I’ve heard it said that becoming a mom changes you forever – the old you is gone and replaced by the mother version of you. I’ve also heard that parents often learn more from their children than their children learn from them. Though not intended for this circumstance, I think both statements are never more true than for a mother who loses her child. This realization hit me once I started to acknowledge the many gifts Jacob has given me. Early in my grief, I couldn’t help but focus on all the ways I had changed that I perceived as negative. I laughed less, had less energy, was less social, and lived in fear that tragedy could strike, again, at any moment. I lived with anger, under a cloud of sadness, unable to see past a few moments ahead of me because the future I had planned on for the last 9 months had suddenly, shockingly, been ripped from me.
But as the weeks and months went by, as my husband and I found our new normal, and we started to laugh and socialize and hope and dream again, the positive aspects of the “new me,” the “mom me,” came into focus. I consider these to be my gifts from Jacob.
1. The gift of slowness and observation. Jacob has taught me to slow down and appreciate life more, especially those small moments of peace and joy, like a beautiful sunset, a cloudless blue sky, a warm hug from a friend, or a butterfly flitting by. The old me was apt to miss these things in pursuit of what was in front of me. I always had goals, a to-do list, something I was working toward that seemed more important than where I was or what I had in the moment. I made mental notes all the time to try to slow down, be mindful, and appreciate “the now,” but it never happened for me until Jacob taught me that now is all we have. Today I move a little slower, appreciate the beauty in the present a lot more, and thank Jacob every time I realize how much that perspective shift enriches my life.
2. The gift of authenticity. Before Jacob, I was a people pleaser. It went beyond wanting to bring happiness to my loved ones. I never wanted to be perceived in a negative light, criticized, or judged, and not just by those close to me, but by everyone I encountered. I was afraid to be disliked and I made a lot of decisions based on that fear. I’m not trying to claim that I’ve been completely cured of my people pleasing nature. I still like to bring joy to others, and often find myself putting others’ needs before my own (don’t all mothers?). But I care much less what others think. I recognize that there are some who might question my decision to share so openly about my experience with child loss, who might find it self-indulgent or attention seeking. But it doesn’t phase me. It’s way more important for me to write in hopes of preserving my son’s memory and hopefully lending some comfort to other parents struggling with loss. If I can help just one person to know they are not alone then I have done my son proud, and that’s all that matters. I also used to worry so much about having a career that would cast me as a smart, successful, ambitious person. Now I care far more about spending my time on activities that bring me peace, allow me to be my best for those around me, and give me the opportunity to make the world a better place in some small or large way. Those activities might not look like a traditionally successful career, or even a career at all, but I know I’m doing good and I feel at peace with myself and my Creator, and Jacob taught me that’s all that matters.
3. The gift of love and compassion. I have always had a big heart – I am a passionate, values-based person, and I have had great loves and cared deeply for those close to me. But I have undoubtedly grown in love and compassion since loving and losing Jacob. I am able to love deeper have greater appreciation for time with loved ones, which is not promised. And I am better able to connect with and support others experiencing tragedy. Before experiencing my own great loss, I never knew how to react to others living through tragedy. I would often see posts on social media about losses suffered by acquaintances or out of touch friends and I would say a prayer for them but not reach out. It felt disingenuous to reach out to someone I hadn’t spoken to in months or years to acknowledge their tragedy. Then I lost Jacob, and those messages from old friends were some of the ones that meant the most. I used to hesitate because I didn’t know “the right thing to say.” Now I know there is no “right thing” in the sense that nothing I say can mend a broken heart, but it is always better to say something. Especially if that something acknowledges their sorrow and leaves space for their own grieving process. I have learned that while everyone processes tragedy differently, you can never go wrong by being a listening ear, validating their emotions, and offering support however it might be welcomed. This approach extends as well to life’s darker moments that don’t necessarily amount to tragedy. Jacob undoubtedly made me a better friend for helping me to hold more space in my heart for those feeling lost or low.
Yes, I am a different person for having loved and lost Jacob. And he has taught me far more than I will ever teach him since his life got cut short and I don’t get to play that mother-teacher role. And there is a considerable amount of darkness in that. On days when fear gets the best of me, I can live in terror of the “what ifs” of other tragedies that could befall me or my family. I can feel bitter and depressed that my son was taken from me and I lost a lifetime of mothering him. And that’s okay…It is only natural that I am devastated by this great loss, and that I’d do anything to get my son and my life with him back. But on my good days I recognize that Jacob and what he taught me have indeed changed me for the better. And as time goes on, I have more and more of these good days. I hope he is smiling down seeing his observant, joyful, authentic, loving, compassionate mom live every day grateful for the gifts he gave her.