Sudden death

My family has been touched by death again recently and it’s complicated and painful. Sudden death is like a punch in the mouth you don’t see coming. Rose’s estranged biological mother has died. It’s the end of a complicated relationship. It’s the end of a cycle of abuse, suffering, love, rejection, corruption and hope. It’s deeply sad, a kind of freedom, a loss, a relief, and a new torment. It’s the end of hopes and efforts for change and ‘one day maybe things will be different’. It’s a lot of secrets taken to the grave. It’s unfathomable by those of us lucky enough to have good relationships with our mothers. Some of us have never listened – or choose not to know – of the darkness that can exist between mother and child, of the grief and rage and bewildered pain of the children where things are so bad at home they end up on the streets or in care. 

Rose wrote a public farewell, feeling the tensions between the untold stories and the assumptions of others, the pressures on those who grieve to do so in the right ways, to justify their choices and fit their painful, complex experiences to our simplistic ideas about the virtue of mothers. Platitudes that hurt. 

Not all children are wanted. Not all children are loved. Not all loved children are well loved. Not all mothers or parents who love have the skills, support, and capacity to meet their children’s needs and protect them from their own demons. Some of us eat our young. 

My precious child.

Tonight as you sleep your mama is feeling lots of things. She feels sad, she feels angry. There is relief and guilt and frustration. Your Mama feels lots of things all at once and then nothing at all… numbness always follows.

This week my darling daughter, your mama recieved a call that she has been expecting her whole life. You see… your Mama’s Mama died on monday baby girl; she died in her home from a heart attack. She was 62. 

Mama hasn’t seen her Mama in a long time… it’s been about 8 years. Mama made that hard choice and mostly doesnt regret it. They have spoken but rarely and not always nicely. Your mama recently shared stories and photos of you and all the wonderful ways you fill up your Mums’ lives. Her Mama was happy to know you were happy and healthy. 

Mama had a complicated relationship with her Mama… it was never easy or particularly healthy. Mama stopped living with her when she was still a kid because she was sick and needed help to be a better Mum. That was tough on her Mama and she didn’t always try her hardest, but she never gave up. My Mama wanted so badly to love and look after me… right until the very end. 

Mama knows that things are gonna be tricky over the next little while. There are hard conversations to have and affairs to attend to. Mama is glad she has her best friend and girls by her side. Mama will be ok; she will cry, she will feel bad. Mama will hug you a little tighter, she will tell you that she promises to do her very best, she will possibly cry while rocking you to sleep. Mama will try to take too many photos as usual.

You have done something amazing baby girl; you have turned a broken, alone, afraid little girl into a proud, strong, brave Mama… and my Mama would be proud of that!

Sleep well my precious daughter… you are so very loved xxx

We’re all wrestling in our own way and finding ourselves out of step with each other. Even sweet, innocent Poppy knows something is wrong. She’s been teary and difficult to comfort this week, biting, scratching and clinging to her safe people. We were busy making the transition to Star in school again, and me at work, and Rose at home and in some work. Suddenly we’ve been adapting to this new reality and the presence of death. I’m glad I saw Cave this year. I cry and I’m scared at times for my hurting love, but I’m not crashing into the black place I did a couple of years back. He’s made death bearable for me again. 

It’s not so much a transition as a transformation. We are all so changed by the events of the past year and there’s no going back. At times I find myself paralysed by terror, rigid with fears of loss. So much to lose and so much self destruction in me and those I love, such deep wounds. With money from my art, I buy a good pen and write, and my terror eases. Fear steals so much from the good years. I see a therapist who reminds me to breathe into my bones. We sleep and are all still here in the morning. The Rose I wake to at dawn is different to the woman who lay down beside me the night before. And so are we. 

Recently we went to the home of this woman Rose has not seen in 8 years. We picked through things, looking for important documents and childhood mementos. Rose shared some of the memories with me. These are the stairs she pushed me down. This is the cupboard I would sleep in when I was afraid. Some of the stories are unspeakably bad. The walls are covered in photos of Rose. The rooms are full memories of pain. There’s shit on the carpet, filth in the corners. The neighbor tells us stories of her kindness and how much she cared for her friends. I never met this women. I feel the complex tangle of who she was to different people in her life. There’s inspirational quotes on the walls, Bible verses in journals. She kept the paperwork where her parental rights were severed. “Lying c*nt” she’s written in the margins of Rose’s testimony. We stack the tins where she kept her street drugs and dirty syringes on the coffee table. Poppy plays with a wooden toy we find for her. We take a few dolls Rose used to love and a little girl’s dress. The place feels like a cage that’s finally empty. 

We leave. We pick Poppy up from the ashy floor and gather our little collection of toxic treasures that will hide in our shed until the right day to look at them. It’s over. 

We lock the door behind us and drive home, to our beautiful home with our tree hanging green over the roof, our clean beds and lovely daughters, garden full of roses and cupboards full of food. There will be time for grief and rage and bitter pain. The wounds that don’t really heal and the fears that linger. Even when you escape the ghosts come with you, in our home it’s only Poppy who hasn’t yet learned this. But alongside so much pain is now so much tender love. None of us grieve alone. None of us dream alone.

2 thoughts on “Sudden death

  1. Dearest Sarah, Poppy ,Rose ,Star
    My heart is with u in connected grief. Loss pain,trauma. Lived and living through this ,and working in best as able way. I send to you all gentle hugs warm unconditional love and respect. And heartfelt gratefulness for your gift and ability to be as u r and what u share .with much live and gratitude. Thank you

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  2. As ever, Sarah so much thanks for writing. My thoughts and warmth are with you and Rose and Poppy and Star. I am responding as a daughter who was abused by her mother and not protected by her father. A young girl turning woman who left never to go back, left to live. A daughter who is glad that 20 years later she got a sense deep inside her, that she had words of compassion for her father, words she had not known she had. Possibly he was dying at that stage. So that’s precious.
    I am responding as a mother who desparately needed to be on her own after 10 years of looking after her son mostly on her own and who was able then to rely on the safety net that was the boy’s father. The only model I see for that transition is the concept of adoption. Still, much uncharted territory.
    My son is now in his forties with a happy young family, very well off. I have 2 grandkids I feel warmth towards but don’t see. Out of choice. To live.
    Uncharted territory opens life for us, I guess. May that be my offering in any case.
    Warmly with bst wishes,

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