Losing a child changes us.
Those of you who haven’t experienced the loss of a child are reading this thinking, “Well, obviously”. But the changes I’m talking about lie far beyond the surface of what is perceived by others.
We are robbed of our innocence. We are exiled from the place where our non-loss peers live in their safe haven of, “That will never happen to me” or “I’ll never have to worry about that.” How I long to be reminded of what that feels like.
It creates an opening to a place where everything circles back to our grief and our personal experience with loss; what could happen again; what probably won’t happen but fills every empty space in our mind.
The other day as I was driving home from work, a thought captivated me: There is not one single day that I don’t think about my daughter. Literally everything I do and everything that I am a part of circles back to her somehow. Her memory surrounds every inch of me. It’s always comforting to be reminded of her in all that I do. It is, however, simultaneously haunting.
The innocence that we once felt is gone. Mundane things that we do such as getting groceries, paying bills or folding laundry are now so different than they were before we experienced loss. We think, “I should be buying diapers and baby food”, “I should be paying for twice the amount of daycare” or “I should be folding little onesies and socks” as we go through the motions of these tasks.
There are things we want to experience, but we are held back by fear. There are things we choose to experience again, despite the anxieties that take hold of us. There are moments we are sitting there, doing nothing, when the suffocation of grief takes over and we are pulled under with no way out. The only way out is straight through.
None of these things hindered my thoughts or actions before losing Ellie. I am no longer the carefree, lighthearted person I once was. I am no longer able to do things and “just do them”. Of course we still continue to live our life, but below the surface, the way I do things is not without reminders of her absence or her death.
Losing Ellie has changed the way I think about anything and everything that I do. It has caused me to re-frame my mindset on a daily basis. It has affected the way I interpret comments and references made by others. What once would have slid off my shoulders with no effect now has the tendency and potential to knock me over with the greatest force.
I wish that it wasn’t this way.
I wish I could choose which things bothered me or affected me in adverse ways.
But, friends. There is a silver lining.
I don’t mean there is a silver lining in losing a child, because there is no such thing. Losing a child is what it is. It is horrific. It is paralyzing. It has no greater purpose or underlying, hidden meaning behind it. A part of us dies when our child dies. There is no silver lining in that.
What I mean is there is a silver lining in how our mindset is changed after loss.
What once caused me great stress and anxiety now doesn’t affect me nearly as much. Things that once mattered and had the potential to make or break my day just don’t have that same hold on me anymore.
Our loss has caused me to re-frame my mindset, yes. But this happens in more than one way:
When someone says, “At least I kept the kids alive today!”, it crushes me. Just crushes my heart and soul. I wish I could have kept my daughter alive. That comment once would have made me chuckle, able to relate to it in the sense of how stressful motherhood can be. Our loss has forever changed the way that phrase affects me.
On the contrary, things that once created overwhelming amounts of stress and anxiety for me just don’t matter all that much anymore. Things like the way we handle discipline with our son, or the battles we pick in our marriage. There are things that once would have bothered us so much that our entire day would be affected, sometimes multiple days in a row. But since experiencing our loss, those things that once sent our minds into a frenzy now are easily shaken off. We have changed the way we view these situations; the way we manage them. Those disagreements about leaving the lights on and choosing to stay mad about it all day are silly and pointless. They do not matter. Those power struggles we used to get into with our son, we now consider from a different viewpoint.
In the moments that we realize what is truly important and what really matters, we see glimpses of our sweet girl. In those moments, she helps remind us of what we need to embrace and what we need to let go of. For those realizations, I am so grateful.
To friends and loved ones who have never experienced the loss of a child, please know that we will never be who we once were. There is no way for you to understand this fully unless you’ve been in our shoes. Please remember to give us grace; we are still adjusting to and learning to accept our new identity. We will likely forever be continuing to adjust and accept, no matter how much time has passed since our child died. Sometimes we may miss the person we once were. Sometimes we may be grateful for the change.
Whatever the case, we are just thankful that you’re by our side on this journey.