My Mum died suddenly and alone in a room in a psychiatric hospital when she was just 52, on 12th October 2001. She was heavily sedated at the time and was in severe distress as her own Mum had passed away a few days before she was hospitalised. My experience of visiting Mum in hospital and losing her so suddenly and so young is one of the times in my life when I shut down my inner world out of necessity. I blocked off my emotions because I was so confused about the situation and so consumed with so many feelings and emotions which were swirling around inside me. I didn’t know how to verbalise, process or express the pain inside. I didn’t have the words. I didn’t feel safe enough to express how I truly felt to myself or to anyone else. Now, after years of therapy, writing, self-psychoeducation about trauma and the nervous system and hours of digging deep into myself, I have found the words. At last, I have found a way which works for me.
One last visit
Mum was so out of it on drugs the last time I saw her in the hospital that I don’t know if she could hear me, understand me or know me. Those last moments I spent with her in her drugged state haunted me and traumatised me so much that they blocked my grief and stopped it in its path. For a long time in my mind I stood frozen beside her bed, not wanting to leave but having to leave her all alone in a drugged stupor, in an unfamiliar and scary place. I went against all of my heart’s desire to stay with her in her time of need. I had to go, I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t know that she would die the next day.
Mum died alone in the room the next morning from a blood clot in her lungs. After she died it felt like the hospital closed her file and moved on to the next patient leaving us to fend for ourselves after being traumatised by her treatment and sudden death. At the time I felt abandoned by an uncaring and unsupportive system where no one helped me to process my emotions.
Mum had been hospitalised a few years previously, after her Dad passed away, for a few months. She was in an extreme dissociated state before she was hospitalised. Visiting her in the hospital during those months was surreal and very strange. It felt like another world away from my day-to-day world where I was a student in UCD and trying to enjoy my college experience just like everyone else. I didn’t tell many of my friends what was happening back at home and I think I separated my two lives to protect myself. At that time, I had no way of expressing the difficult, confusing and painful emotions I was feeling so deeply in my heart.
Burying my feelings
My experiences of losing Mum so suddenly and visiting her in the hospital were so difficult for me that I buried my feelings and pushed them down inside me out of my awareness for my own survival. I realise now how deeply I have been affected by seeing her so drugged, so incapacitated, so helpless, so voiceless, so confused and so scared.
Fear finds her voice
I feel compelled to articulate in words what I went through over 20 years ago and to make sense of the difficult and painful emotions that I buried for so long. I need to bring light into the darkness of my unspoken pain and of my Mum’s unexpressed pain so that I am not consumed by it. My biggest fear is that the fear, pain and trauma of what I experienced will take me over. I have learnt that I have the strength and courage to go deep into my buried emotions to give them a voice. Once I voice my deeply held emotions and articulate my experiences they may be released from my tight grip.
Courage – facing the reality of pain and trauma
Over the last few years I have been slowly finding a way to bring back into awareness and face the reality of my true feelings. I could not hold them all inside me any longer. I had to help myself, I had to take responsibility for my angry, scared and confused parts. They were consuming me, taking hold of me, eating me up and threatening to squish me into a smaller and smaller version of who I really am. I had to find a way to go deeper into my experiences, deeper into myself and deeper into my pain and trauma. It makes it more real when I put into words and am able to express what I feel. Making it more real means that I feel the pain in my heart of losing Mum and seeing her so incapacitated but I know I need to face up to reality now. I need to be more real so that I can help myself heal. Holding my feelings inside for so long took so much of my energy and without awareness of this I was incapacitated myself and was not able to feel safe, to feel fully alive and to be at peace.
Writing and therapy
I started writing as a way to find and get to know my true voice, the voice which I silenced out of necessity to survive difficult times in my life. Therapy and self-psychoeducation have also helped me find the safety and security to open up. It has been revealing to find my own voice beneath the many voices, feelings and emotions which were drowning her out.
I find that writing about and connecting with the awesomeness and enduring power of nature in a deeply sensuous way grounds me, nourishes me and helps me to feel safe enough to open up to painful and difficult emotions. There have been so many times when I have been out on the beach with tears streaming down my face feeling so sad but at the same time having a deep knowing that I am held by nature in my grief. She is there with me, helping me release my tears out into the world and she will soothe and comfort me in my suffering. It may be a ray of sunshine piercing through the clouds, a wave gently lapping at my feet or a seagull quietly flying above me which gives me a sense that I am not alone, all is not lost, there is hope and nature and life continues on no matter what.
The deep love which I continue to feel for my Mum has also helped me, nourished me and sustained me enough to deepen my connection with my inner pain. Grief has poured out through my tears and through my writing. By connecting with the strength of my love for Mum and continuing to connect with her through my writing, I have been able to flow with the waves of grief. As I sit with myself in the unbearable silence of her absence I am opening up to another evolving sense of her presence within me. Our enduring love will carry me when I don’t have the energy to walk grief’s painful path. I write about these connections with nature, love and grief as well as other illuminating connections I feel. I have amassed a significant amount of reflective writing as I pour out my feelings onto the page. A small sample of my writing is on my blog @ https://deepening-connections.com/. I am sharing my writing with the hope that my words can help someone else open up to what they hold inside.
At last, I have found a way which works for me. It is my heart’s desire to be open, to express myself, to find words to describe my pain, to be heard and to be my true self. It is my way and thankfully I have found that beneath the pain, grief, sadness, confusion, horror, shock, sense of abandonment and seemingly endless tears that there is deep love encouraging me and sustaining me always. Writing, therapy, connecting with nature, the love and support of my family and my evolving relationship with my Mum have all helped me to face my truths and continue to give me the strength and courage to keep going, to keep living, to keep living, to keep exploring, to keep venturing into the unknown.
One of the main emotions I pushed away and denied for a long time was anger. I am angry with the whole system for the way they “treat” people in distress, labelling them and taking them away from those who love them with no consideration for the long-term effect these traumatising experiences have on them and their loved ones. I am angry that Mum was locked up and drugged so much that she could not communicate with us. I am angry that we were told that she had a chemical imbalance in her brain. I am angry that we were left out in the cold after she died and they closed her file.
A different way forward
There must be a better way forward for the care of people who are suffering. There must be a more compassionate, kinder and loving way to hold people who are in distress and to help their loved ones too. Those in distress need to be given a voice to be heard and to express what needs to be said. A trauma-informed, holistic and nervous system aware care system is needed. Individuals cannot be seen in isolation, away from their families and outside of their current and past life experiences. We grow and develop in relationships with those we are close to and all of our connections need to be brought into a holistic understanding of our overall lives. Whole families could be encouraged to participate in psychoeducation to gain knowledge of the importance of emotional expression and regulation. Emotional intelligence needs to be prioritised and encouraged at every stage in our lives. There is an onus on every one of us to take responsibility for our own suffering and to bear witness to what lies hidden in the dark caves and recesses of our own minds. Only then will we be able to hold others in the healing presence of their pain.