I always thought there was something wrong me. I should have been over it by now. After all, it had been years since my Mum died and yet, I still couldn’t talk about her without crying. And not just crying, really sobbing. Talking about my childhood caused strong emotions to brew inside me. Resentment for how unfair my life was. Anger at those who robbed me of a normal childhood. Deep sorrow for what I missed out on. For the life I thought I deserved.
There were times when I just couldn’t contain these emotions and they would erupt, spewing out hot ashes of rage and tears. I recall the first time my tears flowed uncontrollably in public. It happened when I was at school, about three or four years after my Mum had died. I tried my hardest to fight back the tears but I couldn’t stop them. I had to leave the classroom. I was a very embarrassed and confused thirteen year old. I didn’t understand why I was so upset, why I couldn’t control my crying.
That may have been the first time but it definitely wasn’t the last. I was always embarrassed by my emotional eruptions. Never knowing when they might occur. Forever guarding myself in an attempt to avoid the rising of the tide and the opening of the floodgates. It was safer to not talk about my life. My childhood. My losses. But there were times when I just needed to talk.
I came to recognise triggers and knew I had to be strong whenever anyone started to talk about their mother, or someone’s death. I felt particularly vulnerable at certain times of the year. Birthdays, mine and hers. The anniversary of her death. Mother’s Day. Christmas day. And it wasn’t only on those specific days, but for weeks leading up to those milestones.
Will my sadness ever go away? Or does it last forever?
I really knew nothing about grieving. I thought grief just meant you were sad for a short time after the loss, and after a few days or weeks, everything went back to normal. That’s how I interpreted my experience. My Mum died on a Monday night, my siblings and I were told about it on Tuesday morning and I went back to school on Wednesday, the day of her funeral. I didn’t go to her funeral, but watched the gathering of mourners at her funeral from the schoolyard. A minister of religion visited our home on Tuesday and told us the reason why she died was because God needed her in heaven. And only the good die young.
After that day, I don’t remember ever having an open conversation about her or about my Dad, who had died seven years earlier. Any conversation my siblings and I had about our parents were always held in private. It felt like we were doing something wrong when we spoke about them or when we looked through old photos.
I bought into the platitude that time heals all wounds. As a child, I got on with life after Mum’s passing. So why did I still feel sad, three, five, ten, twenty years later? I wondered if my sadness would ever go away. How could I be triggered after all those years? How could I feel so much heartache, so much emptiness, so much sadness decades after her death. It wasn’t right. Something was wrong with me. When I felt the painful sadness rise to the surface, I judged it as wrong. I judged me as weak. I had to toughen up. I couldn’t end up in tears every time someone spoke about their mother. Or whenever I thought about what I missed out on by not having my Mum around. She wasn’t there when I left home to go to boarding school. She wasn’t there when I graduated from university. She wasn’t there when I got married.
And when she was there, I was young and couldn’t remember much. My memories had faded. No one was around to keep them alive.