When we have children, being a parent becomes one of the deepest parts of our identity. As a woman, my identity is being the mother of Becca, Christopher, Kimmy, Jamison, and Austin. When Becca went through times of severe illness (such as cancer at age 3, being given a 50/50 chance of surviving labor and delivery of her child because of the heart damage from the chemo, and her long stays in the hospital while needing a heart transplant) my identity became Becca’s mom as her caregiver. I was important and special because Becca was important and special, especially with her severe heart issues.
On October 12, 2011, my identity took a drastic shift. I was now the mother of a child who died. There was so much self-pity. I wanted everybody to know how much pain I was in. I wanted people to be able to see it on me. I wanted people to feel sorry for me because I had gone through something far worse than anything they had ever experienced. My identity was being a grieving mom. Self-pity and allowing my identity to be that of a victim caused the black hole I was in to go even deeper. I even wanted to introduce myself that way, so people knew; “Hello, I am Laura, and my daughter Becca died.” Anyone else been there?
A question was recently asked to a group of bereaved parents; how you can tell when you are turning that corner and things are starting to get better. Someone gave the answer, “When you can introduce yourself without the urge to add ‘and my daughter died’ after your name.” I could certainly relate, to both the question and the answer.
I definitely became a victim of the death that tore my child away from me. This is something obviously none of us choose. But once it happens, we tend to embrace it in our horrific pain and darkness. We want people to know this is who we are, and we want people to know about our child whom we can no longer introduce to them in person.
As bereaved parents, we all need to stop playing the victim card at some point. I am sorry if this sounds harsh, but please know I am not talking about those first months, and even the first two or three years when the darkness is suffocating and the pain is immeasurable; that time when we literally have to remind ourselves to breathe, much less know how we can possibly live a life beyond the death of our child. I am talking about when we find ourselves choosing to feel sorry of ourselves and want others to feel sorry for us, too. (This is actually self-pity and will send you even deeper into the pit you have found yourself thrown into, just like it did to me.)
You have to get to the point where you want out more than you want to stay there, no longer wanting the death of your child to be the identity of who you are. You have to want to see the light of hope. The rays of this light can reach any depth, and it usually starts with just a tiny dim ray. As you continue focusing on that small light, without even realizing it, the light will start to pull you up, until you can grab the hand of the giver of that Light.
The only way out of being a victim is to change your identity. No one else can do that for you. And the first part of it is to admit that is where you are, and that you are there because you choose to be there. I am not saying you chose to be a parent who lost your child. What I am saying is that if you are tightly hanging on to the identity of being a parent who has lost your child (even if it is only to yourself) you are choosing to allow yourself to remain in self-pity as a victim, instead of allowing yourself to begin to rise above it.
I really do understand it! The loss of our child shakes us to the very core of our being. The grief is more than intense; a part of us has died with our child. And we truly were a victim of the worst thing life can throw at us. But it is not a place we have to camp out and stay for life, unless we want to. We all get to a place down the road (and that time and place is different for each of us) where we must make a choice. And I am here to encourage you that it is possible to consciously decide that while we will never forget our child and will not let others forget, we will not live the rest of our lives buried under the label of victim and the crippling limitations that gives us.
Here is what I suggest. Ask yourself: Am I going make a choice to continue getting my identity from the painful circumstance that my child died, or am I going to make a choice to get my identity from the truth that my child lived and choose to live in a way that honors my son or daughter’s life?
I am so very thankful being the victim of the death of my daughter no longer defines who I am today, and I pray you desire to have the same freedom.