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Taking Off My 'I'm Fine' Mask After My Sons' Accident

Recently, while going through my nightly routine, I was startled by the reflection in the mirror. Yes, it was my reflection but not of the carefree southern girl I used to recognize. I immediately started laughing and crying simultaneously. I laughed because my own reflection startled me and cried because I didn’t recognize myself. Sadly, my image could not be blamed on a mid-life crisis or hormones or failing to use anti-aging products. Any of these reasons would be a welcome culprit compared to the true robber of my identity.

Up until the night of the auto accident that caused the death of our son Aaron and left Steven with a TBI, both my husband and I held professional titles. Most importantly, we were honored to hold the most prestigious title of being Mom and Dad to Aaron and Steven.
A knock on our door with news of a car crash not only stripped me of my titles and identity, but it also left me with a broken heart. One half of my heart left this earth with Aaron as he drew his last breath. Even while beating frantically out of rhythm, the other half kept beating with a purpose to lend strength to our son Steven as he lay in the ICU fighting for his next breath.

Four years later, as some of the dismal fog lifts, I can see out of fear of letting anyone down, there have been many times I’d proudly adorned the “I’m fine” mask. The mask is not healthy, and it can mislead family and friends into thinking I’m the same person they knew before August 13, 2012. The truth is, there is no way to be the same mom, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend or anything after every fiber of your being has suffered radical rewiring.

My mask is tattered and torn; it’s long overdue for retirement. In retrospect, it was an unrealistic expectation I placed upon myself that I needed to be the same Norma I always was for the people in my life. I wanted to be the same. No mother willingly signs up to trade her “normal” life for a life of being that mom to whom no one knows what to say to because she lost her firstborn son.

The fear of letting others down is self-inflicted. I became so obsessed in ensuring that Steven’s every need was met that I not only lost sight of myself, I lost sight of the fact that others need me now. They need me to say, “I’m not OK!” They need me to show up vs. playing the “I’m too busy” caregiver card when the truth is: yes, I am busy, but at times the avoidance game is more appealing than finding the strength to talk about my reality while everyone else is moving on with their life. I know my family, friends and community will accept me for better or for worse — but I can’t always accept myself!

If I were to attempt to describe all the ways double trauma has changed me, I would run out of blog space, so I will focus on one instrumental way my perception has changed. My husband has lovingly adorned me with the title of being a “Noticer.” Yes, even noticing and stopping to take a picture of a random, broken, upside down but still standing headstone adorning none other than my last name. We stumbled on it, and it hit hard. Ironic, I know! For some, this incident is too morbid to mention, but to me, all I could think was how many times I felt like this headstone inside. Broken over not seeing plans and dreams for me, my husband and my sons come true. Upside down from the roller coaster ride of double grief — earthly separation from Aaron coupled with ambiguous loss. Still standing but not steady. The headstone left me thinking about that old jingle: Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down. That’s the Myers family!

Recently, someone shared these bold words with me: “Do not miss those you have because of those you miss. Do not miss someone so much that you miss the people in front of you.” Upon receipt, the words penetrated my heart in an unpleasant way. I felt angry — angry because without intentionally doing so I know I have missed and been missed. Raw tears are streaming as I type and feel those true but painful words. The heartache I feel from the earthly separation of Aaron is unbearable, but I know he would not want me to miss our faithful family and friends who remain right in front of us. It doesn’t take away from how much I miss him — nothing could do that — but if I allow myself not to miss those in front of me I will gain a reservoir of strength to tap into when my own is depleted. Trust me when I say my genuine desire is to not only physically show up but emotionally, genuinely and vulnerably show up — even when I don’t feel like it. I’m thankful for those in my life who have not given up on me, even at times when I have given up on myself.

mom son and dad holding picture of sibling

It’s both frightening and freeing to be mask-free. This journey is not for the faint of heart. TBI is hard for the survivor and the family. The loss of a child is not natural; it is unacceptable. I have learned many life lessons along our journey — some I prefer to embrace and others I prefer to ignore. Above all, at this pivotal moment, I’m thankful for the healthy lessons that at first I ignored but now I embrace. It’s imperative to let go of unrealistic, self-inflicted expectations, and it is OK not to be OK. It’s not a sign of weakness to admit this. In all actuality, I realize it’s a sign of bravery to say, “Please be patient with me. I need you. I can’t do this alone.

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Getty image by fotojog.