When I Grow Up

The Pain of Surviving

I think it is time to address the other “elephant,” the one that has a hold of me that I cannot seem to shake – Guilt. Logic says that I shouldn’t be feeling this. I haven’t done anything to cause it, yet it is there, weighing on me, making me reconsider what is important. Since I did nothing to cause it, I am equally powerless to shake it.

I remember a similar feeling on September 11. So many lives were lost, none touched me directly, but I was overwhelmed by grief. How could I hope to have that feeling lessened when so many others would have to spend the rest of their lives coping with the changes that horrible act wrought on their lives. This is frequently referred to as “survivor’s guilt.” However, in this case, this name doesn’t quite seem to fit.

I seem to have been flooded lately with stories of mothers who have lost their children. It feels wrong that I go about my days, doing all the things that earn me the title “Mom” and feeling sad that they are moving away from me, on to college and their own lives. How dare I feel sad about something so trivial when there are those who will never have the chance to do the same, who have lost their children forever. How dare I complain about the carpools, the messy rooms, the teenage attitude.

A year ago, our family suffered a tragic loss. My beautiful niece, Marin Elizabeth, died, just 2 months before she was to be born. Her parents very generously allowed us to share their grief. Her mom was quick to acknowledge that we are grieving as well – for what was lost and for what could have been.

Demonstrating a strength perhaps even she had not known she had, her mom welcomed family and friends into her world, even offering all of us the opportunity to see and even hold her baby if we so desired. Many were surprised by this, as it is something so foreign and unimaginable. I was originally caught off guard, but quickly realized that it is really a perfectly natural thing to do. As a mother, I know that nothing could stop me from holding my child.

Prior to this, I had not really thought about the concept of sharing grief. Maybe she realized (as I now have) that grief, like love, expands, like ripples on a current, spreading and being enhanced as it grows. Thinking about it, isn’t grief really about love? Without love, would we care about loss at all?

Adults are not supposed to outlive their children. That is not the normal state of affairs. This death is difficult to comprehend, thus difficult to accept. It is painful to think about what could have been and more so to think about the reality. I know however that my pain pales next to that of her parents. I cannot begin to fathom the depth of their feelings. I am grateful that I was allowed into their lives and that they are letting us all take this difficult journey with them.

I think I may finally understand why some people memorialize deaths of loved ones. Personally, these are dates I don’t remember, preferring to think of deceased loved ones on their birthdays, which hold much happier memories for me. Some leave this earth too soon and do not have the opportunity to leave their mark – to make the world a better place. We need to make sure that there is some record for them, to mark their potential for greatness, that was stolen from them through no fault of their own. In a small way, this is what I hope to do here, to prove that Marin was here, that she was special, that she was loved.

Many good, kind souls have gone before her. Like her, they come, unbidden to my mind at random times (frequently in the middle of the night) and touch something deep inside me. Although I am struggling to comprehend what God’s plan could possibly be, I am confident that she is at peace and that we will be reunited someday.

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