“You are an alien everywhere, because alienation is something you carry inside yourself, and all you can do is fashion little enclaves and try to live inside them.” George Johnston, Clean Straw for Nothing p. 284.
There have been times when I have had to tell people about my daughter. I find these situations difficult and uncomfortable. It is not an easy topic to discuss; the death of a child.
I am a public servant in the Australian Federal Government. I worked in one department for 10 years. It was during that time that Clea died. The Secretary of that department worked hard to support and protect me. He was a kind and thoughtful man. The deputy secretaries all knew me well and I never had to explain to anyone what had happened. They all knew. Some had come to my daughter’s funeral; many had sent cards or written notes. And many had sought me out when I returned to work to let me know that they were thinking of me and that they were there to help.
There were a few people who did not know. People who had begun work in the department after Clea’s death. One woman was travelling overseas with my manager and met up with another work colleague of mine. The colleague asked my manager how I was and he said ‘how do you think she is?’. The other woman did not know what he was talking about and he had to explain to her. She was mortified on her return that she had been talking to me regularly and had no idea what had happened to me. There was another man who was seconded to the department and when I told him about Clea, he cried. Not many people do that.
Not everyone in the department could cope with me. Some never mentioned Clea’s name. I had two managers; one would ask me almost every day if I was OK and to give him an honest answer; the other never mentioned my daughter. Some tried to avoid me wherever I went. Others, asked me out for coffee or to go for a walk. Others simply sat with me. Different people do different things. Not everyone is brave.
But I have left the comfort and safety of that department for a new department and I have had to explain to my new work colleagues about the death of my daughter. I was going to Samoa again and I did not want anyone to ask me if I had a great holiday so I decided to tell them about Clea. My manager already knew. I was a bit lacking in tact with one girl when she was going on about something trivial and I told her to search me on Google while I went to a training course. She was aghast and upset on my return and I am sorry I did that to her. But later I stood there and told everyone else why I was going to Samoa. There have been a couple of new people to the team and I have told them as well.
I meet new people at my sons’ school. Not everyone in the world knows what we have been through, although there are times when I am surprised by people knowing and not saying anything. I think I should tell people as I talk about Clea and eventually someone will ask where she is or how she is or something about her. I do not want to make it uncomfortable for people. Telling them is uncomfortable for me. I brace myself and detach myself from surroundings. I sound like an automaton. I sound like a robot who has no feelings. I tell my story in a very matter of fact way. There is no emotion. No tears. It is the way I tell my story.
I go home and I wonder what these people think of me. Do they think that I do not care about my daughter? Do they think that I am not destroyed by her death? I become angry and frustrated with myself because of the way I tell the story of my beautiful daughter. But I cannot open up to every person I meet and I cannot face the emotion of loss with every one. It is too much. It is too draining. I cannot be that person who wears their heart on their sleeve. It is not me.
I do love my daughter. I am destroyed by her death. I miss her with such depth and despair. But I cannot tell that to strangers. Instead, I narrate a tale of tragedy and heartbreak as though it is not my story but that of someone else.
I have also had occasion to meet up with people who I haven’t seen for a long time. I am sure it is as difficult for them as it is for me. Most people say nothing of Clea as though if she is not mentioned then they can carry on as usual. They chatter on about the weather and goings on until I finally raise the subject. One person phoned me and was going on about his children and how we should get together one day. I said that we are really not very sociable anymore. Oh, I know he said. But he had not said that he was sorry to hear of the death of my child although I have no doubt that he has sympathy for me.
I met another couple only last week. We had been friendly enough to go to each others weddings. I’m sure they sent a card after Clea’s death. I didn’t recognise him at first but once I saw her then I knew who he was. She started by asking how I was. I’m OK is my stock standard response. And how’s Jorge she asks. He’s OK I say. Oh, that’s good. I should have said that he is destroyed and no, I am not OK but that is not what people want to hear. Then she asks about old friends we have in common. I told her that I do not see those people anymore. I live in a different world to them. I was not patient with their inability to cope with my distress following Clea’s death and we no longer have anything in common. Basically, that was the end of the conversation as she did not mention Clea and when I did she tried to move away. For most people, it is an uncomfortable conversation.
Once when someone asked how my husband was and I responded that he was OK, the person said that’s not very good, to which I responded, what do you expect?
I do not want people to think that I do not have a daughter. I do not want them to think that I am the mother to only two sons. I do have a daughter. A beautiful, generous and loving daughter. My favourite girl.
I do not want people to forget. Her name is Clea and she is my daughter.