Alien Existence

“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.

About huntersoledad

Mother of three. Bereaved mother of one. Survivor and victim of 2009 Samoan tsunami. Could be if would be writer.
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4 Responses to Alien Existence

  1. Nat says:

    We will never forget Clea, Trudie. Her name is written on our hearts with love and our memories of her are so special. I found Laura asleep in bed holding her picture the other night. We will always be there for you all and treasure your friendship. xoxo Nat

  2. It’s interesting how people react to the death of a child. As bereaved parents, we know that each grief is as unique as the individual griever. As I was reading your post, I started thinking about how each person who responds to the loss is just as unique. I have struggled a lot with how people reacted to us and the death of Jason; most people we knew disappeared and we were left horribly alone. It caused many additional and unnecessary scars on our hearts. As time has gone by, though, I have gained some perspective (at least, I hope I have) and continue to try to extend forgiveness and grace. As you said in your post, “Not everyone is brave.” I appreciate your sharing of experiences; you have a kindred soul in the United States.

  3. Cindyss says:

    I too experienced this range of reactions from people, most not wanting to mention my daughter – often for fear they would upset me, other times because they had no idea what to say. Some said things that were awful. I have come to accept that we who have lost a child have entered a different world from everyone else, one that they just can’t understand and truly can’t imagine. Unlike losing a parent or friend, it is far less common or something that most people will experience so it truly becomes part of the burden of grief itself. You can’t compare it to any other similar situation and you will only find a few special others who can walk with you through it. There’s something about the death of a child that just goes against the natural course of things- it’s just too disturbing for the human psyche I think and most people can’t or don’t know how to deal with it. It kind of takes away that veil that makes us believe that we are safe and protected- you know, if something terrible can happen to a child then…

    I think Trudie, that you are doing exactly what you need to be doing. You are talking about Clea and including her in conversations when you want to and with whom you want to. You may feel uncomfortable but I don’t think there’s any way to avoid that because you’ll always be wary of how the other person may react. You just keep on going and don’t let anyone stop you from loving your beautiful girl and remembering her. People who can’t deal with it will fall away and that is sad but that’s really they’re issue. I really believe that if more people shared their feelings about death and loss, we’d all be able to heal more easily.

  4. Jenn says:

    Trudie, I’ve been thinking about you and Clea (and the boys who my eldest called her little dinosaurs) a lot lately. To be honest you probably won’t even remember me, but my daughter Olivia was in Kindy with Clea and then we moved to the south coast. We started back at Amaroo this year and I’ve hoped to see you. I will be honest though and say that I didn’t know exactly what I would say when I did. I’m so glad that I found your blog and in particular read this post. I hope that when I do see you, that maybe these words can be my guide.
    We have photos of Clea at Olivia’s birthday party, if you would ever like me to email you a copy, just let me know.

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