One of my favorite features of Denver International Airport is the long moving walkway. I like how it helps travelers traverse the vast distance across terminals at exponential speed. Passing by all the regular pedestrians on the stationary floor next to me gives a sense of gliding along like a gazelle, while a slow-motion turtle next to me is doing his best to keep up.
Sometimes it feels like there are two versions of me, two realities which have to exist because there’s no other option. I can’t erase either version, because both are now essential to who I am.
One version of me is on the moving walkway because that moving walkway is time. I couldn’t get off it if I tried. My husband is there; my kids are there, my sweet foster son is there. The daily requirements of cooking, cleaning, wiping snotty noses, and eating chocolate are there.
Related: On Parenting After Loss: My Truth
The other version of me stands on the stationary ground next to the walkway. I am watching my different version be carried away by the necessities of time. The stationary version of me holds Elliot tightly to my chest, cradling his memory as any mommy cradles her baby.
One version of me had to get back on that moving walkway. Occasionally, I’ve heard people observe that a bereaved person seemed to be “moving on,” as if it’s a positive show of willpower. Well, I can’t speak for other bereaved parents, but I know for me that is not the case.
As much as I wanted to stop time when my son died, I had no power to do so. I am alive in this world, and time is relentless.
“Moving on” is just the reality that I can’t stop the walkway.
And yet I am still her, still also the version who can never “move on.” I am in awe of my son, who remained in utero for ten weeks after my water broke, seven of those weeks spent in the hospital on bed rest. I smile at the thought of a fighter who almost died during delivery but who would never give up.
I am gazing at the face of the baby this body bore, whose birth scar I forever wear. I am holding the hand of a little boy who wrapped his fingers tightly around mine, whose perfect clear eyes I gazed into. My Elliot, who fought for every second of his five days in the NICU. I remember how he cupped his hands to his face and the delicacy of his legs as I changed his diaper. I am her.
I am that mommy. Elliot’s mommy.
The version of me who moves along the walkway of life, who homeschools, who is now a foster mom, owes so much to that lady on the sidelines. I look back at her, still holding Elliot, and am reminded of what matters. I make the most of the days I have and look longingly toward heaven, where I will truly hold my Elliot again.
But the version of me on the walkway has to keep moving. Time gives me no choice. So I watch the girls grow and lose teeth and become adept at monkey bars. I learn to navigate the new world of foster care with its meetings and paperwork and uncertainties. I have lunch with friends and meet at parks for play dates.
Usually, the two versions of me take turns. Unlike the first six months or so after losing Elliot, where I now recognize I was probably trapped in the initial shock of PTSD, I now have some control over how I deal with triggers when they appear.
I have to live most of my life on the walkway. And if there is a trigger like seeing a baby around Elliot’s age or hearing a sound that reminds me of being in the hospital, I can take a deep breath and tell my grief and trauma I will deal with them later. Then, when I am alone, or maybe in conversation with a trusted friend, I will allow myself the freedom of being the mommy on the sidelines, holding my Elliot and mourning him all over again.
The hardest moments come when I’m in a situation where both versions of me need to have an expression, but they cannot. When I need to focus and parent my children, or in a situation, it would be socially awkward to let my tears freely fall, the two versions spin round and round in my head.
This is sometimes when PTSD seems to be stronger than all my willpower or rationality. It’s when panic sets in when nothing makes sense.
Be patient with people in your life who’ve experienced trauma. They indeed cannot help how they might react when the two versions of themselves collide.
For those of us who’ve lost loved ones, and especially who’ve lost children, we can’t let go. I can’t let go of everything that hurts about Elliot’s death, because all of it is inexorably linked to Elliot’s life. It would not give me the freedom to erase the version of me on the sidelines.
It would be a painful prison, locked into silence where I didn’t feel free to share about my son.
So I share about him. I weep that I am missing out on a whole lifetime with him. I rejoice that I will be spoiled with an eternity with him. I choose to step out of time and be with him once again. And there, in the slowed-down timeless place, I find courage and strength I couldn’t find anywhere else.
This is just another gift my son gives to me: the gift of pausing time for a moment, to remember what once was, and to fix my eyes on what will forever be.
Photo Credit: Author’s own
Originally published on https://rawandfiltered.com/2018/09/21/two-versions-of-me/
About the Author: Heidi is a mom to two spunky girls on earth and three precious babies in heaven. Once a classroom teacher, Heidi now teaches her girls at home. Heidi and her family have recently begun their foster care journey and have had the blessing of one little boy in their home. Find her on https://rawandfiltered.com/