My sister had a baby last month. I was abroad when it happened, and I spent hundreds of dollars that day on my phone bill. I could hear the thrill of new parenthood in her voice, even just a few hours after she became a mom.
I went to visit her a few weeks later. The second I saw her, I felt like I was going to start crying. There she was, holding her baby in a sling on her chest. The baby was sleeping. And my sister was beaming.
In that moment, I could see it. My sister was the person she’d always been: thoughtful, and with a great sense of self. But there was a change in her, one that was obvious.
She was a mom. Loving her perfect, tiny girl had already changed her.
I thought about this moment a lot over the past few weeks. Motherhood had already given my sister a new perspective. She was changed by something outside her own control.
I’m not talking about learning to burp a baby or properly change a diaper. The logistics of parenting changes everyone a bit. I’m talking about how simply loving someone so helpless makes you into someone who is irrevocably different.
Love changes you. That is not disputed by anyone.
The same can be said about grief. Missing someone deeply changes you. It makes you into someone different.
And yet it’s something that Americans don’t accept so easily. I’ve heard many widows and widowers tell me that their family and friends don’t like that they are “so different” than they used to be. It’s not merely that we widows (and widowers) don’t throw the same parties that we used to, it’s that we are fundamentally not the same people that we once were.
I mean, I guess there are a lot of pieces of me that remain the same. I still like to dance in the kitchen with my kids. I still think the best thing in the world is a backyard tomato in the height of summer. I still love to be around teenagers and I still think being a high school teacher is the best job in the world. Moreover, a lot of my personality is still the same. I’m still basically an optimist and an extrovert.
And yet. I am not the same. Even if I can’t exactly pinpoint what it is that makes me different, I know that I see the world with somewhat different eyes. Maybe that’s because my world – the one without Shawn – is a completely different place for me than it was two years ago. Because he’s gone and because the life we shared is gone, I’m different.
I know it would be a whole lot easier for many of the people in my life if I just went back to how I was before. I know this is true because, every once in a while, someone lets something slip like, “it seems like you are getting back to your normal self.”
But that self doesn’t exist anymore. That person – the one who sang with wild abandon with her husband at every karaoke bar we could find – that person is gone. A similar person remains, yes, but not the same person.
I have some friends who couldn’t quite accept this. They didn’t like that for the past year and a half, I’ve been much more protective of my family’s time and more selfish with what I can give to others. I get that. It’s not easy to be around me some of the time. Maybe that’s because I’m grieving. Or maybe that’s because I’ve become someone that isn’t quite as lovely to be around.
Maybe that will change. Maybe I’ll become more enlightened and maybe I’ll go back to asking for less from the people surrounding me. For now, I’m lucky that many of the close friends and family in my life have stuck around, even for this new version of Marjorie.
It’s funny, because I think as a society we accept that people become irrevocably changed when they have children. We get that passing through this life stage is one that affects you so deeply that even after a few weeks of parenthood, a person is going to be different forever.
But we don’t allow the same thing for many who grieve. Would we expect a parent to “go back” to being exactly the same person after bringing a child into this world? Absolutely not. And we shouldn’t expect those who experience great loss to be the same ever again.
My sister’s eyes looked different when I saw her. It wasn’t because she was sleep-deprived, even though she was. It was because she was someone new. She was a mom.
My eyes also look different now. They are still filled with love for my kids and they are still excited to experience all the possibility that life holds. But they are not ever going to be the same because I see the world differently now.
I am someone new, too.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.