I’ve been thinking a lot about grief and loss lately, how it takes many different forms and the ways in which it alters a person who has been through a radical, life-changing event. How people cope with these events and work their way through the mire will be a recurring theme in the pages of this blog.
Recently, I wrote a lengthy post about the day back in 2011 when Amelia’s hearing loss was first discovered, but I decided against publishing it because it was a bit too close to the bone. In that case, the writing of it – the getting-it-off-my-chest bit – was the point, not the need to share it.
The snapshots of that day – the car ride to the final appointment with dread knotted inside my stomach, the grim formality of the hearing test as my baby tried valiantly to please the assembly of adults, uncontrollable tears shed inside hospital corridors – are, I think, sufficient to describe the pain I felt back then.
During the months that followed, it was like I was split into a number of distinct selves, all coexisting inside a grieving whole.
One part, the purely physical, peeled off to meet the demands of the day – getting out of bed, having a shower, feeding my child (maybe even myself), responding to basic questions and just keeping the family engine running. Life doesn’t stop just because your heart is broken.
Another part was the intellectual self which mobilised to attack the diagnosis head on. There was the navigation of medical appointments, reams of paperwork to be interpreted and filled out and masses of reading material on deafness to analyse and dissect. My mind sought to regain control over the grief by mastering information. I devoured it all.
The final part that was left over was submerged somewhere during the day, waiting, while the business of life and the post-diagnostic reality marched on. It was that fragment of me that splintered off in the testing booth and couldn’t be fused back on in a matter of days or weeks.
When the day was quiet again, I found a private place to let that shattered self have her grief in spades.
What I also remember vividly about this time is how much I needed to be with my Mum, to just sit in her familiar house or in her arms and be a child again, free from the worries of adult life.
Inside your own grief, you don’t necessarily notice the residual effects on the people closest to you. Grief is naturally selfish and mercenary like that.
Of course my Mum was suffering but what I didn’t realise is that she had written her pain down in a letter to herself, the night we all stepped off the edge into Grief Town.
In the letter, she retraced her steps to the start of the day before she heard the news from me (yelled down the phone from my car). Then she wrote about the moment when I told her that Amelia was deaf, about her feelings, her sorrow, as she stood in a car park trying to work out how to reach me fast.
The specific contents of the letter must remain between us, but it charts my Mum’s own sense of loss (what the news meant for Amelia’s life) and all the signs she now recognised (things about Amelia’s behaviour that suddenly made sense).
She wrote ‘wrong’ and ‘sorry’ many, many times. But it ended in hope, with the conviction that our dreams for Amelia would return.
I didn’t know about her letter until she mentioned it to me a little while later. Naturally I asked her if I could read it. Instead, Mum handed it to me, saying it was now mine to keep, to be read in my own time.
That night after the daily routine was over, I sat down by myself and unfolded the letter. It moved me so much to read the pain-filled words of my beautiful mother, rent across those pages in a frantic staccato that resonated so deeply.
She was trying (as I am here) to capture something difficult to nail down, to make sense of what we’d been told, to unburden herself and work it through. She did not know it then, but her words, as much as her arms around me, were the greatest gift to the part of me that was heartbroken.
Because my Mum got it, she understood the meaning and the cost of what had happened to our family. I didn’t have to explain my darkest, saddest thoughts because they were mirrored on the pages in front of me. They were shared.
The isolation of grief is founded on the distance between your own feeling of sorrow and others who can’t relate to its depth or impact. It’s not that people don’t try or want to connect with you. It’s just that the ‘thing’ is happening to you in its own, individual way and so you are essentially alone.
You can be in the same house of pain as 10 other people but eventually you have to return to your own room.
My Mum didn’t know that when she captured her own grief, committed it to paper and delivered it into my hands that I would feel a little less isolated than I did before.
It’s that same feeling I get when I communicate with other parents in similar situations to ours. There is an innate, shared understanding and in that I find great solace. I hope that anyone who has experienced grief for whatever reason finds others along the way to join hands with in solidarity.
So by way of return post, this is my response to that special letter from my mother. She didn’t write it to me or for me in the beginning but it is mine all the same.
I want to tell her that I carry it with me every day and sometimes I take it out and hold it in my hand without reading it, because just knowing that it’s there, that SHE is with me, made a difference to me when I needed it the most.