Three years ago my family was torn to pieces as we faced one of those nightmares you wouldn’t want to wish on anyone. Instead of a supportive family unit we became a group of individuals each locked into our own individual nightmare bubble, each of us bewildered, lost and stunned and not knowing how to deal with the trauma, bewilderment and eventually the grief that consumed us. Unable to cope or deal with the others.
I remember clearly feeling lost and alone. Needing my parents to turn to, to lean on and being unable to as they too had each gone into themselves trying to find some way to understand the sudden and unexpected shock of losing a child. All the relationships carefully constructed, albeit unknowing, over in my case 40 years, vanished and they have never returned – not in the same way.
For some time it felt as though we would never be a family again. We crept around each other’s emotions and feelings. I avoided my parents, feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt at being here whilst my sister wasn’t. Guilt at my anger at my sister for causing the trauma we were going through – not an easy feeling to admit to as it certainly wasn’t her fault but who says grief is rational, it isn’t. It is like losing a skin. You find yourself experiencing extremes of emotions that surprise and shock you. It is exhausting and a deeply private thing, everyone experiencing it differently, and therefore very hard to share and support.
I had thought that this year, the third one, was better than last year but today, or should I say in the early hours of this morning, I realised that I had underestimated the deep subconscious awareness of the passing of time and the coming round of another anniversary. It isn’t helped by the fact that I am very busy at work at the moment organising a week of graduation ceremonies. I do this at this time every year and this is what I was doing when my sister was rushed into hospital. The tasks I am performing are inexorably linked now with her death. I have found myself mentally taken back to that windowless hospital room, the quiet and mechanical breathing of the life support system, the stillness, the hush and quiet and the overwhelming feeling of wanting to scream and break the awful nightmare we were all in.
Today I have struggled, the anniversary of her death isn’t for a few days yet, but this is the anniversary of that first phone call, that first one hour dash to a hospital, trying to be positive and supportive of parents that visibly aged 10 years in 10 minutes. So on the way home this evening I made a slight detour and went to my parents, this time for me to ask for help and support. My poor Mum thought something terrible had happened as I was crying walking through the door. We held each other, we cried and we drank tea. We talked about how strange the whole business of grief was, how it was different for my parents to me but no less difficult. We are bonding again and we have definitely been for the last 18 months. I think we will get there eventually, it will never be the same, we are different people now and the balance of the relationships have changed. This nightmare has caused difficult conversations, many of the them whilst digging at the healing allotment, but we understand each other better than every before. I have learnt some hard lessons about myself. I am learning not to stew on things for so long, to try to risk saying what I think rather than create a whole big thing in my head out of something small. My mother understands me better, she knows I am prone to guilt trips and am an expert at blaming myself for everything under the sun. I have learnt to be more demonstrative to her and am beginning to try to be more demonstrative to my dad, although he is of the generation where this doesn’t come easy. I don’t feel like we have a child parent relationship any more in the sense of me having to defer to them so much. I feel as though I am treated more of an equal.
We have grown, we are different, but we are a family again though there is always that someone missing.
Mum and I wondered this evening whether it would get better, whether it would be less hard or whether this was how life would be and we would just have to accept these moments of despair and grief when they crept up on us, and they do creep up often quite unexpectedly. We concluded that there was no answer to this, that you just had to get on with life but recognise that the feelings and emotions we went through were normal. Most importantly I have my Mum back, my support system, she was there for me today and I shall cherish that for as long as I possibly can.
RIP Claire – we miss you terribly
I am closing the comments on this post. This post, like others before it, has been written to help myself work through my feelings and emotions. I find it cathartic to write. I also hope that by sharing my experiences I may help others going through something similar – then maybe something small and positive may have come out of this.