Having a child changes you, Losing one does, too
By guest author Deedra Climer
On the drive to Memphis from Southeast Michigan to bury my twenty-three year old son, Joshua, I fished an envelope out of my glove box, found a pen on the floor and started writing. I was in a daze. Silent, except for the moments when the pain overtook me and the words, “My son,” escaped between convulsive sobs. For twelve hours, my family and I drove without speaking and I wrote like a fiend on the back of that envelope and then a napkin and then the back of an invoice from an oil change that happened in what seemed like another lifetime. I wrote down everything that came into my head, knowing I was in a place I would never be again.
With time, I knew my thoughts and feelings would change and I might lose access to those moments right after I’d learned about my son’s death. What I did not yet realize, though, was how much I had already changed and would keep changing as I figured out how to live in a world without my son. The moment my son took his last breath, every molecule of my being shifted. The shift was subtle—just a little to the left or right. To the people who knew me, I looked like the same person. Where I once had taken pride in being a confidante to others, I now wanted to shout, “Don’t you realize my son is dead?” when they complained about a boss or lamented a relationship gone sour. In the year that followed Joshua’s death, I damaged relationships and lost friends…well-meaning friends who, when faced with not knowing what to say, said something that tweaked a nerve for me.
“I can’t even imagine how you must feel,” was something I heard often. No, I started snapping back. You can’t.
“Do you remember how it felt to become a parent?” I would ask. “How before you had children, you thought you knew what having a child would be like? But then in one instant, when you looked in your child’s eyes, you realized that you hadn’t understood it at all?”
Having a child changes you. Losing one does, too.
What I’m learning now is that the changes aren’t all bad. As strange as it sounds to suggest there may be a silver lining to grief, I’m coming to believe that—at least for me—it could be true. When those molecules finished their shift and settled in new places, the whole that was created was, in some ways, closer to what I consider to be the “authentic me.” I’m learning that taking care of myself physically, mentally and emotionally is job #1. Like the flight attendant says, “Put on your own oxygen mask before you try to assist anyone else.” I’m learning to cherish the quiet, still time instead of feeling guilty for not being productive. I’m learning that red wine does calm my anxiety, but music, nature or a warm bath will do the same thing without giving me a headache. I’m learning to decline invitations when I don’t have the energy to be around people. And, I’m learning that people understand. And, most importantly, I’m learning to tune in to the human spirit. What is on the hearts and minds of those around me— their sorrows, their worries, their fears. And, instead of trying to solve their problems, I’m learning to just be with them in the messiness and confusion of it all. I don’t mind this new, different me so much. I think of it as Joshua’s final gift.
Deedra Climer is a Southern writer who’d rather write about race and poverty than sweet tea and magnolias. Born and raised in Memphis, she splits her time between Tennessee and southeast Michigan, where she runs a small organic farm and apiary with her daughter, Claudia, and husband, Bill. Deedra is the author of Wailing Wall: A Mother’s Memoir.