Why do I avoid confessing why I seem so familiar to you? To shield us both from the inevitable awkwardness that accompanies the moment of truth. Once, I made the mistake of assuming I was being asked that question because of Aly's accident. After all, the accident made headlines across the state. One media photo showed our 13 year-old son and myself sobbing into Aly's favorite stuffed animal. Who wouldn't remember that? But this one time, to my horror and that of my acquaintance, my incorrect assumption resulted in a really uncomfortable situation for us both.
It is also uncomfortable waiting for one's friendly smile turn to utter pity as my name is suddenly recognized. Yes, I am THAT mom, the one who lost her swimmer daughter in that tragic car accident. Oh yes, they remember. And while I am enormously grateful they haven't forgotten my daughter, I desperately wish, even muse on occasion, that I could be recognized inside our community for having done something notable, honorable. Something not associated with a tragedy involving my child.
Losing a child thrusts us headfirst into an association with tragedy from which we cannot escape, and we will forever be publically associated with it. Our pain and loss naturally create a great deal of discomfort not just in ourselves, but in those around us and some even find it so unpleasant they avoid us altogether. Knowing this stark reality can compound our selfconsciousness when out in public. But aside from isolating ourself at home for the rest of our life, the only alternative is to go about our public routine and accept having to witness the pronounced pity and compassion reflected on the faces of others when that inevitable “ah-ha” moment of recognition happens.
You see, it takes an enormous amount of courage and effort to reintegrate back into society after losing a child and when we do, it can be extremely awkward. Coupled with our natural tendency like all wounded animals to seek seclusion, the eventual return to our public routine can be filled with anxiety and dread.
So next time you encounter a grieving parent, resist the urge to avoid them and instead extend an encouraging smile and gentle embrace. These simple actions encourage us and helps ease our transition as we move from isolation back into society. Eventually as we find our footing, we may be able to return a genuine hug and smile when you are in need yourself, offering healing to us both.