I took Bess for a walk by myself today. Usually, Ed and I take her together after he’s gotten home from work—it’s been too hot to go much earlier than 8:00 at night anyway. But we had dinner plans with a friend from out of town tonight and it was overcast and not as hot today, so Bess and I went out by ourselves around 5:00. I was about halfway up the block from our house when I was struck by the idea of what people driving and walking past must see when they see me. I thought, “They see a childless woman walking her dog.” And then I thought, “Is that what I am? What am I? Who am I now that my daughter has died?”
My dear old friend Page recently posted on her (uniquely awesome) mommy blog some advice for those of us who are “Climbing Out of Hell,” meaning all those of us who have suffered losses of many kinds. At the end, she says, “The last thing I want to say is that you are ‘The One.’ You know, ‘The one whose parents died in a plane crash.’ Or, ‘The one whose sister killed herself.’ Or ‘The one who was raped.’ Whatever the atrocity is, you are ‘The One.’”
She is spot-on, like she is about so many things. But God help me, I don’t want to be “The One.” Even during those horrible days in the hospital, when we were faced with the fact that Hudson was not likely to survive, I remember thinking, “I don’t want to be ‘the parents who lost a child.’” I’m not totally sure what that was about. I think part of me couldn’t bear the thought of that new identity, of being an object of pity, of being a person people feel like they have to mince words around. But I realize now that part of me was already trying to come to grips with what it means to be a mother without a child. When Hudson was born, I think I felt for the first time in my life that I knew who I was and understood my purpose. Although I was (am) certainly more than just “Hudson’s mommy,” I derived more meaning out of that identity than anything else I have ever been or done. I cherished that identity. It was (is) not all of who I am, but it was (is) who I am nonetheless. I don’t want to be anything else.
But who (what) am I now? I am still Hudson’s mommy, but yet I don’t get to actually be her mommy anymore. My identity as I knew it two and a half months ago no longer exists. I walk around the block without my little girl in a stroller. I drive a minivan with no kids in the back. I can do whatever I want all day long without planning around naps, meals, and bedtime. These are not things that mommies do. “Childless mother” is not an identity I ever anticipated. I really have no idea who I am in this new world into which I have been thrust, quite literally kicking and screaming, against my will.
Page says, “How you choose to deal with your oneness is going to make or break the way you live in your ‘After.’ The good news is the more time goes by, the more people forget about your oneness.’” Once again, I know she is right. As we are forced ahead in this “After” without our sweet Hudson, we will never forget our girl, nor will anyone who knew her and loved her. But as time goes on, I hope I will feel less like “the one who lost a child.” And I certainly hope I will not always be a “childless mother.” Because honestly, there’s just no worse identity in the world.