Grieving and healing

‘They say time’s supposed to heal you, but I ain’t done much healing,’ are the lyrics that most struck me when I heard Adele’s new song ‘Hello’, for the first time. They certainly aptly describe how I feel about the fact that I, like so many other people across the country, didn’t manage to get tickets for her upcoming concerts in the O2 and in Belfast in spite of trying to phone Ticketmaster from 8.30am onwards on Friday 4th December (God loves a trier, right?) and reports later revealed that tickets had sold out within five minutes of going online. I won’t lie. I was gutted, but later made light of it when I offered my kidney in return for Adele tickets on Facebook (that offer’s still there, by the way. Message me here, on Facebook, on Twitter… whatever suits).

I’m just about over it now. If only real grief was so easy to deal with.

Today will be the seventh year I’ve marked mum’s birthday without her. Seven years. I’ve counted it up a few times because I still can’t believe she’s been dead for so long. She’s been dead for six and a half years. I haven’t had a proper conversation with her, touched her face or heard her voice in nearly seven years. Breaking it down like that fills me with panic, because when she first passed away I thought that I would be unable to function without her. I didn’t think I could. At the start, there were days when I would go to work in jeans and hoodies. There were other days when I couldn’t face going to work, or eating, or doing anything remotely productive. Then there were the constant thoughts. My last words to her were not ‘I love you’ or ‘Thank you’… (It annoys me that I can’t remember what they were, but I know they were nothing remarkable). If only I’d known how sick she was, I would’ve, could’ve, should’ve… What were her last thoughts, was she scared/happy/sad…? I was consumed by these pointless thoughts for nearly two years, and they nearly destroyed me. For my own wellbeing, I’ve learned to let them go.

In an attempt to ‘get my act together’, I reluctantly agreed after three months to go to the Parish Centre in Tullamore for counselling. Bless them, they were nice, but the lady I spoke to spent most of the time asking me about my disability. ‘Right, so, you feel guilty because you didn’t get to say goodbye to you mammy… here, tell me something, do you dress yourself in the morning? Aren’t you great?’ At the end of the session I lied and said that she had cured me of my grief and I didn’t need any more counselling sessions. In fairness, the bizarre experience did cheer me up for a while (purely because it was like it had happened in a parallel universe), but then I found myself facing my own feelings again, and I didn’t like that. So instead of dealing with them, or at least acknowledging that I had them, I decided it was my job to look after everyone else. (I genuinely love looking after others, don’t get me wrong). Is Laura okay? Is dad okay? Is Stephen okay? Is Alex okay? Is John Paul okay? Are the goldfish okay? I took on as much as I could in order to avoid coming face-to-face with the gut-wrenching pain that was losing my mother. This wasn’t their fault, and I was more than happy to do it, but my obsession with their well-being became a tad unhealthy to the point where I couldn’t decipher what I felt myself.

Even when it came to selling our family home, two years later, I remained steeled against falling into sentimentality. We had to sort through all of our mum’s stuff, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever done (you know, apart from losing those Adele tickets). I tried to be practical and sort everything into ‘valuable’ i.e. jewellery, handwritten books, her drawings and paintings, photos and ‘crap’ i.e. keyrings, pencilcases, receipts, empty notebooks. Us three girls did this together and Laura and Alex started reminiscing. ‘Aw, remember when mum wore this? And the day she bought that?’ I walked out on one particular occasion. I didn’t want to remember. As far as I was concerned, mum had been dead two years and grieving time was over. I had to move on with my life. I wasn’t going to get sucked into the past again. It was too painful. If I had to talk about mum in the past tense, it would mean that she was truly gone, and I wasn’t ready to acknowledge what that meant yet.

Fast-forward three years, to 2014. Much had changed. I had my own daughter. We lived in our own house. Everything was good, brilliant even, when suddenly I started to feel a grief so intense it felt like it was choking me. I’m not sure whether it was the passing of a family member in April 2014 that triggered my grief, but I felt the loss of my mother as strongly as the day she was buried. Every part of my body craved her, to see her, to hear her, to have her meet Alison. I felt lonely for her. I wanted to chat to her. This was nothing new, usually these feelings would pass as the days wore on. They didn’t this time; in fact they intensified. ‘To hell with this,’ I thought, annoyed, ‘I have a child to mind. Cop yourself on.’ But I couldn’t. Ignoring my grief wasn’t going to work, not this time. It got to a point where I could barely face getting out of bed. I forced myself to take time off work to recover and embrace these feelings. It was difficult but I learned so much about myself during this time. I learned that I tend to take on too much, that I become overwhelmed too easily, and that keeping things bottled up comes back to haunt you eventually. But equally I realised that I was stronger than I thought, that I had somehow managed to keep things together and that I would eventually regain the ability to do these things again once I took the time to take care of myself emotionally.

When I first read about the five stages of grief, I thought that the grieving process would be over once I’d entered and ‘completed’ each stage (the stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance). I imagined the ‘acceptance’ stage as some sort of finishing line where I would be able to think of my mother without bawling like an idiot. I thought that it would be like the ending of a Disney film – soppy and sentimental, but over. Some days I think I’ve conquered this grief, but in the last twenty-four hours I’ve heard ‘The Fairytale of New York’ twice and I’ve cried in public, twice. (Once was at an office party so hopefully my colleagues just thought I was pissed.) My mother once told me that ‘Fairytale’ was her favourite Christmas song, so every time I hear it my soul wells up with sadness that I try to suppress. Sometimes I can do it, other times I fail miserably.

I’m not an expert but from what I’ve experienced over the last six years, and from listening to others’ experiences of grief, it is a process that never ends. Although I’ve had to learn how to function without my mum, it doesn’t mean that I don’t miss her, and I still shed a tear or two at the most inappropriate times. And though it’s not convenient, it feels somehow liberating to acknowledge and embrace these feelings when they arise instead of trying to push them down all the time.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: mum, I love you. Some days I think of you more than others, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss you. I won’t be able to contain my grief all the time, but hey, I’m only human. All I can do is try my best to make you proud every day. Happy birthday. Big hugs. I’ll have a Knickerbocker Glory in your honour (I’ll do what I have to do).


PS Seriously lads – those Adele tickets – all prices considered. All unnecessary organs up for grabs.