Three days ago, I was sitting in an office, typing away at some emails when my brother sent this photograph through to the family What’s App group. It was taken in 1998 at Chester Zoo. I had never seen it before; I was not there that day, twenty (twenty!) years ago. I thought I’d be able to glance at it, smile to myself and feel comforted (show me a greater comfort when you’ve lost someone, than a picture of them you’ve never seen before) before putting it aside and continuing the afternoon’s tasks. I thought I’d be able to do that, because lately, I’ve been feeling ok…
…So ok, in fact, I told my therapist we probably didn’t need to continue our sessions and could we peter them out over the coming months, because, you know, I’m feeling ok now? So ok, I (gradually) came off the antidepressants I’ve been on for years, because I felt like that chapter of my life was over.
I realised, when I saw this photograph, I wasn’t able to do that. That I am not ok.
I don’t mean that to sound alarming or dramatic. I’m not seeking attention; it’s more that I want to acknowledge the tricks that grief plays on us. It makes us feel, after a certain amount of time, that things are ‘ok’; that we’re somehow ‘over’ the worst; it lulls us into a false sense of security. Recently I’ve been feeling guilty about how little I’ve been thinking about mum, because a few months have passed where I haven’t cried about her, or felt like I particularly missed her (in fact I once spent an entire therapy session talking about the fact that I missed missing her). I felt like there was something wrong with me. Is that what happens when you’ve let yourself ‘live’ your grief and felt the pain deeply? That you’re awarded some sort of ‘downtime’? Or have I merely been feeling numb and now the pain – daily and debilitating as it once was – is back with a vengeance?
All I know is that the photograph above, and the memories it’s stirred, has awakened something in me. I have been fixating on little details like the coat she is wearing (which she wore for years and I had completely forgotten about), her hooded eyelids and the dimples in her smile and how warm her hands felt to touch and hold. So much familiarity; so much I miss; so much I don’t want to ever forget. It’s like a tap has been switched back on, or a plaster has been ripped off a wound before it’s healed. And now it’s all raw and skanky and exposed again, and I feel vulnerable and angry and…. argh, I really hate this time of year.
In the last three days, I’ve had a meltdown on Oxford Street (bloody Christmas music), felt irrational hatred towards people innocently having dinner with their parents in Walthamstow, and sobbed hysterically when I saw a picture of my 7-year-old niece on superheroes day, dressed up as a doctor (because she said her nain – nan – was her superhero). I suppose it’s inevitable, in the season of John Lewis adverts and smug family newsletters, that our patience and resilience, be tested… but seriously? It’s only 2 December and I am done. It’s all too familiar but no less frightening, to feel utterly bereft once more. My heart is breaking, all over again.