National Day of Reflection March 23rd, 2023
She left on a dry cold November night. Autumn was over, winter crept forward.
We didn’t say goodbye. She left. She wasn’t coming back.
That night I laid awake with questions storming through my head. What if I hadn’t done that, what if I had said this, what if I could have stayed with her and stopped her from going? Did everyone know she had gone or, like me, had they had got there too late? I was alone and abandoned in the light that pervaded the dark.
In those days and weeks that followed, I became acutely conscious of strong physical feelings. My body ached, my head ached, my stomach lurched sickeningly. The shock waves echoed through my body. They hurt! I was heavy and lethargic; it was difficult to move. These symptoms lasted week upon week; they changed and transmuted as many times, and showed no sign of abating. I slept, but not fully, she was always there permeating my night terror; her memory saturating my sleep and wakefulness.
This exaggerated physical reaction was familiar. I came to know that I had lived with the subtlety of it for a long time. The unexplained fatigue, an inability to be motivated or interested in things I typically loved to participate. Music, art, writing, walking. In the year before she left, there existed the polarity of expecting the worse and hope for a good outcome. In that year, the chasm of anticipatory grief had opened up and swallowed me whole. Her leaving was known, the timing unforeseen. I had felt the loss of her a long time before she left. I genuinely thought I had more time with her.
I faced the ache of what life could be like without her in it. I accepted that she had gone, I couldn’t accept she no longer existed. My own living felt futile, yet life became a precious commodity with a will to be grateful of each breath, each step forward. In this existential shift I acknowledged that her leaving meant more than just her own departure. She took much more with her. Her history, connections, places to visit, her wisdom, her favourite things. Her lifetime gone in a moment and her roots, burrowing deeply in my own psyche, ended abruptly. It was time to say goodbye many more times over in the days and weeks that followed. The shape and size of her departure was realised and overwhelmed repeatedly.
Like a time-traveller, a song had the ability to transport me back into the memories that belonged to me. I was a little girl, paddling in a shallow stream, with a jam jar catching the tiny river shrimps that lived there. The tune took me back to a time where I was safe, and I was free and playful. The layers of defences and conditions of being an adult were light years away from touching me in those carefree childhood days. In that moment of hearing the song, and in my child self, I craved the comfort of her arms around me, her smell. The smile that told me I got you, you are ok.
Hearing that song described how I saw her leaving.
“Sail on silver girl, sail on by. Your time has come to shine– all your dreams are on their way”.
And my tears fell.
She left without a goodbye, choosing the right time for herself to soar high in those clouds. She was tired.
My grief was full of dualities and polarities, where the in-betweens threatened to engulf me and make me dissapear too. The hardest of them all was the absence of her physical form, set against her continuous ghostly presence in my waking day and my sleepless nights. She was always there, just there, and like a bird she could not be caught, held, or bought back to home. Out of reach, so near yet so far, she watched me, and she sent birdsong now and again to remind me she will always be with me. Even when she could not. That is the texture of her memory.
In loving memory of my mother Hannah, April 1935 to November 2022
If you were to write about loss what words would you choose, what texture would you give to your memories?
How else might you be expressing your emotions other than those typical and perhaps expected?
What songs, music, lyrics can transport you back in time?