We interrupt this blog to bring you an important message:
Time means NOTHING. It heals NOTHING. It helps NOTHING.
As you were…
Just thought I’d get that out of the way in case you give up halfway through this blog post because it’s so fucking miserable. It’s pretty much the entire point of this piece, the rest is me finding somewhere to vent my feelings without any loved ones (or indeed, members of the general public) seeing me openly sobbing like a small child, shouting “I MISS MY MOM’ ad nauseum until they feel compelled to call the authorities. Because lately, to be honest, that’s all I’ve wanted to do every hour of every day.
To the outside world, it’s been two years and eight months since Geraldine Ronan (neé O’ Donnell) passed away. To me, and probably to my sisters, at times, it’s only been twenty-four hours since my mom died. Other times it’s been ten years, and on a more regular basis unfortunately, it hasn’t actually happened at all, and that instinct to give her a call or a text to let her know that something exciting happened still kicks in, only to be destroyed by reality within a nanosecond of that thought forming. I wouldn’t wish that flash of realisation on my worst enemy. It can literally bring you to your knees and leave you gasping for air with an ache in your stomach that would knock a horse out.
Funnily enough, it’s not the big life events happening without your loved one that can cause this wave of grief. When it comes to those, you’re on your guard, you usually have time to prepare for their absence – be it a wedding or a birth or a big birthday. So you accept you’ll be both happy and sad, and you’ll probably have a bit of a cry either after back home once it’s all over, or after a few gins at 4am on the couch next to the resident’s bar in the hotel. You know the drill. That’s not when The Grief Ninja hits you. That fucker waits in the wings of everyday life, watching, waiting, biding its time, deciding when to strike, knowing the absolute best time to get you so it can do the most damage.
My latest incident happened less than a half-hour after I’d put my bags down in my Airbnb house in Portland. I’d finally arrived in the U.S. for the first time, I was beyond excited to get there after travelling for over 24 hours, and I was obviously wrecked, so my mental defences were down. As I stood there gathering myself and deciding whether to go to bed or eat something, I had a flash of a thought, so fast it didn’t even really have words attached to it. But the feeling was “Jesus, I’d better text Mam and let her know I got here in one piece”. It kicked in before I even logically knew it had happened, more like an instinct decades of years in the making, a magnetic pull towards a source, to touch base, to feel safe.
Pic courtesy of http://emilygarvinonedayatatime.blogspot.ie/
Then, quick as the speed of light, The Grief Ninja reached out and pulled the rug out from under me. Like an asshole in a cinema queue who’s seen the movie already and knows the pivotal plot twist, it comes up behind you and spoils EVERYTHING. It roars loudly, demanding that you pay attention to its every stabbing, painful reminding word. Gobshite.
On the outside, it looked like nothing untoward was going on. As I stood there surveying my suitcases deciding what to do, inside I was a screaming jumble of past and present, an assortment of demons jostling for mental supremacy. In the blink of an eye, I’d lived through my worst day and the following days after it, then right back to the worst day again. My leaving on this once-in-a-lifetime great adventure had triggered something in me, and before I’d even sat down in my new location, I was transported back into hospital that dark Wednesday night / Thursday morning, inside the ICU sitting on a plastic chair next to my mother’s bed, holding her hand for the last time, powerless and forever lost as she slipped away.
I literally had to shake myself out of the haze and get to walkin’. I wasn’t a bawling mess or an incoherent sobbing lump of crumbling Kleenex, so I was able to go out in public right away and not be pointed at or thrown into the back of an old-timey ambulance after somebody caught me with a giant butterfly net. (I guess in my mind, my mental health care will always be visually represented by a 1920’s silent movie about hysterical women.)
Moral of the story is; I got on with my holiday. But I added an invisible Plus One to the guest list. After feeling incredibly sad that I couldn’t physically share with my mom all the exciting things that were happening to and around me, I decided to mentally bring her along. Call me nuts, I don’t care. But it helped. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t go full Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, chatting to empty spaces and sitting at a table for two in a restaurant ordering “one for my friend there” while pointing to the empty chair opposite me. I kept it all locked up in my brain, fooling all and sundry into thinking I was fully compos mentis.
Whenever I saw something I thought she’d enjoy (which was a lot, because Portland is strange, and my mom had quite a wonderfully strange sense of humour, but that’s another story) I’d mentally summon her, and a memory of her face would appear, either laughing or wearing an expression like “what in the name of God is that?” and I would feel like I had done my daughterly duty. Albeit in a Psychic Sally kind of way…
I’m not really sure what the point of this piece is. I guess it’s for me to vent in a safe way, rather than hiding out with a barrel of gin, a couple of gallons of orange juice, a few slabs of Xanax, a phone on Airplane Mode and a Netflix marathon for a weekend. I do find it comforting that nobody is alone in this struggle. Grief is a universal, and unavoidable part of life. Everybody reading this has lost someone, be it ten days ago, ten months ago, ten years ago…but, to be honest, the pain of their absence can be the same level of intensity across the board. It just depends on where you are in your life and how you’ve processed the loss, if, indeed, you’ve processed it at all. Be kind to yourself. Don’t look at a calendar and feel disappointed that you’re not feeling ‘better’ because it’s been a certain amount of time. Here’s the best diagram you can use to track your progress. (hint: It’s the one on the right)
In conclusion: I’m still heartbroken. I’m never NOT going to be. Most of the time it’s bearable, and I live with it like a physical condition that’s only developed over the last two and a half years. Other times it flares up out of nowhere, but I still seem relatively able to function. Little does Joe Public know that on the inside, I want to dissolve into a tantrum of sugared-up toddler proportions, falling to the ground in a public place, my head thrown back in a primal scream of loss and pain, demanding that my Mom comes back to help me up and give me a hug.
Yet, on we go, getting up every morning, doing our thing, whatever that thing is. That’s just the way the world works. But instead of just marking time like an etching on a prison wall, make sure to try and heal yourself at a pace that works best for you. Most importantly, if you’re not okay, and you’re not coping very well with your loss, talk. To a friend, to a relative, to someone who is grieving for the same person, and get the Grief Ninja out from under the bed or wherever the fuck he’s hiding. He can’t do his job if you always know where he is. He’s only a sneaky auld bollocks anyway.
<3 J-Ro <3