|“Do not judge the bereaved mother. She comes in many forms. She is breathing, but she is dying. She may look young, but inside she has become ancient. She smiles, but her heart sobs. She walks, she talks, she cooks, she cleans, she works, she IS but she IS NOT, all at once.
She is here, but part of her is elsewhere for eternity.”
Jumbled thoughts scramble to make coherent sense at 2am. No fewer than three subjects of blog posts emerging at the edges of my consciousness begin to form.
Five days on and my girl is still fighting off her middle ear infection and tonsillitis. I’m so spent after keeping vigil while she endures her fitful feverish sleep next to me and getting only grabs of twenty minutes’ shut-eye at a time myself all night, every night, that I go to talk now and it sounds like jibberish.
I think I’ll save talking for another day. But it is time to write.
This article has been on my mind since I read it yesterday. It’s all so familiar that to read it once more, to highlight and quote from, would feel like reliving it again. I don’t need to do that to myself, not today. Instead, I urge any of you reading this to bookmark it and go through it carefully. It’s as brilliantly written a piece on a mother’s grief as any I have ever read – or written (back in the day, I used to write and write and write on the subject myself and, ironically, still didn’t feel heard despite the acknowledgement of supportive comments).
I am staring down the barrel of my tenth year on this Earth without my baby daughter. She would be celebrating her double-figures birthday this coming January. I’d have a moody female on my hands by now! She would have endured untold numbers of heart operations too, even to this stage of her life. We were told she’d never be able to be active, there would have been restrictions on her that by now we would have surely adapted to.
Looking through that piece, and the many comments in response to it, so much is familiar. But I have to ask myself, this far on, who really cares? I hate to tell any of you who are newer to the experience… but you get to a point where you feel a little trapped. You’ve had no choice but to walk on by now. So if you are here, still breathing, moving through your daily existence, and the years pile on… well, surely, you’ve reached your maximum limit of goodwill from friends and family.
Those who have stuck in there with me have changed, as much as I have, in these intervening years. People who had no children or young families ten years ago all, without exception, have offspring now of various ages and stages. Back then, my daughter’s short life and death were sprung on them just as shockingly as it was on me. Some got out of the task of supporting me early on, others remained and carried me through in varying degrees (as best they could). Others were on the periphery, throwing me lifelines every so often up until just a few years ago. But as their lives have changed (as has mine) and their commitments have grown and widened, the contact has waned. Who knows what will befall those families? I pray I never have to support any of them in the same manner they had the call to action I inadvertently gave them in 2004.
The lengthening of my grief began quickly at the hands of someone I thought would be a stalwart supporter. And it shocked me as much as it did rile me, in my burgeoning Anger Stage of grief. See, I was abandoned less than two years after my daughter died by a close relative who had always been the first to call me if she needed my support, including being there through her two newborn phases even while I was grappling with infertility and miscarriage, putting her needs first. That embittered reaction to my own grief response remains in place today, hurts of the other party allegedly greater than that which I was going through (and still carry today). But so be it. For that person’s pain to be so insurmountably great and heavy a burden that I had to be abandoned, it’s little wonder she couldn’t stick around to “cope with me”.
At first it seemed insurmountably hard to also grieve this loss to my life, so soon after trying to find my new normal. But the saddest part about this estrangement to me is the removal of the opportunity to learn and grow together. It simply was not this person’s destiny to walk alongside me, I accept that now. But it has taken years to reach this point.
In the remaining eight years, I’ve had minimal and varied levels of support from my ever-changing circle. It’s no accident that I have now a completely new set of friends. Firm friends, meaningful connections, easy relationships that are not costly on my energy. I can only assume, as these are friends by choice, that the same goes for them towards me.
The thing that strikes me is that over the course of a decade, everyone changes. My family makeup has changed, through deaths, births, estrangements, divorce and marriage. Where some members of my family have stepped away, other relatives have stepped forward and it has been one of the best and timely surprises (suffice to say, I LOVE and adore cousins – one of the unsung and overlooked connections and, to me, possibly more important than the sibling connection which can be so fraught with pain, belittlement and competition). And yet, I’ve still managed to enshroud myself with guilt that I am the one who’s caused all the problems because of the metamorphosis I underwent, beginning ten years ago. I have become this new person since the days before, so much so that they had to stop relying on me for a time. Because I changed the game plan, see. The person I was died in 2004 along with Ellanor.
In many ways, to this day, and because I feel I can never reclaim the dignity and sense of self I lost along with her, nor can I repay the listening-ears (for effective or not, they were still doing their best to hear me, a walking, talking, seemingly bottomless well of expression), I cannot overcome the feeling that I abandoned them. That in me, they lost a peppy, witty sister who was not prone to bouts of crippling depression, who could always say and do the right thing, who would take the knocks and the jibes with good humour and laugh them off.
Because I changed, because I don’t put myself second any more (for survival at first and then out of newfound respect for my core, original self – the one who emerged from those ashes), because I have worked so hard to constantly monitor and be responsible for what I do and say which is much easier said than done… I find myself on the outer of my family. I have no old history with my relatively new friends.
But am I worse off? I ask myself, in my state of being so tired that I am unable to mask my historical wounds. And the answer is an emphatic and, finally, truthful:
Please hang in there with those who are journeying with you as best they can. Let them be there. You don’t have to accept what they say, you don’t have to be pragmatic and say they’re being abysmally ineffective with their words or deeds. But these things will happen, despite how well you try to protect yourself from them. So in the end, it’s not so much what to say/what not to say to a bereaved parent that is going to matter to you. It will depend on whether you can forgive yourself – your vital, natural, original self – for your actions and responses towards those who have hurt you deeply on your walk.