You Are Not Your Circumstances

by Chloe Jeffreys · 11 comments

in Women in Midlife

When I was struggling with my son’s radically unacceptable behavior a few years back, what was most difficult for me to remember was that what we were going through did not necessarily mean the things I thought it meant.

His decisions to do the things he did didn’t mean he didn’t love me, but I thought it did. In fact, many of our arguments were specifically about that issue, and the argument usually started with my accusation, “How could you do this TO ME if you love me?”

I could not see how a son of mine, nursed lovingly at the breast for THREE AND A HALF FREAKING YEARS, could love me and choose to run off and live on the streets of San Francisco! Of course, if he loved me he wouldn’t do that!

Makes sense, right? Didn’t he understand the pain he was causing me? Didn’t he even consider me and my feelings at all? Where was I in his decisions?

I didn’t see at that time that I had even a tiny place in his heart.  From my point of view, I couldn’t see where I mattered to him at all.

And that hurt, dammit. That hurt A LOT.

I wish my mother weren’t dead. And now I don’t think I really grieved her passing until this past month. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I felt sad when she died. I cried. We had a memorial. Griefy stuff like that. But real grief? No. I don’t think so.

I didn’t really begin to grieve my mother’s passing until I realized that the only person in the entire world I really want to talk to is her, and she isn’t here for me to talk to anymore.

Despite having good friends standing at the ready, and a sister who took my hysterical–and just possibly very drunken–phone call the other night, it feels to me that no one else can truly understand me and my circumstances like my mom would have.

I imagine myself driving over to her house. She would listen to me rage. She would let me sob. And at the end she would hold my head in her lap and smooth my hair and tell me that it is all going to be okay and then she’d say something like, “You are not your circumstances. This does not define you.”

And then she would make the most inappropriate joke and we would laugh and laugh. And for a moment the storm of my circumstances wouldn’t seem so overwhelming.

Getting lost in the storm of one’s circumstances and allowing it to define who you are is so easy to do. And depending on the degree of the storm, there will likely be a time when you will be fully consumed by it. Even a time when you should be fully consumed by it.

And just like real storms, destruction lies in the wake of life’s storms; the destruction of what we had (or thought we had) and maybe even who we were (or thought we were). Somehow we have to take inventory all over again. Who are we? What is it we have?

And then comes the grieving over the losses which creates a storm all its own.

There is a point when it’s appropriate to fully grieve our losses, but then comes a time when we need to move on and let it go and allow ourselves to heal and move forward.

Knowing when that point is though is the differences between personal growth and emotional retardation. Move on too quickly and we’re bound to find ourselves revisiting the pain at some inconvenient point in the future, but allow ourselves to stay stuck too long and we’ll only become bitter.

I hope you listen to today’s song. It speaks to my heart and soul in such a profoundly deep way. I hope that you too can find a way to climb your hill after your own storm and see hope in your circumstances whatever they may be. Take my virtual hand and maybe we can find grace there.


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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Brenda February 12, 2012 at 3:00 pm

I didn’t really grieve my Mom’s death for 18 months. Circumstances were that I lived back at home for her last 5 months and we had NO regrets in our relationship. I thought I didn’t need to grieve. Ha-ha. Then as I drove up to the rehearsal for my Dad’s wedding to my S-mom I started bawling and raging uncontrollably. It just pissed me off that my Dad was now going to be able to do all this traveling, have a great new house and be financially more free as he married a woman with her own prosperous business. I was pissed that they would enjoy all the things my beloved Mom would have liked to do and I was pissed I couldn’t tell my Mommy about it. It’s a good thing I didn’t freak out my 1yo daughter in the backseat.

Now, after I’ve lost my Mom’s Mom too, I’m actually doing better. I have both of their cookbook sets, recipe boxes and some of their cooking tools. When I make Thanksgiving dinner just like they did, with their recipes written in my Grandmother’s perfect and chatty letter to my Mom written in 1967, I don’t feel alone in my tasks. They raised me, put a love of reading, laughing at bawdy jokes and a bit of a hot temper in me. Use your sense of humor, Chloe. After the grief settles (see, I didn’t say disappears), you may just find yourself laughing with the woman who gave it to you.


Sally February 11, 2012 at 5:54 pm

You remind me of what Peter Scazzero says about journeying through “the wall” in order to continue becoming emotionally healthy Christians. (

I wondered as I read about this how often I have resisted going through the walls which God has allowed in my life. I also think that perhaps I have yet to come to THE WALL which will shake me like nothing has done thus far. I remember with fear and trembling that I have occasionally prayed, “Do whatever it takes…” regarding changes which I know He desires to make in the way I relate to Him and others. If/when that time comes when He takes me up on my offer, I hope that friends will remind me of the times when I did taste Resurrection because I had been willing to enter into death.

Thank you again for sharing your journey, both the despair and the hope.


Margaret February 11, 2012 at 5:32 pm

“And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears….”

I love me some Mumford and Sons.


Susan in the Boonies February 11, 2012 at 4:19 pm

I remember when my Mom died when I was (relatively) young. When I was 1 week shy of being 30.

I remember thinking, furiously, “Where was it written that I should have my Mom die so early? Where was it written that I should have a Mom die while I was still young?”

I think that at least, for me, it was a way of raging against the reality of what was, but that that reality should define ME.

I thought I was the girl with the happy life.

Maybe you thought you were the girl with the happy (insert problem of your choice here).

We resist being defined by our circumstances. And, we should, I think. We are not our disease.

But what is, is.

And so, we grieve.

And at the right time, for us, if we are survivors, we look for a way to make sense of what is, as best we can, and then move on to our new reality.

You have suffered loss. Much loss.

But I do believe that you are taking the steps you need to take to be able to do that.
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Andrea February 11, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Chloe, this post is spot on. I am more than cancer. More than myasthenia gravis. And I am grieving the death of what once was. Some mornings I don’t want to get out of bed. But the thought of the kids running amok makes me get up, if for no more reason than self-preservation and to make sure the house is still standing when my husband pulls into the driveway in the evening. I am still finding my way. But you have so clearly articulated things I have been thinking and feeling…just more eloquently than I ever could.


Julia February 11, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Hard stuff, but good stuff here…

You are NOT your circumstances. This does NOT define you. It doesn’t. It won’t. It might rock your world, tear you up inside and out, and make you re-think everything…which is exhausting and terrible. But it also purifies you and gets rid of the extra “gunk” that we all cling to and hide behind. I’ve got your hand…and your back.


Seeker February 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm

So, crappy stuff might happen (and does with alarming frequency), but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us?

Good stuff, Chloe. I’m just sorry that your grief and suffering seem to be the price for this.

How do you know where the line is between fully grieving and healing and moving on? I’ve always intuitively known that there are no shortcuts with grief. But what do you do when you get stalled? Because I’m there on a couple of griefs. And, frankly, I’m ready to put them behind me. I’ve seen the results of bitterness, and it scares me.

*thinking aloud* Don’t mind me.


Stephanie (Just Me) February 11, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Today I have been thinking about Heb. 2:14 and especially 15, which says, “…and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

Fear of death, whether the death of ourselves, a loved one, our dreams, what we thought our life was, our self-image, whatever… holds us in slavery. I do not want to waste my life, a captive to fear. Jesus came to free us, but to do it He had to face death. Sometimes He asks us to face it too, whether metaphorically or literally. The difference, I have to believe, is that death no longer gets the final word. Redemption does. Victory, freedom, joy and peace do. Heaven does. Everything really is going to turn out all right.


Amy February 11, 2012 at 12:55 pm

I need to add that to my Momisms. My kids need to hear that.
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Heather A February 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Beautiful, hard, terrifying stuff.

And I love the song.


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