Mum would have been shocked to see how many people turned up at her funeral. She was a loner deep down and believed that few people really cared about her. To see all the cars and people was very moving. As our family car pulled into the Church car park I gripped my Brother’s hand tightly. I felt sick to my stomach and wished I could blink and have that day be over. Friends thought I was being brave in the face of tragedy but really I was falling apart inside. Unless you are intuitive or have empathic abilities to really feel what others are feeling, you never really know what someone is going through inside themselves as they paint on a smile and keep on keeping on.
That morning I was doing all I could to make sure that not a single tear would escape from my eye. Just one is all it would take to break the dam. The effort of holding all that emotion in caused me to tremble deep inside like cold that could never be warmed.
As we approached the steps of the modern-looking, white Church there were people spewing out onto the car park. It was standing room only. By the time we arrived the Church was full to bursting with every chair full (except those reserved for us right at the front), the aisles were packed, people were pressed against the side walls, the entrance lobby was jammed and late comers could only stand outside on the steps. All I could see was a blurry sea of people, all wearing bright colours as Mum had requested. I kept my head down and focussed on the floor as much as possible. One step at a time. One breath at a time.
I didn’t sing. I didn’t pray. I was angry with God so why would I pray? As Mum loved Christmas so much, Carols were chosen for the service. Silent Night was one of her favourites and as children my Brother and I had performed it for her clumsily, me playing keyboards and my Brother singing.
As I entered the Church something happened, something I find hard to write about. My intention in sharing my private journey so publicly with you is to help those of you who may be on a similar path. My story may touch into our story; the collective narrative of awakening women all over the world. This includes sharing things that hurt, things I have been ashamed of.
And so as I walked through those Church doors I experienced something that for a long while I couldn’t speak of.
Ahead of me on the Church steps stood my Father. I hadn’t had any relationship with him for about fifteen years, not since he left Mum for another woman. It was a messy, dragged out divorce that tore everyone in every direction; my Brother and I were used as pawns in their battle, we were manipulated, interrogated and terrified. There were nuisance and nasty phone calls, knocks on the front door late at night followed by raised voices and slammed doors rocking the house to its foundations. I took it all to heart much more than my younger Brother, although he is still experiencing the fallout from it all in his own way. There was a fight over child support payments and I had testified in court against him. At twenty five I still had nightmares about the cruel and violent things I heard and saw and suffered during the years my Father lived with us. Still to this day I wince whenever an unexpected guest knocks on my front door or when the phone rings and I find it hard to be around any kind of anger or aggression, despite years of inner work and healing.
Here’s the part that is uncomfortable to share: The second I saw him standing on the Church steps I was flooded with a Tsunami of almost murderous rage. I didn’t know where it came from and it didn’t feel like mine. I could hardly contain its explosive force. The intensity of these feelings was frightening and I wanted to scream at him, hit him and blame him for Mum’s death. I was seething.
Why was I feeling this way? Was it Mum’s rage I was feeling? Was she feeling this way from where she was now or was I in some way helping to process her ‘pain body’; those unexpressed, painful emotions she had carried around all that time?
Or maybe it was just my own suppressed anger.
All I knew is I couldn’t cope with that right now. I couldn’t deal with him and I didn’t even want to look at him or acknowledge his presence. I just had to get through the next thirty minutes without breaking down, vomiting or passing out.
One of the cruel things about grief is that even if your family and friends are each experiencing the loss of the same person, each of you feels alone, isolated by the pain and locked into your own loss.
People sent cards and tried to say the right things to me but nothing helped. In fact the more platitudes that came my way the angrier I got. The last thing I wanted was for people to claim they knew how I was feeling. I didn’t want advice and reassurances that Mum was now in a better place. Nonsense! I wanted her with me, alive and well, not dead and gone. I know people were simply trying to help and that it came from love but from my point of view it was unbearable. Every experience of grief and loss is unique, there may be common themes but I needed to grieve in my own way and I didn’t want people trying to tell me how I was going to feel or trying to make me feel better. I intuitively knew they were afraid of their own grief and mortality and so were attempting to sanitise mine.
Mum deserved the tears; she deserved the pain I was feeling. That pain now was all part of the love then. I didn’t want people trying to rush me through that or put a positive spin on it before I was ready to authentically emerge into my own higher and deeper understanding of my loss.
Other cultures more freely embrace the pain of grief without the constraints of the British ‘stiff upper lip’. They sing, cry, wail, howl and dance sometimes for days at a time. They really let themselves feel the pain. Here in Britain ( and no doubt in other places too) if you fall apart openly or if grief continues for longer than the socially comfortable period of time then people start squirming awkwardly. They start trying to cheer you up, get you back to work, drag you out to the pub or at worst avoid you altogether as if you have an infectious disease..
What I needed was to fall with total surrender. Instead of being the people-pleaser and trying to reassure those around me, what I needed was to let go into the grief and let the energy move until there were no more tears. Then I would clean myself up and maybe later more tears would come and that would be OK. But I didn’t do that. I did what many people do who have bills to pay and responsibilities, I went out looking for work. I had walked away from my job at the art gallery as a result of how my boss’s wife had handled my two days off as Mum was dying. So now I was in the position of trying to conceal my grief so I could attend job interviews. I can’t quite believe I did that to myself; however at the time I thought I was doing the right thing plus I was getting a lot of pressure from my then boyfriend’s Mother to get out and back to work.
I genuinely needed more time than those around me were willing to give me. Sadly I didn’t have the self-esteem to stand up to them and declare what I knew to be right for me and I started working for a local newspaper. Just a few weeks later I collapsed in the ladies bathroom and managed to walk very slowly to my aunt’s house nearby. She took me to the doctor and I left the job.
What I didn’t know about myself back then is that I am also an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) like my Mother. As such I need a lot of time and space to process things that others may move through much faster. Even the smallest upset reverberates deeply through me on every level. I feel it as emotional sensitivity, tightness in my stomach, pain all over my body, a pounding heartbeat and temperature fluctuations. I often feel like a peeled grape out in the world. Multiple streams of information rattle through my enhanced senses and I regularly witness images flashing up on my inner mind screen and intuitive ‘knowings’ about any person I am with or any situation I am affected by. I experience life in a rich, complex, heightened and multi-sensory way.
Over the years I had found various unhealthy ways of self-medicating, numbing and masking these intense experiences of life. Before I learned self-care skills to support my sensitivity and honour it as a strength I thought I was failing, not good enough, not keeping up. It would have been unbearable back then to feel all that was going on inside me after Mum died and so I shut down somehow and used alcohol and cigarettes to help me with that.
And so the grief was building up inside me. I felt unable to release my pain, it didn’t feel like those around me could just let me fall apart but that’s what I needed to do. I needed to let the pain out. My body, mind, heart, spirit and soul were crying out for an opportunity to exorcise the nuclear explosion of grief that was tearing through me. All those years of being strong for Mum, helping to raise my younger Brother when Mum went through her depressions, all those years of being stoical and putting on a brave face were sitting there demanding freedom. They were ready to make a break for it. Death had blown a small hole in that dam and what I didn’t know is that new cracks were appearing in it daily. Pretty soon the whole thing would blow and my life would be changed forever.
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