Better.

Not too long ago, Jake turned and looked at me, with a serious expression across his face, and he told me I had changed.

That’s not exactly what a wife wants to hear, you know. It’s an ominous, loaded statement. We were at a stoplight, discussing an upcoming surgery I would be having. I had been matter-of-factly listing on things the doctor had told me. His sudden remark stopped me in my tracks. He said once I would have been so scared and nervous, and I realized he was right.

He explained to me how Mira has made me a different person, but it was in a good way. He told me I was stronger and fiercer than I had ever been. He listed a few examples of recent situations that I had handled on my own without him, not batting an eye. His comments stuck with me. I had not realized it was so, but as I reflected back on the last year, I realized he was exactly right. I am different. Adopting, loving, raising, and advocating for a little girl with a broken heart, then having to let go of her little body when there was no more life left in – well, that will change you.

First off, now, I’m less offendable, less bogged down by others. I see more now than ever, having lived in a place like the ICU for nearly three months, people going through tough things. I’ve learned to be less quick to jump when people do things that bother me. I’ve been on the other side. I’ve stood at a cash register, pumped gas in my car, grabbed take out, done normal-life things, wondering if anyone around me could possibly know the hell I’d just been through. Who knows what has anyone has faced recently? Likewise, opinions have become of little value. You learn you can’t please everyone, and while I have always generally avoided conflict at all costs, it no longer weighs on me so much when I can’t please everyone.

I’m more fearless – literally, nothing could be harder than what I have already done. I remember this feeling rush through me as we walked away from her graveside service. Nothing could be harder than leaving your five-month-old in the cold, hard ground. I’d done the hardest thing I could do in life, and so what sense is there now to fear the future?

I am fiercer… more intense. Always been a bit of a mama bear, but having to protect and advocate releases a side you didn’t know you had. Mira’s condition required a mother who would make phone call after phone call (some days, I’d spend hours on the phone, calling provider after provider in order to get the appropriate refill or to make sure the correct home therapy happened), a mom who would read and research and ask question after question. I learned to advocate. Once, when we were interviewing pediatricians, and I realized quickly that I knew more about Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome than he did, and I could see how quickly I intimidated him. I sometimes apologize now, because I know I am an intense person. I can’t help but be fierce. I’ve had to be.

I’m more compassionate. The situations I’ve seen because of my children have made me a more compassionate person. I’m more aware of the effects of poverty, teen pregnancy, marital stress, drug use, and mental illness. Our birth families’ situations are each unique and different, but each one, particularly Mira’s, has taught me to look beyond the plight, and see the soul. Mira’s family helped me learn to love more completely. I don’t see them or talk to them regularly now, but they certainly impacted me and have helped me become a more compassionate person.

I’m more damaged now. Losing Mira has made me a way more complex person. I was talking with a friend just recently about grief, and she asked me about the sadness, and I explained to her that it truly never goes away. This kind of grief is different than any other kind of loss – it doesn’t dull into an ache over time and the sadness doesn’t fade. Instead, the sadness stays, running in constant parallel with happiness and joy.  The two coexist in you, the light and the dark. This kind of complexity is isolating… it makes friendships and relationships harder. It makes you awkward at parties, difficult to relate to, scary to some. You’re a walking example of every parent’s worst fear. You become a person with more baggage than some can handle.

My husband’s statements are true about him, too. He changed. He lost some of the hopeful innocent optimism he’s always had – I know he didn’t truly believe we could ever lose her until the exact moment we did. He too has become stronger, fiercer, and yet more damaged, and so has Makinzy. It is hard to capture into words how losing a child will change you. Yet, still, regardless of the pain, I am grateful for her, for her impact on my life, on so many lives.

I will never be the same. She made me better.

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