‘Meaning makes a great many things endurable – perhaps everything.’
~ Carl Jung
After Luna died, on one of my visits to her at the funeral home, I wrote her a letter. In this letter I said many things but one of those things was a promise to make sure her short life counts for something, means something. On the whole, I feel that I am doing that on a daily basis. It’s why I write this blog, engage with the baby loss community online and volunteer for Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC). If I can make some small difference to even one person, then Luna’s death isn’t for nothing. However, before I could do any of these things, I had to confront myself. All of my very dark thoughts, the stuff buried deep in my subconscious. Not long after Luna died, I found myself thrown into the abyss: Blackness. Emptiness. No meaning for anything, all of this is just random pain. We don’t matter. Nothing matters. It makes no difference whether you are a good person or bad person, because bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people…so why should I care about anything or anyone, including myself? This is how psychopaths think. I realised there is a psychopath lurking inside me, there is probably one inside all of us. That, my friends, is the single most terrifying thing I have ever discovered about myself. It’s what open the way for my high anxiety and for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to flood in.
I’ll back up a little here, because I don’t think the death of Luna is what caused this. I think her loss was the final straw for me, as these thoughts and feelings had already surfaced after my mum died…I just buried them. When dad died, when I was 20, I had my first sense of questioning the meaning of life. Really questioning it. We weren’t a religious family, so I had nothing to fall back on. Why did this have to happen to us? Why did my dad have to die young (he was 49)? Why did other people with his type of cancer live and he died? Was there a God that decided these things? Or is it all just random? I read a lot of books, my stock response to most problems I need answers to in life and I had bereavement counselling with a woman who was spiritually (not religiously) connected with herself. These two things combined helped to connect me to my own spiritual side. I have always loved nature and this is when I first started to feel like nature was my church…something some of you may have heard me say before, especially if you follow me on social media. I would go for long walks in the woods near our home. I’d sit by the stream and watch the fish, or the heron trying to catch the fish. I’d go in all seasons. Seeing the cycles of nature, the rejuvenation, it inspired me. It gave me a sense of hope and it connected me with something ‘bigger’. It probably helped that walking in the woods and watching nature was something my dad enjoyed too, so it felt like I was with him when I did this. I wasn’t ‘okay’ with the fact that my dad had died, and I didn’t have all the answers to my questions, but I felt at peace about this. I knew my dad was a part of me and I felt lucky that at least I’d had him for those 20 years.
Then five years later, my mum got sick with cancer too. It was unbelievable that she should also get sick, but it was completely unfathomable that she would also die. But she did. She had come through her treatment really well and for the first few months, she was feeling and looking great. Then it came back and it came back with a vengeance. It was in her bones, lungs and liver. The cancer in her bones meant that even the tiniest movements could cause fractures. It was excruciating for her…she fractured her pelvis just try to get out of bed one the morning. She was hospitalised for a bit, but she was determined to come home and I was determined to get her there. I’ve written before about my dad’s death, neither she nor I wanted her to die in hospital. I was living in the UK by now…to be very honest, I can’t really remember much about this time, only that I was trying to get her back home and eventually she did get there. That’s when I started flying over regularly to help and be with her, she’d been given a tentative two year’s left to live…she lasted six months. She was 51 years old. We were all there when she died, the house was full of family and friends. It was an intense few days leading up to her death. Mum was hallucinating, talking to people in her bedroom who weren’t there (or at least I couldn’t see them!) and the night she died, I had an out of body experience. It’s difficult to explain, but I basically felt her die. I had been asleep when I suddenly dreamt that I couldn’t breathe. It woke me up and I went to my mum’s room, she had just taken her last breath. I had been spending every night with her up until that night. I knew I was keeping her here, so I said my goodbyes earlier in the evening and went to bed, leaving her in the care of friends. My mum and I were very connected during those last few days…the best way I can describe it is when a mother is so attuned to her newborn baby, she hears every single squeak that comes from her baby…except our roles were reversed. I’d hear her in my sleep when I was meant to be resting during the day and stumble into her room to see what was going on…much to everyone else’s annoyance!
At the time (and now), this made sense to me. Of course we were linked in this way…but then my grief and rage at the fact that both my parents were dead before I was 30 years old, both to cancer, overtook this strange and magical experience. I went back to the UK, I tidied up my mother’s affairs, helped my younger brother find a house to buy and then I packed away my grief and rage, because it was too frightening to deal with. I could feel the abyss there, but I didn’t want to look at it and I didn’t want to ask the ‘Why?’ questions, of any sort. I didn’t want to think about it. As far as I was concerned, there were no satisfactory answers here, so best to just shut it all down. I fooled myself that I’d dealt with it all by having counselling, but I can remember thinking ‘I’ll have my six sessions and then it’ll be over.’ I went through the motions, but I wasn’t feeling anything. It was relatively easy not to feel, I wasn’t surrounded by memories. The biggest thing I noticed was the lack of phone calls from/to my mum…no more weekly chat. But I’d just quickly pack these thoughts away – everything got packed away.
Then Luna died. The Tidalwave hit me. A tsunami of grief was unleashed and it swept me away to the edge of the abyss and threw me in; I had no choice and those demons roaring that it all meant nothing, nothing, were just so terrifying. It broke me, I collapsed under the weight of nothingness. Anxiety overtook me, I saw danger everywhere I looked. I feared for Benjamin’s life. I would imagine such terrible things happening to him, they were waking nightmares. Anything in the news about children dying, I plastered Benjamin’s face all over those stories. I was suffering panic attacks and everything hurt, my body was in so much pain. I was consumed by grief and fear was running riot within me. Eventually, I went to the GP and told her what was happening, she listened and asked me what I wanted to do. I didn’t want medication. I have no problem with medication, I have taken it before, but something inside me knew that what I was feeling was extremely important and I didn’t want to numb it in anyway. This pain, although excruciating, was valuable. I stopped working instead of taking drugs, I upped my therapy hours and started turning towards the pain instead of away from it. I climbed out of the pit, stood on the edge of the abyss and decided to have a good look around…and then I remembered my promise to Luna. I realised that my promise wasn’t just about making sure her short life and death mean something, it was also about making sure that my longer life and eventual death mean something. I found a light in the darkness. Luna saved me. Her short life already has meaning because of this. I am a better person, mother, wife, friend, human being because of her.
Nature has become my church again. Appreciation of the wonder and the abundance that is all around us, all the time, fills me with great joy. I feel thankful and grateful for being given the chance to really see what is important: love, friendship, compassion, understanding, patience, connectedness, forgiveness. Luna has made me listen to my heart and to try things, even if I find them frightening. In fact, I now use this as my measure of whether I’m on the right track with something: Am I excited? Yes! Am I shitting myself? Yes!! I figure if I’m holding these two feelings at the same time, if I’m walking that very thin line between excitement and fear, joy and sorrow, then I’m living a meaningful life. Luna has made me courageous.
‘When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.’
~ Kahlil Gibran