This I [Don’t] Believe: The disempowering nature of “bootstrap” cliché

Audrey - Fairfax, Virginia
Entered on August 6, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: death, family

Whenever life challenged me as a child and young person, I went to my closet of “go-to” aphorisms and wrapped myself tightly in one or more, depending on the situation, the depth of its chill. Through every setback or disappointment, I would bury my face in the softness of “it is for the best” or “everything happens for a reason” or the truly heroic, full body cashmere sweater of “that which doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.” Those cloaks stood me in good stead until now.

But then last year I watched one of my identical twin daughters die in the aftermath of 2 open-heart surgeries. It was the last and worst trauma in a very complicated pregnancy and a doozy of a short life. Over a year later, I keep trying to go to that closet but none of those platitudes fit anymore. They’re garish and abrasive in the light of the “new normal” as bereaved mothers call it. I can’t take comfort in “think of what you DO have” and won’t even touch “well, at least you still have one.”

But it is “that which doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger” that I keep going back to, keep trying to use to cover the rawness of my new skin. I want it to be so. A little strength would come in very handy, in fact. I want a heroic happy ending wherein the devastated but persevering mother goes on to channel her agony into something that makes the world a better place. The problem is that I am not stronger, not yet anyway, and all I have to show the world thus far is this essay. So, for now at least, I am donating a closet full of easy-care clichés for something more minimal.

The new garments, the ones that seem to fit after shock and anguish have abated somewhat are not as thick and not as soft, nothing ever will be again. But though the chill still passes through, one can find a little warmth in “be as well as possible,” “I am thinking of you” and most importantly “I have not forgotten her.”

For Eva, my bird in flight.