Loss and Pain
A husband, my father, and a son; in that order. All three deaths were sudden and unexpected. And I dealt with each very differently...
I was 24 when my husband died, we had been married a little over a year, and our son was just 3 months old. One moment my life was blissfully happy and full of possibilities; the next, as I stood in shock and disbelief, staring at the twisted metal that encapsulated my husband's mangled body, I was facing it alone again... I remember feeling as though I was in a thick fog, lost, I couldn't make sense of my thoughts; everything was just too confusing. And I remember being so fearful of coming out of that fog, because somewhere in my head I could faintly hear the harsh jangle of warning bells, and I knew that making sense of things was going to be very painful indeed. So I decided that I would stay in the fog. It was safe there. I didn't have to see things I didn't want to see, and that meant I didn't have to deal with them either. Alcohol helped a lot with that. I pretended to deal with the reality of my loss – and I was good at it. I put on a game-face for the rest of the world, and impressed them with how brave I was being, and how well I was moving on with my life; but at night, on my own with that reality I didn't want to face, and those feelings I didn't want to feel, I would drink myself numb. I went on like this for a year – almost to the day, because it was around the first anniversary of his death that the dam walls finally burst and all that pain, guilt and anger came surging up through my body and flooding into the fore of my consciousness. My doctors called it a 'nervous break-down'. It wasn't. It was grief. It was all those agonizing emotions that I had tried so hard to drown.
Two years later, aged 63, my father died. It was very quick. An aneurysm. I adored my father, I was the youngest of 3 daughters and I was his “golden girl”. But when I was told of his death, there was no fog this time. No confusion. Instead, I received the news with a flawless clarity and a steely calm, and I immediately started to rationalise his death; parents die, that is the natural course of life; and death had already stolen my husband, what could be more painful than that? Once again, I buried the pain, not so much with alcohol this time, but with the firm resolve that this was something I simply had to take in my stride and deal with. I didn't deal with it though, and the pain grew and intensified, and finally exploded out of me.
On the morning of June 13th, 2007, I found my 14 year old son dead in his bed. The night before, I had kissed and said goodnight to a seemingly perfectly healthy child. The next morning he was dead. He had gone sometime in the middle of the night; quietly and peacefully in his sleep. It was his heart. My son's death was the biggest shock of them all, it's not natural for a parent to bury their child. The fog didn't come though, and nor did the cold, calm rationalisation. This time I faced it. I made myself feel all the pain and anger and guilt. It was raw and it was agonising. But I sat in that pain, I let it wrack my body from the inside out. I had finally learned something about acceptance - that if I was able to accept my son's death as a fact of life, as something I had no power to change; I could then begin to harness the courage to be able to deal with the pain of that reality. I didn't think I would make it through some days; I would wake in the morning, under no illusion that the day would not be a struggle, or that my heart would not be heavy, and I would have to switch on to auto-pilot, just to be able to function as a mother to my three other children; then at night, I would allow the pain to come, to flood through me, and I would sob myself into a fitful sleep. But as the days passed and became weeks, and the weeks became months, the intensity of those emotions began to subside, and it became easier to remember his beautiful, smiling face, and his infectious laugh, and to share happy memories of him with others who had known and loved him too.
I still have moments, that take me completely by surprise, when pain surges through my body, and I sob uncontrollably. But they are moments, not days or hours anymore, and they are gradually being replaced by moments of memories that may bring tears to my eyes, but also make me smile, and fill my heart with joy.
"Life can change in a heart-beat of time, in a hairs-breadth of space. And without our consent..." Unknown