“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”
~ J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

I am a big sister. That’s one of the most significant components of my identity. From the very beginning of my memory, I was trained to be a role model and a protector. Of course I’ve never done those things perfectly, but that has always been my goal.

From the early days when I was learning how to speak, I was taught to watch my words carefully because my younger siblings and cousins were listening. I was a sponge of a child, soaking up knowledge from the outside world, and I was taught to filter and hold much of that knowledge in an effort to protect my siblings’ innocence. I was always expected to be the strong one, the independent one, doing more, asking for less, first at home and then also at school.

I was proud of that role, and held onto it tightly. I was a catcher in the rye; what else could I want? At any given moment, I knew who I was and what I needed to do. I knew that I was important, because I could use every instant of my life for the benefit of others. When my family structure changed and I lost that role, I was shattered.

When I became pregnant, I got another chance to be a catcher. At the end of my pregnancy, I looked the wrong way and got too close to the edge myself. I felt my feet slipping and I wrote a will, thinking that perhaps I would die and Sacha would survive. But then he flew over the cliff, and I was left staring after him into the abyss.

I still struggle mightily with this. I easily could have died. Should I have died? I easily could have lost my uterus. Should I have lost it? It was only during the last month that I began to recognize these feelings as a form of survivor guilt.

I can accept Sacha for who he was. But if I had accepted the situation for what it was, he wouldn’t have been “electively” delivered at 39 weeks and the outcome would have been much worse for both of us. On the other hand, if I’d been less accepting – if I’d caught us earlier – we could both have had a better outcome.

Even though I reached out to others for help and I’m so thankful for their presence and love, at the end of the day Sacha and I were in the field alone. No one else was there to catch us.

I do have some catchers of my own now, and I’ve relied on them a lot over the past week. I have Sacha to thank for them. He taught me to be brave enough to honestly share my vulnerabilities and ask for help. He taught me that sometimes it’s okay to stand up and leave, instead of sitting still and bracing myself. He taught me that I have a right to recognize my own needs, and seek out ways to fulfill them – even ask for help in fulfilling them. He taught me that I don’t need to take care of everyone, and that my first responsibility is to ensure that I’m taken care of.

I lost him forever, but he changed me forever.

It’s painful to acknowledge the things that Sacha gave me, because ultimately I was not able to give him everything that I wanted to. But he was who he was, and I could never truly protect him (Joan Didion says “the whole puzzle of being a parent” is “the enigma of pledging ourselves to protect the unprotectable”). All I could do was love him.

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