I vacillate between absolutely helpless and driven to be the mom who put a life jacket on my babies and let them loose in the swift current of the Arkansas River so they could float to the outcropping of rocks where Dub waited. They would feel the ease of the current that carefully carried their young bodies and then it’s deceptive force when they were pushed against the rocks. Before I let them loose to float, we explored the bottom of the river with their feet so they would know what the push of the water felt like against their legs, what the uneven rock bottom felt like beneath their river shoes. The distance did not surpass twenty yards and they were never further than one giant step from the shoreline, but in this world of manufactured safety, it was an adventure I could allow, a lesson they could learn, and a risk I was confident in taking.
Today I am afraid to have expectations, unlike the yesterday of last summer when we were busy making plans for Taylor to travel to Seville, Spain and study for an entire semester. Then, our greatest fear stemmed from thoughts that she would fall hopelessly in love with a Spaniard named Julio or Earnesto and not come home! I long to be the woman I used to be, unafraid and confident that letting my girl loose on the world was our best next step, that and then praying for the world and anyone who got in Taylor’s way.
As a young mother, I fought against solving my children's problems, running to their rescue with friends or adults, righting every unjust act. I didn't know tragedy or deep heartache - but I knew the world to be unkind at times, and I knew they needed their own muscles - emotional, physical and social - to navigate this space. I could be miserable for them and be strong enough to do nothing. I could be strong enough to let them each become strong. I knew that to be best.
Now, I don’t know what strong is - if I am being honest.
I know grief. I have sat with it, named it, described it, ignored it, ran from it, cursed it, and succumbed to it. Grief doesn’t change....but I have. My friend, Sheryl, says my DNA has been changed. Somehow that rang true as I often feel like I do not know who I am.
When my son needs me, when he needs to be parented, I can feel myself being thrust forward. I sense that same mother who put him in the river and told him to hang on to his sister's life jacket. I know the woman speaking, redirecting or guiding. I recognize her, but I seem to be standing at a distance. My son seems confident, even though his role model, his big sister who stood a foot shorter than he, is gone. I look within his confidence and try to see the old me.
I don't know what strength my friends may see. However, writing this down brings this thought - I need only the strength to be patient with this companion of mine.
Grief isn't going to leave. I am just going to learn how to carry it. When I do, maybe the old strong will give way to a new strong.