There is a great divide between the relationships I have with those in my life six years ago and those just getting to know me. The more time that passes since watching my son take his last breath, the greater this divide grows. I was reminded of this today when confronted with some difficult situations that involved people on the newer side of the chasm.
When I meet people now, the fact that I lost a child does not come up early on in our conversations. I share that information with select people. If I think my story will inspire you or help you in some way, then I will speak openly. If I’ve worked with you a while and need to explain why I take a week off work in February, then I’ll share why spring brings a deep sadness.
I do not, however, talk on a daily basis about how different I am now or how his death shapes every decision I make today. Those who meet me now may not understand why I am so giving. They don’t know why I care for my employees as though they were family. They don’t get why a job that pays the bills isn’t just a job that pays the bills. They can’t comprehend why I forgive the way I do and hand second chances out like candy. They cannot see why kindness and honesty are so important to me. To state it simply, they just don’t get it.
I had a choice when my little one died. I could either let his death make me hard or make me soft. Make me bitter or better. I could contract or expand. The people who knew me throughout his illness and then through his death, know how far I have come. They watched me slay the dragon of depression and rise victoriously. They have seen me in my darkest hours, lying on the bathroom floor in a pool of tears and white wine and they have seen me shine on best-sellers lists and stages.
These precious people understand that my frame of reference for anything challenging will always be the loss of my son. They know that a complaining customer at work really just makes me laugh more than anything. Why? Because how serious is the amount of caramel on your caramel frappucino in relation to the death of a child? I have to laugh at it and the friends who knew me back then, get that. They know that when someone worries about their child being sick how sensitive I am to it. It makes sense to these people why I give money freely to those in need and why I bend over backwards for struggling single mothers. They get why I function from a standpoint of love and understanding. They respect the approach I take to life and how far I’ve come in my personal growth.
Newbies, though, are a different story. Newbies see this kind, loving, compassionate me and think that I am “too soft” or that I “let people walk all over” me. I am sometimes told that I am “too sensitive” or that I take things “too personally”. What newbies in my life fail to understand is the softness, the sensitivity and the depth of my caring are all choices I make every day. I choose to be kind and I choose to be understanding. These are not character defects or flaws but the parts I like most about myself. Rather than respecting my approach, newbies sometimes take advantage of it.
As my grief evolves, I must remember that the newer people in my life will never see how far I’ve come. They only see the result of years of grief work and self improvement. What they fail to realize is what they are perceiving as weakness in me is really my true strength. I am learning that I must set clearer boundaries with the people in my life who mistake and misuse my generosity. I must be more selective about the ones I let into my world. How to do that, I do not know…yet. But as with everything on my journey of self discovery, I am confident that I will figure it out.