So we were watching Shalom in the Home last night (because as hard as we try, we can't seem to stay away from the strange and wonderful assortment of reality TV shows that lurk on TLC and A&E late at night) when something the rabbi said struck me.
He was counseling a woman who'd lost her husband six years earlier. He died in a car accident on their way home from a Valentine's Day date. A car swerved into their lane. He swerved into a pole to protect his wife from the impact, was thrown from the car, and died en route to the hospital. His widow was left with two young girls and an irreparably broken heart.
Which is precisely why she called for help. She needed someone to exorcise the ghost of her husband because she just couldn't let go of him. She was drowning in her sorrow and taking her children with her.
During the course of the show, the rabbi told the widow that she needed to stop looking in the mirror and seeing a tragic figure staring back at her. She needed to stop thinking of herself and her children as a tragic family known solely for the horrible sorrow that touched their lives. He reminded her that they are a beautiful, happy family - two sweet girls and their loving mother - and they need to start living that way.
He was kind, but firm. You can remember, but you simply can't afford to let yourself stand still, mired in your grief and unable to move forward into the new life you've been handed, as bleak and frightening as that new life may be.
It was like hearing the words for the first time. Because I do that - I look in the mirror and I see the mother of a dead baby. I walk around all day wondering who can see my sorrow, as though it oozes from my pores or rises off me like steam. I assume that's all people see when they look at me. I imagine it's the first thing they think of when I wander through their thoughts. I search people's faces for pity and listen to their voices for concern. I measure my responses to make sure they're appropriate coming from someone who has buried a baby.
I am living as a tragic figure. I've let it define me, control me and manipulate me into thinking that's virtually all I am.
But I'm not. I'm more than that. I am.
The sorrow doesn't make me me. I was me long before I even conceived Thomas. A terrible tragedy happened to me, but it didn't create me. It simply changed me, and there's a big difference.
I had a dear, sweet baby boy who I lost. I love him and miss him with every fibre of my being every second of every day, and each time I think of him my heart breaks anew.
But I'm not a tragic figure. I'm a strong woman who survived an unthinkable loss, and every single day I fight with all my might to be happy again and to find the peace I used to know. I've being clawing my way back, all the while thinking that I'm just a pitiful, hopeless, helpless thing. Broken, damaged and useless.
And my God, I'm not. Losing Thomas has changed me forever, but I am not just the sorrow that fills my heart.
I'm still me.