When my own expectations of myself become overwhelming, I remind myself that I am just an ordinary woman who has no idea how to deal with life without one of my children. I am constantly reminded how others do not know what to say, but I have no idea how to live without Amy.
Many, many years ago, my husband and I saw a movie, Ordinary People, which we never forgot and made references to throughout the years. Robert Redford directed this 1980 Oscar winner for Best Picture. It was a simple but painfully emotional story of the disintegration of a “perfect” family after the tragic loss of one of their sons.
While we have always compared our family of five to the Simpsons and never claimed to be the perfect family, who knew that this movie would some day touch us in such a personal way.
Teenager Conrad (Timothy Hutton) lives under a cloud of guilt after his brother drowns after their boat capsizes. Despite intensive therapy sessions with his psychiatrist (Judd Hirsch), Conrad can’t shake the belief that he should have died instead of his brother; nor do his preoccupied parents (Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore) offer much in the way of solace.
Ordinary People, adapted from the novel by Judith Guest, is one of the most well-acted movies I have ever seen. Mary Tyler Moore superbly portrays an ever-smiling suburban wife and mother for whom outward appearance is all that matters. I remember wanting to smack her so many times for the way she gravitated towards her husband, friends and hobbies, while rejecting her broken son who survived the accident and later tried to take his own life.
The father was trying to keep both his wife and son happy while neglecting his own grief. Something as simple as taking a family photograph became a big deal and was uncomfortable because it was the first family photo without their son who passed away in the accident. For whatever reason, that scene became stuck in my head.
Yes, we are ordinary people but we no longer live an ordinary life. Ordinary people living ordinary lives would have no clue how that first photo without their loved one could be so painful. Six months later, there are no new family photos. Instead we cling to all of our old photos and most of our new photos are featuring our dog.
Within days after Amy passed away, this old movie came to mind. My mantra became don’t let your children who are still here get caught in the cross fire of your grief. Remember Conrad! Remind them that they are still loved and valued despite the way they see me grieving their sister. I told them and tried to show them by not once retreating to my bed and by getting up each day, getting dressed, putting on makeup and fixing my hair in an effort to camouflage my shattered heart. I only have a vague recollection of the first 3 months following Amy’s passing but I do remember how hard I fought to stay present in my husband and children’s lives. They continue to be my north stars.
Suddenly, I am realizing that there are so many dimensions to my life now. Unfortunately, there is not one dimension that gives me peace or where I feel comfortable. I am told that in time the shock will wear off and I will be left with the sharp reality of what happened. Quite frankly, I am surrounded by reality checks every where I go. Even in my own home.
I find it too difficult to look beyond today. I have noticed that I am getting better at hiding my grief in public which makes it a little easier for others to be around me. As time goes by, I also feel less concerned if I cry around others and also less concerned if the reality of my grief filters through and causes someone to become uncomfortable for a few minutes. There are times now when I am around others and trying so hard, with my best actress face on, to pretend I am leading an ordinary life and I am at least ok. However, truth be known, I am so not ok.
Recently someone introduced me to their mother and asked me if they could tell their mother what happened to me? Huh? Here goes the identity thing that makes me want to scream. “Meet Dee, she lost her youngest daughter.” Now that this was announced, what am I supposed to say? It puts that mother on the spot too and sets her up to say the wrong thing, which she did! Her response was how many children did your daughter have? When I said “none”, her response was “usually by age 27, there are children.” Now I have just been reminded that I will never have grandchildren from Amy. So, what the heck was the purpose or value of this introduction!?
Yes, that’s me, the ordinary woman who no longer lives an ordinary life. I miss Amy and my ordinary thoughts, hopes, dreams, peace, joy, sorrows, etc.
Remember Amy, a loving, vibrant, sweet, thoughtful, generous daughter — an “extraordinary” young woman!