This month at Peanut Butter on the Keyboard, we’re talking about moms and loss and the grief that comes with it. But that’s not a bad thing or a sad thing.
It’s ironic, really, that talking about loss and grief can actually be uplifting. After reading Ellie’s poignant posts about her miscarriages, I felt so inspired. I want to be a coffee bean like Ellie. How can I give? How can I change the world through what I’ve learned? And same with Robyn’s post on having polycystic ovarian syndrome…she’s created such a good life in spite of her infertility. She’s an awesome mom, and she won’t let any sense of loss or grief deny her the joy she finds in her family.
As I was contemplating my own journey as a mom who’s experienced loss, I sat and tried to hold it close so I could write about it easier. But I’m having a hard time doing that…reliving the intensity of the anguish of expectations that didn’t come true. And I’m kind of glad. I’ve experienced a ton of loss as a mom–and terrible, wretched grief about it. But I’m at a new place. And it’s a place with a lot less fear because I already know the ending. That’s the beauty of becoming an older mom, I suppose. I already know that whatever happens to my children and to me as their mother, the love is there. It won’t die. It will be stronger than ever. Good will win.
In the long, long run, good always wins. I think that’s the most profound thing a person can learn, and I learned it through my experience as a mother.
I think back on the last 21 years—that’s how long I’ve had my son with mild Asperger’s Syndrome–and it’s been a real odyssey. I was afraid Nighthawk (that’s what I call him on this forum) would be ostracized as a child and a teen. Well, sometimes he was. I was afraid he’d be depressed about that. Yep—occasionally, he was! And I was afraid he’d be lonely, confused, and scared. Well, gosh darn it, he certainly was all three, many times.
The grief you feel as a mom to see your child hurting is excruciating, and I hid the depth of mine from everyone for so many years. What else can you do but move past all the incidents of hurt? You have to keep going. But I remember one particularly bad time when we were visiting friends in Spain. It was our last night there. Nighthawk was a teenager and his American cousin, a boy the same age as Nighthawk, was quietly invited over to a Spanish girl’s house—probably for a romantic goodbye–and Nighthawk was not, although he was her friend, too. He was visibly upset, both sad and angry. Usually, you hide when you’re hurt, especially in front of people you don’t know well, but Nighthawk didn’t. My brother took him aside and tried to explain to him the concept of being a “wingman:” yes, guys stick together, but if a special girl one of them likes enters the picture, the other guy understands and gladly steps back.
I tried to intervene, too, but there’s only so much a mom can do. It’s really up to your child to figure it out for himself. So while I watched Nighthawk try to process what had happened, I got through the rest of the awkward dinner with our Spanish friends with dignity and good cheer. I was a guest in this country, and I owed them that.
Even as I went back to my hotel with my sister, who was my roomie, I acted as if the hurt hadn’t happened. I pretended along with her that it was a beautiful night in a charming town in Spain. How often would experiences like this come along? She thought it was a kindness to me to forget the incident at dinner, so we tried for normalcy back at the room, laughing and talking, happy to be two sisters having a European adventure.
But I couldn’t sleep. I remember sitting up in bed and saying something like this to her: “What happened to Nighthawk was so painful to watch. And I’m tired of everyone just acting as if everything’s okay around me for the sake of moving on. My grief is real. I’ve been pretending for 17 years that I’m okay. But I’m not. And I’m scared that the hurt will never stop, for him or for me. I wonder how we’ll endure.”
That moment was a turning point for me. My despair, my sadness, all had its roots in being afraid. I wasn’t sure that I could handle the truth.
But here is that truth: my son wears his heart on his sleeve. He doesn’t have the instinctive social filter he needs to protect himself. He’s not sophisticated and never will be. He’s smart, though, and through a lot of practice, he can learn to navigate the world. He’s come such a long way already—he’s a junior in college now, he speaks several languages, he has friends and a part-time job. Embittered people sometimes use his vulnerability to entertain themselves. The kind ones are wonderful—helpful, friendly, and loving. But Nighthawk won’t always be around kind people. Perhaps more than the average Joe, he may get hurt, over and over, for the rest of his life.
This is not what I wanted for my boy when I birthed him.
When you’re low—truly low—you have two choices: to actually embrace what scares you or to hide from it. If you choose the former, you choose to live. If you choose the latter, you die inside.
And when you choose to live your truth, the big miracle is that strength and peace just come. In abundance! Some people call it grace. Some call it God. All I know is that since that night in Spain, I am living wholly. And those fears I faced—aloud in the presence of my sister—lost their power.
Those damned expectations I had the day I held Nighthawk in my arms for the first time as a newborn baby…well, they were phantom dreams that held me back from living my real life. They kept me from seeing vividly, every day, that I can celebrate the fact that my son is living his truth with courage, humor, and compassion. He’s a walking testament to the power of love and what it can do in a person’s life.
So this is why I’m in a new place. Sure, I know bad things can happen to Nighthawk, to me, to my family, my friends, and to the world. But I’ve experienced utter despair. I have used that power in me—whatever you want to call it–to stare down the fear, to somehow turn myself, despite all odds—like a rusty, stripped screw–from denial to reality.
And each day, I remind myself that the power that turned me is there. I call it Love. It’s truth and grace and God…it’s all that’s left in us when we think we’re empty. So in a way, I’m glad I’ve been reduced. I’m glad I know pain. I’m blessed to be the mother of Nighthawk, and I wouldn’t change a single bit of our path. To be fully alive, you have to be where you are. Not settling—no, indeed, we must fight hard sometimes to make things right—but having faith that truth will lead us to the place of peace and power inside us that allows us not only to survive but thrive.
That’s all I have to offer the world. That’s me being a coffee bean. I hope I’ve brought you hope—the way Ellie and Robyn have brought me hope. We’re meant to share it.
Every mom has had to witness her child’s pain. We tend to make it our own, don’t we? And every mother deals with expectations that didn’t come true. I’d love to know how you handle yours, if you’re willing to share. XOXO
Hi, I’m Kieran. My family loves music and anything that makes us laugh out loud. Along with Chuck, my husband of 23 years, I try to teach our kids that we have to actively choose happiness–and if I accomplish nothing else as a mom but pass that one lesson along to them, then I think I’ve done my job.
My oldest guy, Nighthawk, was diagnosed in kindergarten with Asperger’s syndrome, and now he’s a junior in college; his sister Indie Girl, who’s younger by 16 months, is a college sophomore; and my youngest, Dragon, is in ninth grade. For our family, it’s about managing your weaknesses and wringing everything you can get out of your strengths. And along the way, finding joy.