Life started feeling more complicated when my husband left for Basic Training just five months after we’d gotten married. I learned about the worries and the loneliness and the self-reliance you have to have. I learned about the aching that comes from falling asleep with no one on the other side of the bed. I learned about PCSes and deployments and work-ups and watches. And who I was became stamped with the label of “Navy Wife.”
Then on, November 19, 2004 my whole life changed again with the words, “Your mother has Lung Cancer.” And again *I* changed. I began to wrap my identity in words like, “daughter of mother with Lung Cancer.” My life became about helping her to fight… dealing with a deployment on top of that, and trying to find the ‘right answer’ to the question of ‘Where should I be now?’ with a new baby who needed to see both my Mom with a terminal illness and her own Daddy when his time home was very limited.
Then my Mom died. That changed my identity even more. I became “girl without a mother,” a “motherless daughter” a “motherless mother.” All of these things are part of who I am now. There is no escaping that. I began navigating real grief for the first time ever. I understood for the first time what it’s like to have a hole in your life that can never, ever be filled again—to have that feel like a wound in your side which never fully closes—and still walk around.
But being entrenched in all of those things meant that I forgot other parts of myself. Realizing for the first time that I never really understood illness or suffering or grief or loss or sadness made me believe I was a shallow nimwit before all of this happened. I believed that nothing pre-cancer mattered anymore. At times it even felt as though things that were not directly related to cancer or illness or grief really didn’t matter.
But slowly…. Slowly I am remembering other parts of me. I’m remembering parts of me that used to dream really simple, beautiful dreams. Before we left on our trip, I found a letter I’d written Husband before we were even engaged. In it I talked about how much I loved walking through grass barefoot and catching Lightning Bugs. I talked about how I wanted our home to be a sanctuary to people and that I felt like my life’s calling was to somehow care for hurting people.
I read that and took a breath and went ‘I did get it.’ Back then, I was working on a Special Education degree and I imagined the form that last line would take would have something to do with working with the families of special needs individuals. When I went through my experience with Mom and felt this pull to consider being a hospice chaplain, it felt like the whole concept was foreign and novel. But reading those words I realized that calling has always been in me, it just is taking on new forms.
I feel now that I could take a broader approach, and see what happens. I’m hoping that life will allow for me to go back to school sometime soon to get my Masters in Pastoral Counseling, and we’ll see where that takes me. In the meantime, there are a million ways for a person without such a degree to try to live out that mission, right?
Past all of that, I was sad to think about how long it’s been since I’ve had the feeling of walking through grass barefoot or catching lightning bugs. It’s been far too long since I’ve even sought things like that out. It’s been too long since I’ve breathlessly exhaled and smiled and threw my arms out at the world and smiled back at it with abandon. Have I really become this caught up in being a grown-up? I need to re-discover the little girl in me.
I’m also remembering who my husband is. I read something he wrote yesterday about the journey he took through his grief and the way that changed the landscape of his life and I remembered how much he does understand. I remembered his depth and his wisdom and his insight. I smiled again at the unique way he approaches the world, and at the ways his approach and mine work together.
I’m starting to be able to step back and see who we are and how the crappy events that took our parents are shaping us…. and who we were even before those crappy events happened.
And I think that might just mean that I’m healing. That life is starting to be about more. Laughs are coming more naturally, and I’m trying to remember to have fun again.
My close friends from High School came to celebrate Little Miss’s birthday party with us while we were in IL. We talked, and caught up, and reminisced, and laughed until we almost peed our pants (ok, I’m a pregnant woman–there wasn’t any almost about it ;)), and I remembered why they were all special to me. I remembered what it was like to spend time with people who knew me before I had anything to put into a bra and who navigated the halls of high school by my side (some of us remembering those hallways fondly, others not so much….). Even with us all being ‘grown ups’ there is something natural about us coming together again. It feels like putting on an old pair of jeans and feeling how worn they are, but how they still hug your body in just the right way.
I spent some time during our trip wandering around outside the house where I’d grown up and felt so grateful that it looked mostly the same. I remembered who I was in those places. How I used to think and worry and obsess and dream and wonder and plan. I remembered those thoughtsweren’t all immature irrelevance, but real parts of me and who I’ve become.
So now…. Now I’m just trying to keep those pictures of myself—those flashes of remembering—in mind as I travel through my days. Because I think remembering who I am is going to help me as I continue to become who I will be. It’s all a part of me. It’s all a part of the bigger journey.