I recently read an article by a child-loss mother who wrote of how she no longer recognized herself in the mirror. Her achingly beautiful words stopped me in my tracks, and I was transported back to the days of early grief when the agony of losing my son was so great that it felt as if I was dying from the inside out. I too had looked in the mirror and been shocked at my own reflection. It appeared so different — I was a ghoul, my eyes devoid of emotion, pits of nothingness as if my body had been emptied of the soul. My skin was ashen, my face deformed, twisted by the devastation of losing my child.
It’s hard to imagine such a transformation taking place within a few hours. I knew what I felt on the inside, but it took my reflection in the mirror to confront me with the externalization of my suffering. It shocked me, seeing this woman I didn’t recognize staring back at me from the bathroom cabinet. She frightened me, she looked crazed, she wasn’t me.
And yet she was me. This was whom I’d become: withered, decrepit, someone I didn’t know. I’d lost my identity, the essence of who I was. As horror and fear had gripped my heart, the woman I had been had disappeared. In her place stood a mother suffocated by death who didn’t care if she lived.
It’s the stuff of nightmares, to wake up one day and discover you’ve turned into someone else, a monster, a zombie. That no matter how much you look, how intensely you stare into those haunted eyes you can’t perceive your soul’s light. What I saw was someone who was dead but still breathing. And to be honest, that’s how I felt. It was as if I’d had all my limbs amputated without anaesthesia and my innards ripped out and been told I’d survive. Excruciating, relentless pain in a body tormented because it could not lie down and die.
The devastation wrought on my heart was there for all to see. And if I dared to look, I too was privy to my own annihilation. But unlike the mother who had written the article that had made me weep, I didn’t avoid the bathroom mirror, I didn’t flee in terror, I didn’t turn away from my reflection there or anywhere else. I willed myself to scrutinize, to stare back at this woman I didn’t know but who I’d become. I didn’t shy away from my destroyed self and dared myself to stand before this frightening image and absorb what I surveyed. Like the shocked victim at the scene of an accident, I gazed, horrified and incredulous. I had to find out what had happened and see the ugly truth, whatever the price.
In the end, it was the sight of my disfigured face in the mirror which helped me most to accept the truth. And that truth was that my son was dead.
© Katja Faber 2018