One of the bits of wisdom Diane Langberg mentions is how much grief is involved in complex trauma. Trauma creates a rift in your world: there is a distinct before and after in your life, because the shattering of your sense of meaning is so great that you must reconstruct it. And this happens repeatedly. She does not talk about the disruptions in ability to make meaning out of the world, but she does talk about the element of a before and after and about there being many of these.
I have been thinking about Nata’s death, and the before and after this created in my life. I have been meaning to write about this and not really known how. It’s so painful to think about at all.
It created such a disruption of my identity. I was thinking about that this morning, washing up in the kitchen–how I miss Y-town in part because I felt at home in my identity. I was the children’s teacher–the bazaar was full of my students and their siblings. I taught so many different grade levels in my 3 years there, that I had taught more than half of the students between grades 3 and 9. I had other connections with so many of them. And I was C’s mom. I was C’s mom and a teacher, and those identities were very clear. I ran into someone who hadn’t met C in a while, and they would ask me, “How is C?” I overheard conversations about her as soon as I entered the scene–not about the two of us, but just like my presence reminded people of her existence. In Y-town, I was a teacher and a mother and I wasn’t anyone’s love interest or anyone’s potential date. It was easy to be clear I don’t do that.
I have no real idea how I am seen here, but I know my presence lacks that clarity for other people. It’s not a tiny little town, where people are located through their relationships.
I know I feel that loss here, and now that life has slowed down considerably, I have more time to think about that and to try to adjust. I felt so real in Y-town in a way that I don’t here. There is an element of that being true North for me.
And, in fact, whenever I return to the US from South Asia, I feel a sense of suffocation, which I now realize is a feeling of loss and longing–it’s holding back tears. The thing I remember about India, and what kept me leaving the US in search of some other home, was that I felt I could breathe again.
I felt safe. I don’t know why this might be. I know some elements have to do with the cultures of the woman I will call Aisha, who may or may not have been my foster mother but was certainly of some importance to me, and also of the Russian girls, because those are all collective cultures compared to the independent West.
I don’t know about that part really. But I did think about this identity of mother which C tapped into. It was actually new for me. I am not saying it fit like a glove. I still struggle trying to figure out how to understand a teenager, how and whether to set boundaries, when to be understanding.
It just made me wonder if C tapped into something that was already there, and if her need for a mother curled around my loss of a child I had never resolved.
After Nata died, I had a miscarriage. I was 13 at the time. I don’t know whose child it was. I am sure that felt unknowable to me.
I have been thinking about stories I told myself in order to survive, which were not necessarily true. I have in the past thought that Nata died saving this baby. I had very explicit memories of this, but memory is a slippery thing, and our memories are distorted by our need to find explanations.
I know some things are true, because they resonate in a deep emotional way I can’t explain otherwise. I know Nata was real, because her existence keeps resonating. I know the pregnancy was real too. But there are other things I am really not sure about.
As survivors, we want to be believed, but I have to tell you my mind is so disorganized and incoherent, I can only ask you to bear with me for a while.
That said, I wonder now if I told myself Nata died for the sake of the baby in order to survive the loss: at least I have the baby. Then, of course, the baby died.
It might be I don’t know why Nata died, that it occurred suddenly and without warning, and I will never have any explanation for why it happened. I know, in her life, she did everything she could for me. Her loyalty might have led to her death. It is certainly possible, but I also wonder if it didn’t, and if I actually just don’t know.
To return to that earlier track, I wonder if this unresolved identity of being wife and mother played out with C. Who do you need me to be? I can be your daughter, if that’s what you need. The contract she assumes she must enter into….I’ll be who you want me to be. It would make her attentive to what I needed, even if I didn’t know what it was, and if she landed on it, then I could see what it was too. You see yourself better when someone else sees you. Maybe she saw me.
There are two parts of this. She’s not the child who didn’t live. She has her own life. In order to enter into C’s life, I have to accept the loss of the other child. As a childless person, I wasn’t confronted with the loss every day in the same way. Presence is somehow more confrontational than absence. Absence makes amnesia possible. Presence continually provides contrast you need to make sense.
I also have to think of who I am now in a different way. Who am I as someone who went directly from childhood to something like old age? I mean, what other life stage involves widowhood?
It’s not to say that I didn’t try to be a teenager. I tried to date. I tried to fall in love. I even tried to marry someone. I know I couldn’t make a go of it.
I was trying to understand why C acts out with boys, so I was talking to my friend about it. What physical attraction feels like, what it feels like when someone pays you a lot of attention because they find you attractive.
I realized I don’t have any idea, because to have that kind of relationship, I have to confront the idea that bodies break. I can’t be physically involved with someone and not in some way try to understand that. I haven’t been able to really get past that.
It drowns out any sense that a new relationship might be exciting. It certainly moves it out of the range of being a pretty girl (which C is) who can flirt her way into getting attention.
I know in reality anyone with an attachment disorder faces grief any time they start up a new relationship, but I seem to be unable to escape that.
The point is my life ended up in fastforward. What do I now?