Tale of Two Losses
I recently became a widow. My husband of 35 years passed away a few months ago after his long-term chronic illness suddenly became acute. He fought this illness with determination for many years. The end seemed to come so quickly and unexpected. In addition to great loss there is still lingering shock. The grief is ever present, and the adjustment to life alone is scary and, at times, comes with intense waves of sadness and emptiness. No one really understands the loss of a spouse until it actually happens to you. I certainly didn’t quite get it until it was on my own doorstep.
I am lucky to be very supported and cared about by family, friends and neighbors. This support is immensely appreciated. When friends relate stories of my husband and bring up his unique personality traits, it helps to keep his essence alive in my heart. I have our kids to share memories with. They understand exactly how hard life is now without him, because they remember how great life was with him. In other words, my grief is acknowledged and verified in every way. This makes the memory of my husband more vivid and real to me, and that is soothing. Even those who are in long term marriages who have not faced the death of their spouse seem to get what a difficult life transition it is. It is just understood by our society and for that I am grateful.
In the last several years I have suffered through another quite significant loss. It is the loss a mother feels when her child expresses a desire to have a transgender identity. For me it happened 6 years ago. Quite suddenly, with no warning signs, my autistic and socially awkward son announced he wanted to be considered a woman. After raising my child for over 15 years I had to somehow adjust to saying goodbye to my son and saying hello to my shiny new “daughter”, like I was swapping sofas.
I will state right now that I totally understand that this loss is not the same as an actual physical death of a child—a thought so terrible I cannot even fathom it. I am referring to death in a metaphorical sense because the son I had is gone, hidden, and disguised. He has transformed into a caricature of an imagined self. Having your child take on a transgender identity causes a grief that takes up residence in your gut and just festers. This grief doesn’t get the sunshine necessary for healing. And it is a grieving that is not at all understood by others. It is never accurately acknowledged. There is no empathetic validation. It is difficult for others to grasp this unique type of mourning.
I bonded thoroughly with my son from the day I learned I was having a boy at 17 weeks gestation. I already had two older children. My third child was born late in life for me at 41. Since I had already experienced the baby and preschool years twice, I was well aware of how fast those years slip by. A bit of midlife wisdom kicked in as well—I was determined to enjoy my ‘bonus baby” as much as possible. I wanted to slow down time and just be with my sweet baby boy forever.
As most parents do, I felt intense love and connection with each of my children. My last child was particularly challenging to raise due to his autism spectrum diagnosis, but that difficulty only made us dig in deeper with compassion and understanding. Our bond with him was cemented even more. His dad and I focused on how to help him thrive in a world that often won’t get him. We supported him through the heartbreaks and disappointments that are often more common and intense for a child who never really fits in.
Now I am being told by every facet of society that that bond doesn’t matter. That I can just say a breezy farewell to that boy I so lovingly bonded with for over 15 years. Don’t fret over losing a son. Celebrate your new daughter! I guess that bond we so lovingly worked to establish means nothing once your kid is sucked into the gender whirlwind. We as parents were responsible for every detail of our children’s wellbeing for all the growing up years (which, by the way, includes the teen years just as much as the toddler years). But now we are not allowed to have an opinion regarding what is good for him. It is profoundly cruel and maddening—an arbitrary decision made by the greater world of people who don’t even know him. I guess that parent/child bond matters. Until it doesn’t.
Some friends and family have attempted to be supportive throughout this time, but most have with qualifiers. Many have sympathy, but reiterate that I have no control over what my son does. While this is true, these sorts of “supportive” statements just make my grief and loss harder pills to swallow. My pain at the loss of my son is always lurking just below the surface, like a heavy burden on the tip of my heart and mind all the time. There is a hesitancy to acknowledge that this loss can be almost as intense as a death. I find myself unable to articulate that feeling. And this is only half of the equation. The other side is the bonfire of insults, dismissal, and accusations from the greater world, which is totally obsessed with the gender issue. I cannot escape the topic—it’s as if the headline of every paper and every public interaction is specifically design to aggravate my pain. I have been talked down to by teachers, school principals, doctors, mental health providers, politicians, talking heads on TV, and clueless acquaintances. Blaming the victim doesn’t even begin to cover this phenomenon of total disregard of parents’ loss when their kid is caught up in this ideology.
I have experienced two profound losses in my nuclear family. Grief over losing my husband (and 35-year marriage) will travel along a somewhat linear progression. Over time, I will take some steps forward, and a few backwards, on my road toward acceptance and adjustment. Caring and decent people will support me along the road. Grief over losing my son to the transgender craze will continue to keep me trapped in a vicious circle without escape, with no room to heal and no path forward to alleviate my suffering.