What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. This guest post is by Elisabeth.
My Mum died in January, 2000.
She took her own life by throwing herself under a freight train.
I want you to know how such a tremendous loss has slowly shaped me into the person I am today.
Back then, I was eighteen and living in France.
I’d spent New Years Eve marveling at the colorful fireworks soaring across the dark, black alpine sky. Shortly after that, I fell over; I’d drunk too much of course, and I giggled as one of my friends coaxed me from the ground, my legs trembling like a newborn deer. I was young, fearless and lived off a paltry £200.00 a month. I ate awful food, made equally awful life choices, slept in a triple bunk bed with four other people and nearly broke my neck learning to snowboard. But I was happy and free and didn’t have a care in the world.
17 days later, that world, was obliterated into a million tiny pieces.
It’s not easy. Even 11 years on.
I still cry; sometimes my tears fall so silently that I hardly notice their presence, and then other times, I scream and sob into my pillow, the sheer weight of simply missing her is enough to drown me for the day.
The poet, Mary Oliver, wrote in her Thirst collection, “someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift”.
I guess most people wouldn’t associate loss with being a gift. But I do.
If I could change back time, I would. There’s nothing more I want, no, need, than the guidance, nurture and love of my Mum. The void that was created the day she died, sits, like a huge, echoing chasm, in the centre of my chest, and sometimes, on the worst days, it literally aches.
I have learnt, however, that the void, no matter how painful, cannot be filled with anything other than my own offerings. Denial, or avoidance, or alcohol, or exercise, or being the life and soul of the party and consequently pretending to be someone you’re not, or smoking, or eating chocolate or loving another so much that you’d literally die for them, only creates a smoke screen over the void. You might not be able to see or feel it. But it’s still there, eating away at your soul and preventing you from moving through to a stage where the only thing left is acceptance. Acceptance, and loving yourself, unconditionally.
It’s taken me a long time to get there, and I’m sure I’ve kept Amazon in business with the amount of self-help books I’ve bought, but I’ve slowly come to realise that I have the power to determine my own path in life. For years, I played the victim; my Mum’s death dogged me like a trailing wet blanket, and I felt the world was cruel and unfair and that it owed me something back, for taking her away. I hadn’t realised that the role I was unwittingly playing was stopping me from realising my true potential. I was angry and defensive and saw things only in black and white, I literally couldn’t see beyond my own angst, and I behaved like an abandoned child, terrified that I’d experience a similar loss and chose to respond to situations by crying and throwing tantrums until I got my own way.
Sometimes, that frightened little kid still clings to my leg and I find it hard to walk straight, but nowadays, instead of ignoring her and shaking her off, I pick her up and give her a hug and let her know that everything is ok; “I’ve got it covered”, I tell her. And most of the time, she listens.
I often wonder what I’d be like if my Mum was still here today. Would I call her when I was sad, or would I continue to learn to parent myself? Would I still self-soothe, or would I book a train ticket back home so that she could wipe away my tears with that comforting essence that only a Mum can provide?
I am proud of who I am nowadays. Yes, I often don’t like myself very much, and I find myself comparing my life to the seemingly more interesting lives of others, and I wish I could write better, or run faster, or be prettier, or learn to look after my money more, but I can finally say that I know who I am and I am true to myself.
What I want you to know is that the death of my Mum, my box of darkness, was a gift.
It just took a while to unwrap it completely.