Friday, December 10, 2010


don't let this define you, he said.

i think i may have mentioned here before (darned if i can find where) that, as has anyone who has been through a significant loss, i heard some comments that were less than helpful after eliza died. i knew that all of them were shared with the best of intentions, and so for the most part in each case i was able to receive the good intention and ignore the foolish vehicle for its delivery. but these words didn't roll off my back so easily. don't let this define you. thankfully, they were offered in the context of a conversation in which it was appropriate for me to push back--and so i did. i had completely forgotten that conversation until i recently heard the same words offered to a friend who had just been diagnosed with cancer: don't let this define you.

before i explain my pushback, i should explain that i understand the good intention behind the words. for my friend with cancer and for me in my loss, the intention (i believe) was the same: don't cease living because of suffering, don't give up on all you know and are because a bad thing has happened, don't lose your identity because of this new label you wear: cancer patient, grieving mother. i am grateful for those good intentions.

but what i said to the friend who offered me these words was this: i believe that losing eliza is intended to define me. not in the sense that i should always and ever be only a grieving mother; those of you who know me well know that was never a risk for me. but in the sense that in some inexplicable, providential way, this was intended for me and is meant to change me. death is evil--don't get me wrong--and was never what God intended for us. but "we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose" (romans 8:28). even evil things He can and does use for our good.

i know that losing eliza has changed me, which is not to say that i wouldn't give it all back if i didn't have to lose her after all. but since that is not mine to decide, i will decide what i can, which in this case is to be grateful for those changes and the way that her life and death were intended to define me. if i believe in a God who is God of the whole universe and of every single hair on eliza's head, a God who is all good and wants the best for me and eliza always, a God who is completely in control, then somehow or another, God is in everything i experience, be it joyful or painful. He allows the painful things...or something equally hard to swallow: one way or another, He is in them. and they are meant to define me. what has resulted from the trial of losing eliza was meant for me, and God is all over it. He has defined (in the sense of creating) me through losing eliza, and that is--somehow, and the Lord only knows how--good. in one sense, my friend was right: i shouldn't be defined by losing eliza in the sense that i might become nothing but a grieving mother. but in quite another and perhaps more important sense, i know that i needed to let losing eliza define me. this suffering is mine and i am God's, and through this as through everything i experience, He is making me into what he has intended for me from the beginning of time.

let Him define you--that's my advice, i guess--even when the vehicle for the defining feels more like painful re-fining.

1 comment:

jfa said...

Facebook had a link to your blog the other night. it was late and i was sleepy but I started reading and couldn't stop. I got teary a few times and chuckled a few others. You have quite a way of putting things and though I hear the stories ... hearing what you're going through in your words was quite moving.

I totally hear you on the not-so-helpful advice. At similar painful moments, I got some shockingly similar words that I had equally little use for (along the "just be happy" lines) those words had so little to do with what i was feeling or how I could process my dad's death even years later at truly joyful occasions!

Yes you are more than this pain and yes, you will laugh and have successes and soo much joy, even when you're grieving, and I know you are an amazing mother and wife and friend... but of course "it" defines you... in that this loss and Eliza's life, too, are forever a part of you!

I don't know you well but your words and coping and real-life feeling are inspiring to me and I'm sure so many others who know you and who don't.

I thank you for sharing them and letting me get to know you a bit better here! Hope you don't mind me peeking (if you didn't realize facebook was sharing with random friends like me!)

big hugs! jennie a.