The Question

The icy walls I have built around my heart are tall and strong, built out of Alcatraz-worthy impenetrable stone.  I didn’t know that I had built walls, but I realized this week that they are there.  Guarding my battered heart, protecting my strength.  For months, I have felt like the toughest part of my grief work was behind me…so why don’t I feel like my normal self again?  I have shed many many tears, imploring God to please please let me be “normal” again.  Let me belly laugh.  Let me look a stranger in the eyes.  Let me be warm and open.  Let me not be the wallflower awkward-middle-school-girl when I get in a group of people.  Let me make small talk.  Right now, I suck at small talk.  I avoid striking up conversations with people I don’t know…and to be quite honest, sometimes I avoid people I am super close with too, because I just don’t feel like myself and it frustrates me so much that I can’t just let loose and be myself.  There is so much unsaid.  So much avoiding.  And it doesn’t feel like myself.  I don’t avoid.  I don’t let things go unsaid.  Well, not usually.  I try not to.

It’s the walls.  The walls are why I am not my “normal” self yet.  I survived something horrible and tragic.  I fought really hard, battled tough emotions, got to the other side.  And my heart took a beating.  In its weakened state, I built walls to protect it, to let it heal.  After starting a new job, in a new school, with new people, new students, new families… my walls, so invisible to me before, stood in front of me, formidable and intimidating.  The first time I realized I had built walls was when I was talking with a parent at my Open House.  He was holding his daughter who looked to be about 7 months old…that’s how old Callie would be right now.  I was doing everything in my power not to look at her.  It must have seemed so weird to him.  She was really cute, so I’m sure he was used to getting lots of compliments, feeling like a proud dad.  He kept looking at her, looking at me…I think he wanted to talk about her, but I was avoiding the subject like the plague…answering questions about his son who is in my class instead.  I saw the walls.  I actually think I tried to throw a couple more cinder blocks on top, and maybe some barbed wire too.  Finally, he asked the question.  The one I was trying so hard to deflect.  The one I was dreading.

“Do you have any kids?”

Punch in the stomach.  Tears in the eyes.

“No,” I said.

Grief, washed over me.  And he said, “Not yet, right?”  I just smiled, nodded, and walked away in the least rude way I could muster.

I hate this question.  And it’s not the first time I’ve gotten it.  I have my canned answer ready.  Usually, I say, “Yes, our daughter passed away in January.”  Then comes the awkward pause where the other person feels bad for a few minutes…and my day is ruined.  Every time, I flash back.  Every time, I remember what I don’t have.  Every time, I feel jealous of what they do have.  The innocence that surrounds that question for them fills me with envy.  But, there are times when I just say no.  Because of the walls.  I didn’t want to share my story then and there.  And that’s ok.

But I’ve gotten ‘the question’ a lot this week.  In my classroom in front of my students.  In the teacher’s lounge at lunch.  On Callie’s 7-month angel-versary…twice.  My answer depends on the person asking and the place I am.  But no matter what, the answer in my mind, in my heart is the same.  YES!  YES!  YES!  I have a daughter.  I miss her so much.  I want to cry every single time…every time.  I can imagine that I will always feel this way, even if we are so blessed to have more children.  She will always be there, hidden behind my answer.  Hence the walls.  You see, if I could just not feel this pain, things would be better.  So, I am quiet.  Withdrawn.  Then, maybe no one would ask.  And I could keep my pain neatly pent up inside.

Almost everyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one has described to me the “new normal” that settles in eventually.  I’m having trouble with this.  Because I’m scared of my new normal.  I don’t like it.  I don’t want to accept it.  I want old normal back.  I liked my old normal.  I want the answer to ‘the question’ to be easy like it used to be.  Yes or no.  I want to make friends easily and reach out without fear of getting hurt.  I want to chat with friends like the old me.  Will I always be this way?  Will my walls always be here?

Not sure yet.

But I did feel a piece of the wall crumble this week.  You see, terribly, awfully, I think I was trying not to let my students get too close to my heart.  That was kind of easy after the first day.  The first day was nuts.  Those little four-year-olds ran me ragged and the best way to describe that day is… it was like trying to herd cats.  I’ve heard that expression over and over again…and that’s exactly what it was.  Or like a whack-a-mole game at the county fair.  Craziness.  I came home at 9pm that night, after my amazing husband came to school to help me tweak and improve, and I cried, cried, cried.  But at some point over the course of the week, things started to fall into place and I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but I think it was soon after the fifth time someone called me Mrs. Chameleon instead of Mrs. Cornely, but my heart melted a little bit.  And I let them in.  And, goshdarnit, those little stinkers are really cute and I love them already.

I hope that the rest of these walls come down soon.  I don’t want “new normal” to have walls.  Just open fields.  Sunshine.  Perspective.

And love.  Lots of love.

15 thoughts on “The Question

  1. This is so real and incredibly honest. If it helps I feel exactly as you do about the “new normal”. I try and claim I am finding it but I have no idea how to live it. The new normal often feels like I am walking around being the person people expect me to be while my heart screams silently in pain. I feel like I am walking around faking it just so the world doesn’t have to truly understand the pain. Because reality is if they haven’t lived it they never truly understand it. And I hope they never do.

  2. Hello! I got ur blog information from AK, I
    Guess we went to college together!! I went thru a similiar situation in 2.12.12…. My daughter was born stillborn due to a cord accident. As you know, life is hard and so unfair at times but just like you we are trying to plug away at life and move forward ( always remembering and cherishing Ansley of course) but some days seem impossible and you are so
    Right. The do you have kids/ how many kids do u have question is so hard. I feel like
    Such a trader sometimes not mentioning her but I don’t want to sadden and hurt others w the story but at the same
    Time I am a proud momma and she is and always will be a part of our life!

    Anyway, I wanted To let u know that u are not alone, we are Navigating thru this awful Situation as well. If u ever want to chat, feel free To send me an email.


    • Hi Elizabeth, Thank you so much for your message. I am so so so sorry to hear of the loss of your precious Ansley. I hope that you are starting to have sunnier days in between all the storms that this crazy journey can bring into our lives. Please know that if you are not already a part of a support group, I would be happy to invite you to an online support group that I am a part of through Facebook. It is “secret”…no one else but the group members can see what you write so you can feel free to express anything that is on your mind to a group of women that “gets it” without fear of judgement from anyone else. Shoot me a message at if you are interested.

      Praying for you, pray for me? xoxo

  3. I struggle with that question and it has been 7 years since our first son died. I thought I had an answer I could rattle off with no tears and then our youngest son died. All you can do is your best – say or don’t say whatever you want to and is ok with you. Sending you hugs and hope.

    • I cannot imagine the heartache of losing two children. I read your story on your blog and I want you to know that my thoughts and prayers are with you! Thank you so much for your message. Lots of love, Kristin

  4. I totally agree! I want the old normal back too. I want the simplicity, niavete that the world goes right! I appreciate your courage to land in a new normal. I am still struggling with what to say about how many kids I have…for the exact reasons you describe. it gets so awkward after I say, “we lost our son in April.” Or if they ask how old they are, “Our daughter is three and our son would be 9 months.” “Would be?” Yeah…it gets complicated and I think it’s about what our hearts feel capable of saying in the moment. Love your words. Thanks for sharing your heart.

    • Hi Katie! I am so flattered and honored. Thank you very much for the nomination 🙂 Your blog is also a beautiful one! Keep on writing and sharing your unique perspective on this world. Stay strong and lots of love to you! xoxo

  5. Pingback: I’m Still Here « our sunshine angel

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