What Doesn’t Kill You…Makes You Different

How many times have you thought that your world could be shaken to its core? How many times have you thought that the person you are could change into someone you don’t know in the blink of an eye? None? That’s what I would have said several years ago, because I had never experienced tragedy…I had never experienced the loss of an immediate family member. Unfortunately, I now can identify with many who have also lost someone very close to them. The death of my brother and then my son 4 short months later has changed me….forever. It is something that has hit me like nothing else ever has….something that shattered my heart and the world as I once knew it into a million pieces. More times than I can count, I would give anything to have the opportunity to go back to a time when both my brother and my son were both alive. Unfortunately, I will never get to spend another day with my brother or my son…my daughter will never get to see her uncle’s smile or to laugh with her brother. My mom and dad will never have the opportunity to hear their son’s laughter or see their grandson’s beautiful blonde hair. My sister-in-law will never get to see the smiles of either her husband or her nephew…and my nephews will never get to hug their dad or hang out with their cousin. This is something that has affected us all, and it is something that has changed each and everyone of us.

Change….it’s a word, that often brings much angst, because it’s difficult to face change. I’ve had those situations within my career setting…and change IS hard. It’s something that we don’t like to do, but we do it, slowly…almost afraid of what the change is going to mean in the context of our professional world. We look around the corners of change, only peeking our heads around the corners as if we are anticipating a barrage of reversals, retractions, innovations, and about face changes that will counteract the work we have grown to know so well. Those of us in education understand that completely. And I’m sure those of you in other career paths, can identify with those same feelings. Change is hard…especially if we are comfortable with the way things have always worked…and if  they have always worked particularly well.

It works the same way, when a drastic change is made to the dynamics of your family. Just think…one day….all of your family members are still with you….your family structure is still in tact. And there is no indication that anything will change anytime soon to disrupt that family structure. That’s what happened to our family. In October of 2015, we received word that my brother’s cancer had aggressively progressed to such a state that would only allow him to live 2 more weeks…..He lasted only a week longer. The thing that gives me peace is that I was able to coherently speak to my brother during his bouts of incoherence. I told him that I loved him….and he said, “I love you too, Carmie”. I knew at that moment that he knew who I was and that he knew that I loved him. I was able to say goodbye to him. Even though I was given that opportunity, losing Steve changed our family dynamics forever. And it’s a dynamic that will never ever be the same. We all still come together and we still have a good time…we laugh, we joke, we enjoy each other’s company….and, YES, we eat. Isn’t that what all families do together? But despite all that we do that is still familiar, something is missing….and we all feel it. A person is missing…and that just can’t be pushed under the rug, because they had such an impact on each and every one of our lives. Aaron impacted more people than I can even mention, but when I think about the immediate people he influenced…..I think of his sisters and his cousins (almost brothers really). Aaron impacted Taylor, Zachary, Jeremy, Katie, and Sarah in deep relational ways. They have lost  a unique connection to him that can’t be understood by the others. For all of us, a hole has been left in our hearts  in the shape of Aaron…and nothing can ever fill that shape. Each of our family members hold a unique shape in our hearts….and nothing can fill that shape except for the person that left that hole.

I have experienced many changes over the course of my life, that have taught me lessons, that have brought me to a better state of living, or have brought valuable experiences for future reference. Divorce is one of those life experiences that taught me numerous lessons. While it was a difficult change and life transition, this experience made me stronger. In a divorce, you learn many, many things….on both sides that change you into a better and stronger person. So, in essence, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”… in some cases. And for my 47 years of my life, I never really understood the magnitude of this statement or questioned its validity. But, I’m here to say that I’m not so sure that what doesn’t kill always makes you stronger. There have been many things that have happened over the last two years that have done nothing but make me feel weaker. However, as I have thought about the many experiences in my life…the failures, the blunders, and the events that have brought me to utter sadness…the one thing I can say that they did was that they made me different….whether that be stronger or weaker…I don’t know, but the one thing I can say about each experience is that I am now different.

Different….that is what I am now. I am no longer the same care-free mother of a son and a daughter that I was 2 years ago. I am no longer the same mother of a Brady Bunch household containing  a brother with two step sisters and a sister with two step sisters. Because that family dynamic has also been changed. Aaron’s blood sister has struggled to find her place in our family dynamic….she has struggled to find how she belongs within this new and lonely family structure. See…grief isn’t just about grieving and mourning the loss of your loved one. I mean…that is a huge part of the grieving process, but another part of the grieving process is figuring out the new family dynamics, figuring out who fits where, figuring out how to carry on family functions without the missing member.

No…my grief hasn’t killed me….but it surely hasn’t made me stronger either. What many perceive as being strong…is really just trying to figure out my way through this unanticipated tragedy. And while we continue on despite our tragic loss….don’t mistake that for strength. It’s simply trying to find something that will get us through the next event or milestone. No….grief hasn’t killed me….but it has definitely made me different.




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