There's a monster inside of me that I fight on an hourly basis. It's the monster of jealousy at all the parents out there who haven't lost a child or dealt with another sort of catastrophic loss that flips your world upside down and robs you of the ability to be a "good" parent. A happy parent. An excited parent. An enthusiastic parent.
I fight this jealous feeling every time I'm at the grocery store and I see a little boy in the baby seat of the shopping cart. I fight jealously when I see pictures of complete families, because it means they have all of their children. I fight jealousy of people who don't have to visit a cemetery to have all of their children in one place. I fight this terrible, green monster every time I think about the kind of mom I used to be, the kind of mom I still LONG to be, but the kind of mom that died when my child died.
I don't want to walk around all day with this aching pit, deep in my stomach. It's the feeling of incompleteness; the feeling that something huge is always missing. While walking around a little town in South Dakota this week, we passed by one of those old-timey western photo studios and for half a second, I thought it would be fun to go inside and have our pictures taken. Cody could be a gun fighter, I could be a saloon girl, etc. And then that pang hit me square between the eyes and suddenly the thought of having a family photo taken was repulsive because all of our family wasn't there. Maybe I should have pushed past those feelings and had the pictures done for the sake of my living children. And maybe one day we'll have that picture taken, but I couldn't do it on that day.
I used to be the worst critic of the kind of mother I was. I wasn't patient enough. I did too much laundry and not enough Candy Land playing. I got mad too much. I didn't act silly enough. The list goes on and on, and it's only through hindsight that I can see how good a job I was actually doing. I think my kids always knew how much I loved them and how they were my number one accomplishment and priority in life. At least I really hope they've always known that. I did my absolute best that I knew how to do, in my Old Life. And in this New Life, I'm doing my absolute best as well. Most days it sure as hell doesn't feel like enough, but I have no other option than to hope and pray that it suffices.
This evening I walked in on Devin using the potty and he was sobbing. His eyes were bloodshot and he was crying in those deep, gut wrenching, heaving sobs. It startled me and I asked what was wrong, and he told me between breaths that he missed Garrett so much. I sat on the bathroom floor as he sat on the commode and my heart felt like it would break in half. I cried with him, but felt utterly helpless. After the initial feeling of despair, I was once again overcome with that Green Eyed Monster and I was desperately jealous of the mother who doesn't sit with her little boy in the bathroom as he hysterically cries that he wants his dead brother back.
And right then I wanted to be That Mother. I wanted to go in the kitchen and be jolly as I pull out the makings for homemade cookies, oblivious to the heartache of people like the Real Me. But instead, I sat there and consoled my Devin as he asked for the one thing I can never give him. He doesn't want cookies or Pinterest birthdays or a mom who volunteers for every field trip. He wants his best friend, his soul mate, his brother, and his Old Life back.
It was then that something inside my head, sprang to the forefront of my consciousness and said "It's easy to be that kind of mom when things are going well. But what you're doing for your family right now is not only a million times harder than throwing the perfect party or smiling all the time. It will also be more rewarding in the end. You have been given a huge responsibility to get your family through this, and that's a responsibility that isn't given to a lot of parents. Screw all those parents who have it easier than you. Screw the mom you USED to be. The kind of mom you're growing into is much, much deeper than many parents will ever have the opportunity to become."
I was vacuuming the van as these thoughts came to me, and I wanted to scream. I wanted to raise my fist to the Universe and say "I don't give a F*** about growing or changing or becoming more!! I want my Old Life back!! I don't want this shitty responsibility!! You can take this learning experience and shove it!!"
But the reality is, THIS is my reality. I don't have the choice to go back to the old me that didn't know how the hell of this last year feels like. The only choice I have is to fight with every ounce of strength I have, to take my family through this and come out on the other side as unscathed as possible. Shortly after Garrett died, my sister in law told me that she had a small glimpse of what our family could be like when all this is "over". The only way she could describe it is from that part in The Lord Of The Rings when Gandalf the Grey dies, and then comes back resurrected as Gandalf the White; stronger, wiser, brighter, and far more powerful than he was before. She said that's how she envisions our family one day. That little glimpse has helped carry me through some of my hardest days.
I would give anything to go back to my Old Life. But since that isn't an option, maybe becoming like Gandalf the White isn't such a terrible aspiration. Maybe.