Identity after Loss–Part 2

My friend, Jackie, struggled with identity issues after her daughter, Denay, died suddenly in what was to be a “routine” surgery. Denay was a vibrant, larger-than-life personality–I remember holding her as a toddler in the church nursery, where she was already the center of everyone’s attention! Listen to Jackie’s story, a woman who has felt the loss of her identity of “mother.”

“By the time my daughter, Denay, had turned 13 she had quite a resume. She had ridden in a couple of parades, been in multiple fashion shows, appeared in magazine and newpaper articles, MC’ed school events, starred and soloed in 2 church musicals, hosted golf tournaments and Fill-the-Boot events to raise funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, spoke to college students who were learning about children with disabilities, and had been on television many times for the MDA telethon events. She seemed to love the limelight and it loved her. The media told me more than once that she had “cue”, which meant that she was a natural on television.

Denay was born with a form of Muscular Dystrophy and was never able to walk. She received her first wheelchair at the age of 3. Being her mother and main caregiver meant bathing her, toileting her, dressing her, putting her to bed and doing anything else that she needed but was unable to do independently.  Because she was our only child and required extra care, we developed a close bond. I wanted to show her the world and share this wonderful young lady with everyone. She loved shopping, telling blonde jokes, listening to pop music, and boys and thought that she may have a future in fashion. We were constantly on the go to some event or appointment.

When Denay died I was lost. My main role in life had been to be her mother and care for her. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that her care was to be my priority in life and I did my best (most of the time) to give her everything she needed and wanted. All of a sudden I had nothing. I not only was childless, I was jobless. My hands and arms were empty. Who was I now? I had been so proud to walk behind my daughter and just be known as her mom. What was I going to do without her ?

I had so many plans and ideas for her, yet here I was, alone. How did God allow this? I knew that she was with Him but that was not really helping me with my life here on earth without her.  I looked to my husband hoping that he could fill this great void and soon discovered how barren our own marriage was. Our daughter had been the glue that held us together. Would we make it through this?

The first Mother’s Day after her death was excruciating. It was an intolerable reminder of what I did not have – a child to call me “ Mom.” The title of Mother had been cruelly stripped from me and I was raw all over again. That is still the most difficult day for me since her death. I have decided to spend part of the day at her graveside, grooming it and polishing the beautiful granite marker with her picture engraved on it.”

How about you? Has your loss brought confusion as to who you really are now? How do we work through the slow pathway of grief and find hope?

Our pastor said a few weeks ago that our activity is not our core identity–even as caregiving mothers. I would venture to say that part of our identity, if we are mothers, is always going to be mother, even if our child is no longer here on earth. But our core identity–who we are–must be anchored in Jesus. It is the foundation to all other labels we wear, and any other activity we do.

I, like Jackie, have had to work through the loss of a child. But I would say that in Jackie’s case, her loss was unique in that Denay was her only child. I’m encouraged that Jackie has many children now, as a school teacher. But the hole in Jackie’s mother’s heart will only be filled again when she sees Denay in heaven. However, Jackie’s identity–who she is at the core–is secure. She is a child of God–a believer in Jesus. That identity will never change–even as she walks slowly along the pathway of grief.

To read more about Denay, and her mom, Jackie, go to

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About jeansullivan

I am a writer, speaker & follower of Jesus
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2 Responses to Identity after Loss–Part 2

  1. pwsligh says:

    Oh,  Jean….tears in the middle of the day.   So beautifully said.  I must remember this when my patients go Home…most of my moms are in this place.  Thank you.  Love you.  

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE Smartphone

  2. nwhannas says:

    May God bless and keep Jackie and you…and your mother’s hearts. Thank you for speaking such healing truth, Jean. I’m sure it will help so many.

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