LIVING WITH LOSS
In February 2015, I’d just returned to a cold, dark and frosty UK after spending a month in Cape Town to be by my Mum’s side as she lost her battle with cancer.
I’ve never really spoken about how I really felt, and what I really thought, in the months that followed.
Even at the time I talked about how angry I was, how shocked, how disbelieving, how heartbroken…but I never really talked about the true nature of my thoughts and feelings.
I’ve always been a bit emotionally insular, and when it comes to talking about my deepest inner self I’m like a little clam shell.
To the outside world I’m an open book.
I’ve openly spoken about my Mum’s death, and the failed IVF, miscarriage, menopause, and business failure that followed, but I’ve never truly opened up about the real, raw pain of loss, and what it did to me.
But as I write this, it’s Time to Talk Day, a day we are encouraged to start a conversation about mental health.
So today I’m going to attempt to open-up on a deeper level and share with you the true cost and burden of acute grief.
The loss of my Mum triggered in me the deepest, blackest period of depression I have ever experienced.
I pray never to experience the depths of that darkness again, and today I’m sharing as much as I can in the small hope that it encourages someone going through anything similar to start a conversation of their own.
When I returned from Cape Town that February I felt like an alien being.
I felt like I suddenly didn’t belong on this planet.
Nothing made sense.
The thought of talking to people terrified me.
I was empty, hollow, and fragile.
I felt like I’d been set adrift on an angry stormy sea, in the dead of night, in the thick of winter, with no engine, oars, or map to guide me.
I was completely and utterly lost.
Those first few months passed by in a complete daze.
And I remained trapped within a thick fog of dense grief for over two years.
I didn’t just cry, I howled.
I howled at the injustice of losing the one person in the world I’d loved all my life – my first love.
I howled at the injustice that anyone else still had their mum – it just wasn’t fair.
I howled at the injustice that anyone outlived her.
At that stage I wasn’t even capable of howling at the fact I’d never see, speak to, or hug her again…my mind wasn’t at a place of processing the enormity of that yet.
I sobbed my heart out. A lot.
I used to try to hold out until about 3pm, then run a bath, pour a glass of wine, ready ‘You’ll Get Over It’ by Virginia Ironside, and cry so much the bath overflowed with my tears.
That was what my life had become.
An empty black hole of grief.
On the surface I tried to get on with things. I tried to get back into the routine of my life.
But under the surface I was crumbling.
The first time I actually went out on my own was to Tesco.
I walked around terrified that someone would even make eye contact with me. The thought of anyone speaking to me at the check-out made me want to scream
My Mum Is Dead. F•ck Off.
I was so angry. So afraid. So broken.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I went to bed with the thought that it would be okay if I didn’t wake up.
It would be easier than this.
I was tired.
Everything felt like a struggle.
I’d lost my ability to function like a normal human being.
Drifting off into a never-ending sleep felt preferable.
Especially because I was with my Mum in my dreams. She was alive, happy, we were together.
I felt the pull of her with me every second of every day.
One day I was driving home and the thought occurred to me that if I accidentally swerved into the path of that oncoming lorry, it would all be over.
As I write this I’m crying with sadness for the black hole I was in.
I also became plagued by panic attacks.
The crept up on me out of the blue and sent me completely off the rails.
I felt like I was dying.
I felt like the heartbreak was killing me.
At times I felt like I was having a complete mental break.
By ‘mental break’ I mean that I’d lost any senses of myself.
I’d lost my ability to control my thoughts, feelings or emotions.
My mind was so completely black, there wasn’t room for anything else.
I was losing myself to it completely.
I had a sense that if I didn’t take some sort of action, I’d never come back.
The nightmares were crippling.
Over and over again I’d replay those last few days and moments in my mind.
My Mum passed at home, with one palliative care nurse and my sister and I caring for her.
Anyone whose ever cared for someone towards the end of life will understand what that was like.
I thought the end would be peaceful. It was not.
Everything looped round in my head like a technicolour horror show.
I couldn’t escape it.
The thoughts and pictures weren’t just intrusive, they were all-consuming.
I tortured myself with all the what-if’s and why’s and what-should-I-have-done-differently’s.
I was in pure hell.
Throughout this time I was talking – to my husband, family and friends.
I was mainly crying, but I did talk.
But I was afraid to say what was really going on in my mind.
I was afraid to admit how black it had become.
I didn’t want to worry them more than they already were.
I was scared they’d have me committed.
I was scared my life would drift away for ever.
I felt that if I voiced it, if I said the words out loud, it would make them a reality some how.
I was scared for my life, and felt that if I didn’t say it, it wasn’t so.
I went to the doctor after a while, and was prescribed a mild anxiety medication to help me sleep and get through the day.
I took those little tablets every day for a few years, too afraid to let the darkness back in.
A few years later I was walking down the street with my husband on our way for a walk in the park, and suddenly everything was in super HD.
The sky was the brightest blue I’d ever seen.
The bird song rang clear and sweet right through me.
The leaves of the trees were a brilliant green, and I heard them rustling in the breeze.
The world looked new and fresh.
I was healing.
It was five years this January since I lost the love of my life.
Grief is messy, complicated and illogical.
Each step forward pelts you with a kaleidoscope of thoughts, feelings and emotions.
There are no nice, clean, logical steps of grief.
I didn’t drift through anger, disbelief, sadness in a pattern that made any sense.
I fought and screamed and wanted to die with the horror of it all.
But I got through it.
I kept moving forward. I kept pulling myself back to me. I kept trying.
I didn’t stop. I didn’t give-in. I did’t let it pull me down into it so far that I couldn’t get out.
My Mum loved life. I loved life. I have an incredible husband, family and friends. I’m ambitious. I still have so much I want to do with my life.
I had to fight. I didn’t stop.
In January 2017 we adopted two feral kittens, and my heart started to heal.
Becoming a mum to these scratty little furbabies started to mend my heart and bring me back to life.
They bring me so much joy, love and comfort, and I’m forever grateful they found their little way into my life.
The dense fog of grief does start to lift. It may take time, but it will lift.
I have been acutely aware of it lifting over the years – sometimes in tiny increments and sometimes in huge big shifts.
I am me again.
I dance and sing and love and laugh.
I will always carry a deep burden of grief, and that’s okay.
I am able to live. What a precious gift that is.
To anyone suffering with loss of any kind, please know that you are not alone.
In our darkest moments we unite with everyone else whose ever suffered, felt pain, loss or grief.
We are united. And together we can pull each other up, out of the blackness and back into the light.
Start a conversation – it’s time to talk.