I was really fortunate that I didn’t have anything major that came up along the way that severed any relationships. However, after the death of a child, there is a noticeable shift in relationships. Several relationships simply dissolved. Many new relationships formed. These new relationships that were built out of the loss were built on things that leave a lasting mark. There is something unique about those relationships. They are people that I feel a meaningful connection to, people who I would do just about anything for, and people who are more than just casual friends.
I’ve spent some time in the last couple days reflecting on what makes those relationships unique. It isn’t time spent together, some of the people I feel closer to are people that I rarely get to see. It isn’t necessarily common losses. I do feel a special connection with many other bereaved moms, but not all of them, and I do feel particularly connected to several people who have not experienced any significant loss at all. So where is the difference made?
I think the key is vulnerability and the stronger relationships are with people I’ve been able to share my weakness with. When your child dies, you are suddenly thrust into an extraordinary state of vulnerability, whether you like it or not. You are charting new territory, emotions are big and raw, and your sense of security is torn. There is always a sense that you are being watched by those around you in the same way that people can’t help but stare at the train wreck as they pass by. There is so much vulnerability in that. No matter how much you try to guard yourself, you can’t entirely do it.
There are some people who pass by the train wreck, sympathetic and concerned, but who choose to keep moving. There are others who stop what they are doing, push up their sleeves and slip in beside you to help with the clean-up. Those people became vulnerable themselves by stepping into my nightmare. They chose to look this broken woman in the eye knowing that this tragedy could just as easily been their own. There was nothing I did to deserve or cause this. There was no way to prevent it and it could have been them instead of me. It takes courage to look that in the eye and not run the other direction. I think it’s exactly because of that mutual vulnerability that those special attachments were formed to those people who supported us through that loss, who looked out for us, helped us, and walked the journey with us. Vulnerability is not comfortable for anyone. It often means sharing the parts of yourself that you’re not very comfortable with, the very personal struggles, the fears, doubts, and imperfections that are part of our daily battle. However, as uncomfortable as it is, vulnerability is the stepping stone for meaningful human connection. When you can be truly open with someone and be loved and accepted anyway, there is depth in that friendship. There is strength in a relationship in which someone else has been willing to risk their own physical or emotional stability to be with you.
We have to be careful not to lose touch with what vulnerability brings to our lives. In our world of technology it is easy to let our interactions with each other take place on a superficial level. We enjoy the time together, but never really ask the tough questions and we aren’t very willing to really bear ourselves to others. It’s easier to send a text when you can calculate the response than accept the unknowns of what a real conversation might bring. On Facebook, we can share tidbits of our lives and feel like we somehow know what people are up to, but we only ever see one side of that coin. It becomes a place where we can present only the parts of us that we want to show the world. We don’t share the ugliness of our lives. We are never really vulnerable. Like the tree that needs to embrace the vulnerability of winter and let go of those last leaves in order to continue to thrive and grow, we also need to embrace our vulnerability in order to grow. It is In our weakness that our greatest strengths are found. When we can stop what we’re doing, push up our sleeves, and be courageous enough to be vulnerable, we open ourselves to meaningful relationships, and to genuine love, joy, acceptance, and fulfillment.