Today marks the 44th anniversary of my mother's death. She was 47, I was 12. Reflecting on the evening of April 4th 1977 when my father sat us down to tell us she was not going to make it, and the life I have subsequently lead, I'm aware of how sad, but also blessed, I am.
What followed my mother's death was the most painful period of my life. For two years I cried myself to sleep. I don't even remember the detail of day to day living during that time, apart from particular memories that will never fade. The pain was intense. The loss was devastating.
Whilst I do have some memories of my early years, they are few and far between. I'm sure I blocked much of that time out because it was just too painful to remember the love we shared. I do however remember mum attending to my burned big toe on guy fawke's night when I stood on the end of a sparkler, and I remember her knitting and crocheting beautiful jumpers for us (that I wriggled and squirmed in because they were just too itchy on my skin), I remember Christmas too, and birthdays; mum always went above and beyond on those occasions to make them special. I remember sitting with mum recording my wet and dry nights (I was a bed-wetter) in a special orange vinyl covered diary she bought; one of the many strategies she tried. I remember mum bringing lunch to our horse riding events too; we'd go off early in the horse truck with Dad to start the day and she'd arrive late morning. A scrambled mixture of memories that have always been sketchy, but I have them nonetheless, and they are precious.
As I fumbled on through my teenage years, doing my best with the knowledge, understanding and emotional capability I had, at times I didn't make good choices. During my first year at high school I got excellent grades in the first term however by the end of the year, they were dismal. Although I don't have clear memories of how I felt about my mother's death at this time, I know I would have been reeling in deep sadness that had nowhere to go.
In the 1970s feelings were not talked about. Of course, we talked about mum regularly at home but not about how we felt about her death. How different the experience of loss is today.
It wasn't until I was in my mid 20s that I began to face the intensity of what I was feeling. I distinctly remember driving to and from work and feeling absolutely miserable but thinking that this was how life was, I didn't know any different. I'd stop to buy chocolate and lollies to soften the blow of the loneliness of those journeys but nothing ever made those feelings subside for long. I tried ever so hard to be an adult, but was struggling.
At the time I worked for Air New Zealand in an administrative role that was busy, oh so busy. I had a wonderful boss and enjoyed my job. I'd been keen to become a Flight Attendant though so I applied. After initially being turned down, I was accepted the second time around and started my first tour of duty in April 1989. It was on the return sector of this trip that I knew something was terribly wrong. I was standing in the back galley of the B767 with the rest of the crew as we descended into Auckland and something struck me; they were all so excited about coming home, but all I wanted to do was turn around and go back. This was my red flag. Following this somewhat startling realisation, I started to look within. I knew something wasn't right. I talk more about this in my upcoming book, If Not Now, When? which will be published later in 2021.
Making phone calls to counsellors and therapists was terrifying in and of itself, let alone talking to one. I did however, and to cut a long story short, over a number of years I saw a wonderful Psychotherapist in Auckland. She was just what I needed, a woman I could talk to, who understood, who I could depend upon to be there for me, until I could be there for myself.
The psychotherapeutic process was incredible, and even all these years later, I'd still make that same choice. It cost me a lot of money, and a lot of time; it was relentless dealing with not only my grief, but my frightened and insecure child within. But, I would do it all again in a heart beat, and highly recommend it.
From that place of loss, insecurity and deep grief, I was able to build a secure self and go on to create a life I never imagined possible.
Now, 32 years after setting foot in my Psychotherapist's office for the very first time in April 1989, I have a life I love. And, I'm now working towards my ultimate goal of being an author.
After loss there is hope, and there is life to live. Getting through that grief by processing all of the feelings that come, is in my opinion, the only way.
Question: What has your journey of grief been, whether an early loss or another? I'd love to hear your experience, please let me know in the comments.