Hope & Healing | Who Am I?

In keeping with the theme of October, let’s talk about something scary: losing our identities along with the loss of our children. It’s downright terrifying. The person you now see in the mirror reflects the physical attributes you recognize, but also a hollowness where your personality once filled that physical body. It creates a sense of unease being unable to recognize yourself. “Who is that woman? She looks like me, but she’s not me. She looks angry. She looks worn. She looks empty.” I remember thinking those thoughts a few months after I lost my son, Owen, as I stared at the woman before me in the mirror.

At the time I felt so alone, so isolated. Surely, I was the only person in the world that felt like a stranger in my own body. Fast-forward a few years into my work with bereaved parents, I’ve come to learn that I was not alone in that jolting disconnect between my brain and body. I have counseled bereaved parents who are baffled by the same occurrence. If you’ve lost a child and are struggling with the personality changes you’re feeling, you’re not alone. You’re not weird. You’re a typical person coping with an atypical situation: the death of your child.

“So, what’s the deal with our personalities changing?” you may be asking right about now. Well, let me ask you this instead: After what we’ve experienced, how is it possible for our personalities not to change? It’s natural and expected for our personalities to evolve after every other life-changing event, such as marriage, graduation, and the birth of our children. Why would this event be any different, if not even more extreme, in its impact on our personalities? The difference is that in all the former situations the outcomes are viewed as “positive” (whatever that means) or welcomed changes. We invited those changes into our lives by choosing to get married, by choosing to graduate, and by choosing to bring a life into the world. So, in essence, we chose the life events that we believed would produce changes that would somehow improve our quality of life.

What we did not choose—and will most likely never choose—are life events that impact us in a hurtful and damaging way. Why would we, with sound minds, choose that for ourselves? We wouldn’t. Or, maybe I’m speaking for too many people here. I know I sure wouldn’t! I don’t want to be this damaged person that people treat like a teacup that occasionally gets taken out of the China cabinet only to be treated with such delicacy and care out of fear of being broken. That’s not the life I want to live. I chose to marry my rock star hunk-of-a-husband. He makes me belly laugh every single day and he straight up makes my personality ten times better. I chose to pursue my degrees because they get me to where I’m going. They make me more well-rounded. I chose to get pregnant and become a mom. It showed me a love I never knew and it created a greater appreciation in me for my own mom. What I didn’t choose was the loss of my sweet Owen. I also didn’t choose the personality changes that followed his death.