My mother died fifty years ago at midnight on the 24th December 1966. I had just turned fifteen, five days before, and was in many senses still fairly immature. At nine o’clock in the evening I was having my first ever adult conversation with my mother, on the subject of religion, enquiring what religious views she and my father held. I had recently come to the conclusion that I was an atheist and was curious what views my parents held. We were not a religious family and didn’t discus such things, so I was genuinely curious. She told me that my father was an atheist but that she was an agnostic. She added however that she categorically rejected all organised religions and having grown up in India in a Christian family she had personally experienced Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, so her rejection was well informed. In the middle of this, for me, fascinating conversation my mother suffered a massive heart attack and three hours later she was dead.
I didn’t go through five stages of grief; within twenty-four hours I went from a state of extreme shock, to boiling anger, to total shut down. This was not denial; I was more than aware that my mother was dead but was incapable of grieving or mourning. I refused to attend the funeral; I have no idea why and that was the state I remained in for a very, very long time. Looking back I now know that I desperately needed help, therapy, counselling or whatever but nobody was offering and I didn’t ask.
For the next nine months my two elder sisters and I rather grimly tried to maintain a semblance of family life. We were all fairly capable on a practical level because that was how we had been brought up but there was very little joy in existence at that time. At the end of summer in 67 my sisters both moved out to start their careers and my father dumped me in a boarding school. It was the school where I had been a dayboy for the previous four years so the rupture wasn’t total. For the next two years I was fairly miserable, mildly obstreperous and didn’t really give a shit about anything. The result was that I got expelled. I spent my A-level year living in London attending, the then notorious, Holland Park Comprehensive and consuming vast quantities of drugs. It was after all 69-70. Having scraped together an abysmal set of A-level results I now trundled off to Cardiff to study archaeology. Still not really giving a shit about very much I dropped out after one year.
I was now completely adrift with a head full of mental health problems and would basically remain so until 1993 when my father finally died after having the life slowly sucked out of him by emphysema over a period of about twenty year. As my father died the dams broke and I wept as I have never wept before or since in my life and I cry easily, often and copiously. I wasn’t weeping for my father, I did that later when I took my departure in the hospice and at his funeral, but for my mother. Twenty-seven years of grief, hurt, confusion and god only knows what poured out of me in the hours following the phone call telling me of my father’s death.
This is not a Hollywood movie, so I was not instantly ‘cured’ but took many years to finally come to terms with the circumstances of my mother’s death and find balm for my ravaged soul. Once many years later because of a chance remark about Christmas made by somebody in my presence I became haunted by my father’s voice on the phone dictating the telegram to my grandparents in Australia informing them that my mother had died. It took several weeks of professional psychiatric care and some fairly strong anti-depressants to once again banish that voice out of my head.
However, that night marks an important step in my long and weary fight to regain my mental health, which I talked about in my earlier post about my mental health problems, and now, as then, I’m not writing this to elicit sympathy or to self aggrandise, hey look how I’ve suffered, but in the vague hope that I might help somebody else in a similar situation.
If you have lost somebody you love under tragic circumstances or know somebody who has, in particular children, then please, please make sure that you or they grieve if necessary fetch professional help. Bottling up your grief will seriously damage you, gnawing at your soul like a bad tooth. You might not even be aware of the damage on a conscious level but believe me it’s there.
I don’t celebrate Christmas and never will, my bother and my sisters did and do because they have had children and grandchildren of their own, but I have never had children, which is good because I would have been a lousy parent, I was not even capable of coping with myself let alone being responsible for another vulnerable human being. However this post is my Christmas present for those who might be in need of it. It is given freely and if you can take anything positive from it then you are very welcome to do so.