When I look back at photos now, I can always tell if they were taken before or after we lost Benjamin. The “before” me had a glint in her eye. She was relaxed and had an innocence about her that I can only feel jealous of now. Life had not yet taken its toll. Then you look at the “after” me. There is a knowing in my face now. There is an understanding that in an instant your world can be torn apart and so much that you thought was under your control is most definitely not. It is only as time passes that you realise just how much you have changed. As the dust settles on over a year without my son I must now start to get to know the new me.
It is one of the most unnerving experiences looking into the mirror and not recognising the person who stares back. Above all, it is as scary as hell. Not only do you have to deal with the fact that your child is gone you now have to figure out who you are. For a long time, this prospect scared me. I could see the fear in the eyes of others as they too realised that I had changed to a point where the old me was never coming back. For that reason, it felt like the old me was this revered “perfect” being and the new me was broken, destitute and damaged. As a result, it felt like the new me could never live up to the old.
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It took me a long time to realise that this wasn’t correct. There was no better or worse me, I was just different. While others experienced a progressive growth and development over a period of years, mine was forced upon me overnight. I didn’t want to love this new me. All this new life represented to me was loss. As a result, It was everything that I didn’t want.
And so with the new me came a lot of baggage. I struggled through the negativity and feelings of despair to realise that there was a lot more to this “broken” person than everyone else saw. Time allowed perspective to creep in and I realised that the new me was pretty kick ass. While I continued to struggle with anxiety and sadness, in reality, I had been freed from the shackles of sweating the small stuff. It felt like for the first time ever I really saw life in full colour.
People were no longer meaningless beings passing by me on the street. Suddenly I realised that everyone had a story, everyone had struggles. The relative hard-nosed me of the past was now softer, more understanding and more patient. The new me craved simplicity. As a result, a life that had previously been punctuated with “stuff” and work was now filled with love and more time for my family. Ironically, the greatest sorrow of my life had made me a more rounded person. It had made me a person that I was glad I was getting to know. Even a person that I could come to love.
My sister asked me the other day how I keep going after experiencing one of the worst things in life. My answer was not complicated. I said that I try to make decisions that will make me happy. And that is one of the most fundamental parts of the new me that I have gotten to know. Keep it simple, surround yourself with love and happiness will follow.
Photo by Mikail Duran on Unsplash