Happy(?) Holidays

I include the question mark because so many people struggle this time of year.  For me, issues with deep grief and ritualistic trauma frequently permeate the lighter side of the season.  This year I have made a concerted effort to participate, rather than hide myself away somewhere.  I have gone Christmas shopping and made plans for both Christmas and Chanukah celebrations.  This has helped, to some extent, but I find my agita spiralling as the holidays near.

My sister’s death from suicide on 7 December 2000 is the most painful thing I’ve ever been through, and its sting is still just as sharp as it was that day.  I have had quite a few other losses, and they all still sting. My sister’s death, however, still drops me to my knees sometimes.  She was my second self.  We were rarely separated, and I still hold myself partially at fault for not seeing the signs in her.  That day was just as painful as ever this year, and it started my mind down the spiral of grief and fear.  I’m trying to bring it back up.

If you are struggling this month, please hold on.  Somewhere out there, someone needs you more than you know.

In the UK & Ireland: Contact the Samaritans  116 123

In the US:  1-800-784-2433;  TTY:  1-800-799-4889

 

 

 

Dichotomy

That word defines my mother.  She was at once child and adult, beauty and darkness, safety and absolute danger.  Her multiplicity threw an interesting hook in to our relationship; I was more often parent to her than child.  She was very abusive to me and even moreso to my sister.  Even in her death, she left a sting.  The suicide note blamed me.

It’s taken years for me to accept that her death was not my fault but a bad choice on her part.  It’s taken years for me to learn that her treatment of me was not a reflection of me as a person but of her dealing poorly with her own Stuff.  Now, as I make changes in my life, she is on my mind.  I’m thinking of her as what she was, though: a person, separate from anyone else.

My mother had a very difficult life.  She told me in graphic detail about things that happened to her as a child.  She met my father early in her 20s.  A handsome soldier, he must have seemed heaven sent to rescue her.  She told me once he pitied her and married her for that reason.  Instead of rescuing her, though, he brought her to a cult where she was abused further and used basically as a breeder.  In an odd sense, she probably felt more wanted there than anywhere else.  Early in to it, before the serious harm would have started, the cult must have seemed like the first place to *need* her.  That breaks my heart.

She ran out of time at aged 51.  She made the decision to end her life because, if the note is to be believed, she thought I wanted her out of mine.  I had been making plans for both of us, though.  Had she just hung on a little longer, I really think things would have improved for her.  As it is, though, none of us will ever know.

Dangerous Nostalgia

Lately, I’ve been looking back alot.  This is problematic, in that even looking at the good times brings my mind to the bad times.  Now, I’m just trying to refocus in the present.  It’s easier said that done.  I tread through fire finding and charging an old mobile phone that was mine in graduate school.  I remember the exact ring tone I had and the exact text tone I had during one of the most challenging experiences of my life.  For some reason, I just needed to hear them again.

Maybe it’s an identity thing.  Nine years ago, my life was good.  I had a flat, a job, school, friends, and promise for the future.  Now, I feel hopeless.  The friends I had are gone, school has ended, my job is nothing like it was before, I’m not currently capable of living alone, and I’m maudlin.  I need to realise the good things and wonderful people in my current life.  I need to pull myself out of this rut of self-pity and be grateful for everything.

But instead, I’m staring at a mobile hoping a certain ring of the phone will transport me back to a time when none of it had happened.

A Tribute

For some reason, I have  been missing my mother terribly over the past few days.  Grief for all of my lost loved ones comes and goes, of course, but it’s been a decade since my mother died and it feels new now.  I know it will pass.  Just quite painful in the meantime.

My mother was an enigma.  Due to her multiplicity, she could be sweet and loving or dangerous and angry and everything in between.  I played many roles for her.  At times, *I* was the parent to her younger alters.  At other times, I was a friend to teens or older alters.  Rarely did she seem like my mother, and rarely did the person who claimed to be my mother spend a significant amount of time out.  For as far back as I could remember, our relationship hadn’t been the typical mother-daughter paradigm.

She brought some amazing things to my life.  It’s through my mother that I met the first person who became part of my FOC and taught me what family was about.  She taught me patience and how to be accepting of others’ difficult circumstances.  She taught me respect.  In those ways, she shaped who I am.

She also scarred me physically and mentally to the point that my therapy sessions sometimes remind me of Freudian satires.  Through those injuries, though, I have learnt strength and endurance.  I’ve learnt to guard myself, even to an unhealthy extent, but self-protection isn’t always bad.  I try to draw strength from the dangers she sometimes posed.

My mother died in mid-Spring, just when everything was in full bloom.  Winter is here, now, but I think about the promise of Spring and the promise of her life at that point.  She was finally coming to the place where she might have had a chance to heal, but she decided to end her life instead.  I will never understand that decision, even as I work to accept it.

There are so many things I miss about her and so many questions I have for her.  I miss her both as a child misses her mother and as an adult who misses her friend.  Her life ended much too soon.

Obstacles

Since my mood episode has passed, we’re back working on grief issues.  Specifically, we’re working with my sister’s death.  I asked the therapist if she found this repetitive, as we do keep returning time and again to this one loss, but she said we deal with another aspect of it every time we discuss it.  This time, we’re dealing with the extremes.

I have a tendency to bottle emotions (gasp from crowd).  As it turns out, merely intellectualising my feelings or stating them as fact does not count as actually expressing them and processing.  My therapist told me that I’m merely doing circles about them and will have to open them up in order to heal them.  Then, we discussed obstacles to that.

Obstacle one is easy to understand:  culture.  The stereotypical English stiff upper lip isn’t as stereotypical as some might think.  I’m not accustomed to overly emotional displays.  I’m more accustomed to the quick acknowledgement and subsequent containing of strong feelings.  This is separate from abuse issues or any kind of disorder.  This is simply culture.  Overcoming it is probably a question of pride and modesty.

Obstacle two *is* the trauma issues.  I grew up in a cult where people were literally killed for showing emotion sometimes.  Funnily enough, I have trouble with that now.  Then, Dr Freud, there’s the abuse my mother handed down.  On the day of my sister’s funeral, she was kind enough to remind me that, since it wasn’t my daughter, I had no right to be upset.  When I was a child, she taunted or hit my sister and me for showing emotion.  Again, small reason I have trouble with that.  Overcoming this is my biggest challenge.  No idea where to start.

Obstacle three is something I’d never considered: bipolar disorder.  My therapist pointed out that, given bipolar disorder is a condition of extremes, we spend some time attempting to keep me from giving in to strong emotions.  My emotions can’t always be trusted; some result from psychosis or other bipolar symptoms.  To overcome this, I guess we’ll just have to be overly cautious about the pace at which we attack the pesky little emotions.

There’s a danger in opening this box.  Sometimes, I follow down the path of wanting to be with my sister and follow her lead.  I don’t think that is a problem now, though, as I seem to have got a decent amount of control over the suicidal feelings.  Self-injury is the more likely problem, but I’ll deal with that when/if it happens.  It’s time, regardless of how much my mind fights against it, to at least begin the raw work of true mourning.

Unknown Longing

For the past few weeks, I’ve been having this odd weepy feeling.  The feelings come on very suddenly and leave almost as quickly.  In the moment, I feel close to bursting in to tears with no real idea of what’s prompting the feeling.  It’s a haunting sense of longing that I can’t quite place.

And then there’s the wailing.  It’s this constant chanted mantra of ‘I want things to be like they were before.’  Sometimes, the voice is very quiet and the feeling is completely one of longing.  Sometimes, the voice is an actual wail, full of panic and pain.  It comes from the very depths of my consciousness, and it leaves me feeling weak.  The weepy feelings spring from this sort of primal reaction, I know, but I don’t know the actual cause.  Which makes working to heal it only slightly difficult.

I need to identify what ‘like they were before’ means.  It could be any number of things.  There are the major changes– transatlantic move, deaths, et c.  And there are the more minor changes that became major in my mind– changes in relationships, my best friend moving to a new part of the city, et c.  There are many, many ‘befores’ in everyone’s life.  Some of mine are just a bit more pronounced than average.

As I mentioned a few posts back, the bit with my best friend’s moving to a new house in a new part of the town has been a rather large upset in my life.  I recognise part of that as feeding in to the current issues.  Quite some time before he moved, his mother had already moved out.  That was the point when the home I knew there broke.  I didn’t realise, at the time, that things would never go back to how they were in the flat before she moved.  That’s led to a feeling like unexpected loss.  Things changed forever without a thought of it; I didn’t know those last days before she moved would be the last days when things were as they had been when my best friend’s flat was home to me.

Herein lies an issue with temporal space.  My logical mind knows that, regardless of where he lives, I am at home with my best friend.  It is the person, not the space, that makes me safe.  Living with him and his mother gave me a sense of safety I’d never known before, though.  It’s the only time when the Really Bad People did not know my location.  It was the only time I’ve truly been free.  With that gone, and the recent hacking away at my space done by the Really Bad People, I feel like I have no steady ground.  And I feel like I never even saw the steady ground fading away.  I guess the longing isn’t so hard to understand.

There are so many causes for longing, but this is more acute than the grief bits.  They factor in, of course, but this is a longing for something that still exists– a sense of safety from the Really Bad People.  It’s just outside the realm of possibility.

The Tip of the Scale

Apparently, this significant anniversary of my sister’s death is going to be more problematic than typical years.  It’s been two weeks, and things aren’t improving.  The nightmares are still happening, the flashbacks are still interrupting my day, and the desperation is still a constant thought.  I will bring this to my therapist tomorrow, but tonight it’s overwhelming me.  I’m not sure what to do with the intensity of the emotions, and I’m not sure how to deal with the fact that they are lasting this long.  The black and white answer is that I simply endure.  One foot in front of the other, as I told a very depressed friend recently.  Easier said than done.

With this tip of the scale, my sister’s death seems more significant than her life.  She lived twelve years; she has been dead for thirteen.  It’s like my worst fear realised– her death has been a fact longer than her life.  She feels so far away.  It’s like her existence is fading.  Like her energy has dissipated beyond existence.  I don’t know what happens after we die, but I’ve always hoped that at least *some* version of ourselves lives on.  But for how long?  When is that essence gone?  Does it even exist in the first place?  While the scale was tipped in the ‘positive’ side, I seemed to retain some hope in my sister’s life.  Now, it feels like she is lost forever in every form possible.  It’s like she went from an entity to an apparition, all with one slide of a balance.

I just want to hold on to some part of her, but that feels impossible now.  Perhaps it’s false hope finally breaking.  Whatever it is, though, I just hope it leaves some small piece of her behind.  Right now, it feels like I’m losing her all over again, and I don’t think I can take that loss.  Twelve years was so very short, and thirteen so very long.

Listening

The seventh of this month marked the 13th anniversary of my sister’s death.  She has now been gone one year longer than she lived.  The thought is devastating.  There are no words to describe how much I miss her.  She dances through my mind all the time, and she is a constant presence in my life.  Unfortunately, she also left a constant and suffocating absence.

I had the chance to visit my far-flung FOC earlier this month, which provided me with the strength to get through that day and will surely help through the upcoming holidays, as well.  The night before the anniversary of my sister’s death, I talked a great deal about her with my brother-of-choice, and that turned out to be one of the most important conversations I’ve ever had.  That’s the focus of this post– help for those grieving losses that have never had a chance to heal.

The week of my sister’s death anniversary, I play through the events over and over in my mind.  I look for any sign from that week, trying to figure out what I missed.  My mind holds the false hope that maybe this is the year I’ll be able to stop her going through with her plan, even though I know that will never be a possibility.  I have nightmares, flashbacks of the day I found her body, and a general haziness to my thoughts.  It is a horrible week.

In our conversation, my brother-of-choice simply listened.  He provided excellent advice without trying to ‘fix’ the problem, and he listened.  He listened to me talk about her death, as well as her life, which was essential to me at that time.  I needed to get the negatives and positives of her existence out of my mind so that the space I keep for her was calm again.  I also needed to share her with someone who feels a closeness to her, even though they never met in this life.

If you know someone in a similar circumstance– someone grieving the loss of a young person or of a suicide– you might well feel helpless if they turn to you to talk.  You might feel a need to shield from the harshness of the death, as well as distance from the fact that the person lived.  When you are feeling most helpless, though, the way to help this person will likely be simple.  Just listen.  Let the person tell you about their loved one’s life and death.  Let them get lost in the wonder of their loved one’s existence, and be there to help them stay grounded when memories of the death start to cloud out the present.

By the same token, you must take care of yourself.  If you do not feel comfortable listening to such details, speak up.  You will hurt yourself, as well as your relationship with the person, if you push yourself beyond your own limits.  If you can, though, just listen.  Don’t feel the need to solve the problem of grief.  No one needs that responsibility.  Grieving people *need* to talk about their losses, particularly when the losses leave behind so many questions like suicides do.  By simply listening, you can do wonders for helping your friend or loved one heal.

I will be forever grateful to my brother-of-choice for helping me mark both my sister’s life and her death.

Colourful

I’m working through a rather difficult exercise in therapy right now, but I can actually see the progress.  A bit ago, my therapist asked me to draw the scene I saw on the day I found my sister’s body.  It was harrowing.  There, in black and white lines, was the memory that has been haunting me for all these years.  My whole body was shaking, and I felt nauseous.  I did a mandala to channel the feelings, which helped a bit.

We continued with this exercise on Monday.  The goal, then, was to change the picture in to something positive.  It was a very mixed process.  In part, the exercise was nice.  It was a way of making a horrible scene more approachable.  On another part, though, it felt like glossing over what is, taken in its purest sense, a very important part of my sister’s life.  I changed the furniture to reflect our lounge, a happier place in our flat.  The shape of the blood morphed into the outline of my sister’s favourite toy, and the weapons became elements of art.

The hardest part was colouring her.  At first, the experience was oddly comforting.  I was bringing life to the image of her corpse.  Pink lips, peach skin, blonde hair, blue eyes.  All the things that made her my beautiful sister.  I felt like I was giving her back the life she took, healing her as best I could.  Then, the image hit me.  I was focusing directly on the image that lives in my nightmares and flashbacks.  At that point, my whole body went cold, and I asked the therapist if perhaps we could stop for a bit.  Every sense of emotion was gone.

I’ll start again with the drawing at some other time.  For now, though, I’m going to let it be.

Haunted

Of all the losses I’ve faced, my sister’s suicide is the most complicated.  It’s been my near-constant thought since the grief issues were sparked.  I’m haunted by the thought of how she died and what she experienced.  The singer Dido puts it best in her song ‘The Day Before the Day‘:

It wakes me every single night.  Thinking through the day.

Did you stop at any time?  Have doubts at any stage?

Or were you calm or were you numb?

Or happy just to get it done?

I’ve lived my life without regret

Until today.

I found my sister’s body on a rainy December afternoon all the way back in 2000.  The image is burnt in my mind, and I see it every bit as clear now as I did that day.  Sometimes I even see it in my waking hours.  The fact that she died alone bothers me tremendously.  I wonder if I could have done anything at all had I got there even a few minutes earlier.  Her body was still the smallest bit warm when I found her.

My therapist says if it hadn’t been that day it would have happened soon thereafter.  She says my sister had determined to end her life, and even if she had survived that day, she would have just followed through with her plan another time.  Still, I wish for even a few more minutes with her even though I know I’d just want more.  I want to talk to her now and ask if there was anything at all I or anyone could have done to help.

In my mind, I see a young girl slipping away with no one around to help.  I’d have done anything I could to save her, but at very least, I would like to have been there to help her through the transition.  Thinking that she went through that alone keeps me up at night.  She died alone.  I wonder if she was afraid or if she would have changed her mind if someone had come home in time.  I wonder if she felt pain or if she simply grew cold and sleepy.  I wonder if she felt the cuts or was shocked by the amount of blood.  I wonder if she wished for someone to be there with her, and I would give anything to have been able to comfort her, if nothing else.

Grief is a beast that eats away at a survivor’s very existence.  My life seems to have stopped that day, as well, and no amount of therapy has even touched the wound.  The circumstances surrounding her death are so horrific, and it set off a chain of events that completely shattered any stability my mother and I had established.  Twelve and a half years later, the loss still feels new, and the shock is every bit as strong.  I fight against accepting it, as if refusing to accept it means it never happened.  I go over the details of the days leading up to that one, looking for any sign at all that might have been missed.  My sister was the very centre of my universe; everything revolved around her.  Since her death, the universe has revolved around her absence.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

Speeches won’t be made today.  Clocks will carry on.

Flowers won’t be left in parks.  Work will still be done.

People won’t be dressed in black.  Babies will be born.

No flags will fly, the sun will rise.

But we will know that you are gone.

You who loved to love, and believed we can never give enough.

**

It wakes me every single night.  Thinking through the day.

Did you stop at any time?  Have doubts at any stage?

Or were you calm or were you numb?

Or happy just to get it done?

I’ve lived my life without regret.

Until today.

And you who loved to love, and believed we can never give enough.

**

I didn’t get to say goodbye.  The day before the day.

I was trying to get to work on time.  That’s why I turned away.

And missed the most important thing you ever tried to say.

I’ve lived my life without regret.

Until today.

**

And you who loved to love, and believed we can never give enough.

And you who hoped that underneath, we all felt the same.

That was until

The day before the day.

                                             ~Dido, ‘The Day Before the Day’