Who I was and who I am
Photo by Lexi Danielle Photography.
The following is a summary of session that I wrote for the On Coming Alive Bereaved Parent’s Workshops this past weekend, in the Midwest. The topic came to me after weeks of wrestling with that to say—with what to offer these families, when I’m still walking this road myself. So, with days to spare, I decided to simply share my heart—to address the very thing that I’ve been learning so much about in these last few months, and to lead others in an interactive discussion about our identities.
Grief and devastation can shake you at the very core. It is heart-wrenching. Confusing. Disorienting. Challenging. Crushing.
Nothing shakes your reality quite like losing a child does. After I lost my son, Ethan, I found myself questioning so many things that I had once been so confident in. It wasn’t only the world around me that suddenly felt so foreign—I had changed.
Who am I? I asked myself this I’ve asked myself this question so many times since the day the doctor looked me straight in the eye and told me that my son may die. Since the day I held my sweet baby boy as his soul passed into heaven. Since that trying season in between his diagnosis and death that pushed me toward change—that season I walked into with such naivety and walked out of feeling 30 years older.
I remember the first few times I had the courage to return to places that had once felt so safe and familiar—the grocery store, my favorite coffee shop, my church, and even my own home. I was lost and out of place, though nothing around me had changed. I was not the same person anymore and felt like a stranger to everyone around me, including myself.
A child who loses their parents is called an orphan and a person who loses their spouse is called a widow or a widower, but no one knows what to call a person who has lost a child. Just as we have no title, our identities are left in shambles. I didn’t fit anywhere. I don’t know many 28-year-old empty nesters. The world doesn’t know what to do with a childless mother.
One of the things I grieved after losing Ethan was the person that I was before. It’s hard to explain this to someone until they’ve experienced it themselves, but I think anyone who has faced any devastating circumstance can relate. Sure, the most profound and obvious loss that I grieved was the loss of my son. I grieved that he was no longer in my arms. I grieved that we had to say goodbye. I grieved the two babies that I lost after him. I grieved that I never may have children. But in addition to these obvious losses, I grieved myself. I mourned over the parts of myself that died with my son, and with each subsequent loss.
I missed the optimist. I missed living in a world where loss felt rare. I missed the girl who didn’t have anxiety. The girl who didn’t feel everything so deeply. Who watched the news without sobbing. The girl who could focus on tasks for hours on end. The girl who could actually remember what she did last Christmas—the girl who didn’t have spots of post-traumatic memory loss. The girl who loved small talk. The girl who thought you could have anything you wanted in life if you just worked hard enough.
RIP to the old me.
In the last few months, I’ve begun to see the beauty in this transformation. I’ve taken steps toward embracing the pre-loss Kristin and the after-loss Kristin, and how both can operate together to form a “me” that I am proud of. There is such beauty in allowing goodness to grow from the darkness.
I am more than a childless parent. I am more than infant loss. I am more than recurrent miscarriage. I am more than infertility. My children have added so much to who I am, but there is still so much more that defines me. There is more to my story.
I like the realist—the girl who hopes, but knows that pain is real and empathizes with the broken hearts of this world. I like the girl who feels everything so deeply. I love the girl who has learned to slow down and stray from the task for the sake of caring for others. I love the girl who is learning not to sweat the small stuff so much. I love the girl who loves deeper. I love the girl who realizes her weakness. I love the girl who isn’t afraid to question and to seek answers. I love the girl who knows that she is not in control—being out of control can be terrifying, but is also so very freeing. I love the girl who has been given the gift of suffering.
There are parts of me that have been lost, parts that have been gained, and parts that will always be a part of me. Some things will never change.
Finding those constant, unmovable things has been reassuring and comforting. Those things that I can cling to with confidence, despite what other changes may come. My love for my children will never change. The love that God has for me will never change.
So, who am I? I am a wife and a mother to 3 children—one that I held in my arms, two that I never met, and all who now live in heaven. I’m a friend, a sister, a believer. I am broken, yet full of hope.