The Amputation of the Familiar Self

Continuing my series on blogging through Jerry Sittsers’ book “a Grace Disguised”. As we take a look at Chapter 6, I am reminded of my own journey and just how far I have come in four short years.

The following paragraph on page 81 really spoke to me and summed it up about how it feels to have lost someone and what remains in the wake of loss:

“I still think of myself as a husband to Lynda, as a father to Diana Jane, and as a son to Grace. But the people who defined me that way, who played the role opposite me as wife, daughter and mother, are no longer there. The self I once was, this familiar self, cries out for them, like nerves still telling me that I have a leg or an arm, though only a stump remains.” – Jerry Sittser

For me that excerpt from chapter six accurately describes my pain, my loss and my sorrow. Those words capture the essence of the loss of my mother and my daughter. Even as the years pass, 22 of them since my mother passed away, I still feel as if a part of me is missing. And this description, these words by the author gave me something I had not been able to obtain before. His words allowed to me to read out loud something my heart and soul had been searching to say, that I, mother and daughter experienced a profound loss and will never be the same.

My identity was taken from me. The role as the only daughter removed from my future. The role as the mother of a wonderful young woman shattered as I watched her die. For months I wandered about wondering who I was or what was I going to do. Sure I was a nurse and I had that identity and loved being a nurse. But being a mother was something I had wanted to be for as long as I can remember. The one thing that meant more to me than anything else I did – gone in 12 hours.

I remember it was about the fifth year after my mother’s death that I found a book that truly helped me move passed the wall that had become my familiar friend. The wall of anger. The book was by Hope Edelman and it was titled “Motherless Daughters”. The book literally fell off the shelf at Barnes & Noble and I picked it up and began to read story after story of woman, like me, who had lost their mothers too soon. At critical points in their lives. I was pregnant with Brittany when my mother died. A time when I truly needed her and I felt cut off “amputated” from her mid way through my pregnancy and during my seventh month, had to bury her.

In the weeks and months after my daughter’s death I found myself asking do I really want this life? Do I really want to participate in the future? I was so confused about who I was and who I was going to be – it was exhausting. I was drained mentally and physically from the challenge of just existing. The day-to-day life without Brittany was distasteful to me. It brought no joy, no laughter and certainly wasn’t pleasing to even think about. But I continued to live on despite my thoughts trying to rationalize why.

Sittser describes later on in the chapter the phantom pains amputees often feel as if their body still believes that the limb that is now gone still exists. similarly those who’ve lost a loved one the “phantom pains” of the former life are everywhere. Even despite my removal of many of the things that reminded me of Brittany – her absence in the house was very palpable. No matter what I did to put it out of my mind, even for the smallest of time, I could not remove the one thing that remained – my heart ached every time I saw her picture. I longed for her presence. I wanted so much to feel her hug hear her laughter.

Loss has become a part of who I am. It is part of my story. Although it has been tough, I have managed to move towards a new identity. However, I believe I will always be Brittany’s mom, Judie’s daughter. But in order for me to continue the healing process, note I said continue because grief is a journey; I have to create a new identity. One that will allow me to acknowledge who I was, the life I had, yet move towards a new life, a new identity.

There is one relationship that I do have that continues to be the focal point in my journey and that is my relationship with God. Although it has been riddled with anger, sadness, pain, sorrow and even joy, this loss, these losses, have pushed me to God, like Sitser, even when I didn’t want it. My faith has been my saving grace. God has been my comfort and my strength throughout it all.

Recently God reminded me of my purpose now by placing a young man next to me on a plane as I was returning home from a business trip. This young man, dressed in his Army uniform seemed somewhat restless. So after a few minutes I decided to engage him in some light conversation. After a few minutes, I mentioned that my “late” daughter’s boyfriend had just joined the National Guard. He asked how long they had been together, I’m thinking he didn’t hear the “late” part. As I told him that Brittany had died a few years ago – he politely apologized but the look on his face told me he had a story. And I was right.

He began to tell me that his baby son had died two weeks earlier. He shared with me his story and my heart broke for him. His loss so fresh, so apparent as he talked about what happened. I asked him if he was a faithful person. He answered, “you mean religious?”, I said no I mean are you faithful? Do you believe in God? He said “yes”, but I don’t believe things happen for a reason. At that moment I knew God had placed me there to show him another way to see it.

As I explained to him my thoughts on loss and how it changes us, how our loved ones were here, even for a short time, to show us the way. They were sent here to move us along the path of life. To show us compassion, gratitude and what it means to forgive. These lessons we may have not been able to learn if it weren’t for the loss of someone we loved. After our long discussion – he looked at me and said “thank you” and then we sat quietly for the rest of the trip. Just as we arrived, I leaned over to him and said “I’ll be praying for  you and your son Nick”. And went on my way.

My new identity is to help others who have suffered a loss. I am a living testimony that you can survive a tragic loss and continue on. Even though some days are still rough, I am creating a new life. I can look back over my shoulder and see my mom and Brittany smiling at me and I know that they are proud of me and how far I have come. Then I look ahead and see that I am continuing my journey into the future.

until next time,

m

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