siblings play at the park, I wonder if my child will be okay on her own.

The biggest question that I find myself facing repeatedly is how will I tell my daughter that pregnancy is not friendly to my body? That as much as I want her to have a sibling, my body does not respond to pregnancy well, and that sadly, she may suffer the same fate.

All this time I thought I would be caring for two wee ones under two, and that some of my life goals would be pushed aside. Now that the baby won’t be here, I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel like I can’t move forward. I am a flawed woman. My fertility, while plentiful, is punishing.

Demeter’s depression over the loss of her daughter puts her in a horrific place. She fights with Poseidon, her third brother, who rapes her. Demeter’s days jumble into one another. She imagines her daughter, but finds it harder to picture her face and remember the sound of her voice as the days went on.
While Demeter searches for her girl, Zeus is dealing with the famine. Things are not going well for his people, and he realizes that he can’t allow this to go on. He had thought that Demeter might have gave up, but she has proven a rather worthy opponent, so he will just have to make Hades listen to him before the world of the living is full of the dead. He permits Persephone to come back to her mother.

I start to feel as if I have to do something.  I’m not sure with how my husband is truly coping with everything, and all of my attempts to move myself forward feel thwarted. I thought finding a full-time job would provide much-needed financial relief and mental stimulation now that I knew my time at home would be disrupted without the arrival of  child number two. Imagine my distress to see that even with pounding the metaphorical pavement, the job economy is still bleak beyond my already low expectations. I make an effort to push myself physically at the gym so I will feel good physically again. The pregnancy has worn at my body and ate away at my muscles. I might be skinny, but I am not as strong as I once was. I hope that as my strength grows, so will my sanity, but it doesn’t feel like enough.  I need something to nourish, something inside of me to nurture that isn’t a baby, but a part of me that will allow me to feel happiness again in the middle of my emotional famine.

Persephone, a smart cookie, has done her best to fast while down in the underworld with her new beau. If she eats something from the underworld, she will be unable to return to the land of the living.  Hades, feeling kind for some reason or the other—maybe he was trying to stay on Zeus’ good side?—decides to let her go back to her mother…but not without offering her a pomegranate first. Nope, he wasn’t about to let this one go easily. Her hunger has to be chipping away at her sanity, and so he figures offering her something now while she’s feeling elated about her return home is a smart move. She will eat it in her happy delirium.
Persephone, drunk on the knowledge that she will see her world, mother, and home again, trips up exactly like Hades though. Giddy with excitement, she slips up and eats some pomegranate seeds. Those little seeds guarantee that at some point or the other, Miss Persephone will come back to the underworld.  

I feel like my home life is sustaining a small parasite, an entity of unspoken grief and pain that grows larger without anyone pointing it out. When a couple endures a traumatic scenario like we did, it can eat away at each other—at the couple’s bond and connection. It is quite some time before we speak fairly honestly about the situation— about our own unhappiness over the loss. His experience is different than mine, and I have no intentions of telling his story as it is not my story to tell.  I can only offer my own
For myself, I grieve a child I will never get to see. I mourn the juxtaposition between how fertility works for me, and how I imagine it is for many women. It questions my womanhood. This calls in to account my own feelings of inferiority. The reality that how I envision family to be is not the reality I am most likely going to know for multiple reasons mostly outside of my control. Demeter was unable to bring Persephone back as Zeus held the reins in this particular situation; it was out of her own control to retrieve Persephone, but she did what she could in order to increase her chances. Putting the world in a famine seemed a pretty good way to shake Zeus into submission.

Despite those seeds, Persephone is able to return to the living, and the earth flourishes again under Demeter’s care for two-thirds of the year. This return is what we call spring; she stays with her mother until the Underworld and Hades beckons her back for that one-third of the year, when winter blankets the earth.

I have been dwelling under that one-third of the year, and now it is time for me to find a way to bring Persephone, my own spring, back from the underworld. I start seeing friends and visiting my former place of residence, New York, to start making a connection to people and places that matter to me or I find interesting. I make a point to really reflect on what I want, and feel that returning to my former profession in the entertainment industry would make me happy, albeit in a slightly different capacity. Instead of avoiding the big five-hundred page manuscript that I have labored so heavily on, I go back to work on my memoir, and began actively seeking more writing work and projects. I push myself at the gym, and sign my daughter up for a new activity that we can do together. I’m not putting the world into shock or a large famine, but I am doing whatever I can in my control to steer my life in the direction it needs to go in, for the best.

I’m not sure yet if I have found Persephone. Some days I feel as if I am becoming closer to the person I want to be, and other times I wonder if I will ever feel like I have jumped this hurdle, and made my way to what I feel I deserve both emotionally and intellectually.

Like Demeter, I am looking for Persephone. I am turning every stone and corner until I find a fertile place from which to begin again. I will not give up until I find her. She has to exist.

About the Author: A contributor to Whispers From Greece, Laura Lifshitz-Hernandez is a comedienne, writer, and former MTV personality. To read more, dash over to: http://frommtvtomommy.com/.


Follow her @LauraLifshitz & on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/lauralifshitzwriter

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