“Apparently, even the most awful tragedies, and the people they’d ruined, got a little stale after awhile”. Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers.
It doesn’t take long for a tragedy and ruined life to become stale. My daughter has been dead for 134 weeks and although no one says it out loud, I can see them squirm and try to change the subject as I talk about my daughter and the tsunami that took her. I have become one of those people who others talk about when I leave a room.
I feel like I am that friend that everyone is disappointed with. I feel like I am the one who is not ‘behaving’ appropriately with my grief. I feel like I am not following the stages as stipulated by the guides on handling grief. But I am the one who dragged herself out of a tsunami after being bashed against trees and close to death only to find that my only daughter had died. One of my sons survived on his own by clinging to pieces of floating wood and the other clung to his father as his father desperately held his son above the water only to be near death himself.
I know I have disappointed old friends with my reaction to my daughter’s death but no one knows how they would react to such a tragedy and no one needs to know. It’s too horrible to explain.
I know these old friends think about me and cry for me. They sympathise with me and try to emphasise with me. But it’s too scary to face me as I may be rude and ungrateful for their outpourings of grief, although I’m sure they do not want to see my grief. After all, it has been more than two years and I really should be getting on with my life.
I know phoning me or facing me is difficult but imagine what my life is like. Each morning I wake to a life which I no longer want and each night I go to sleep knowing that I am closer to my death and therefore closer to her; maybe. I live a parent’s worst nightmare; losing a child. To face me, is to face that nightmare. Not easy is it?
I live in a life not of my choosing and two years is nothing. Forever is a fucking long time as my husband said and we have a very long time to live without our daughter. We are not old, not yet.
I am self-indulgent, somewhat selfish in my grief but I’m also destroyed and somewhat disturbed by my child’s death, so yes, I’m a difficult person. I also share a life with another destroyed soul and he is disturbed by his daughter’s death as well. She was his life, ‘mi vida’ he called her.
Of course, I’m angry and emotional. How else would I be? Happy and balanced?
I have recently had emails from old friends. Maybe they think enough time has passed and that I will be feeling better now (although I am not sick). They are kind and thoughtful emails. There is nothing wrong with them other than that they have arrived two years too late. It is simply too late and I have nothing to say. We have nothing in common. I wish I still lived in their world but I don’t and like the fishbowl it is too hard for others to come to terms with my world.
But there are some people out there and to them I am grateful. Of course, there is my old friend who has stuck by me for 40 years. I know people ask her how I am but she never tells me what they say or tells me that so and so asked about me. She does not complain. She has no expectations about who I am now. She is my friend. And I thank her.
There are also my work friends who invite me for coffee or a walk or simply just to sit beside me.
Mostly there are people who knew my daughter and were close to her; people who have their own reasons for hanging onto her. These people are no longer strangers but I did not know them well before Clea died. They know who they are and I will not name them. I’m not sure that they know just how grateful I am for their kindness and friendship since my daughter died.
There’s Clea’s teacher, who we have dinner with from time to time although she has now moved away. There’s my gym partner, who never even knew Clea. There are our neighbours, who are always looking out for us.
There are the girls at school; one whose daughter was in the class next door to Clea’s; same age. And one whose son was in Clea’s class and her other son is best friends with my sons. Then there is another girl with a son the same age as my sons and a little dark-haired girl like mine.
They wait outside the classrooms with me and chat. They are brave and strong and they stand beside me. They put their arms around me. They ask if I am OK. They remember when Clea died and they know when I am upset.
There is the mother of one of Clea’s best friends. She invites me to watch her daughter play the violin. We have coffee together. I had never met her until Clea’s funeral.
I did not have much to say to these people before but I have since learned that I do have a lot to say to them.
I am not the same person that I was before Clea’s death and I never will be. This is me. This is it. I have no choice but to live this life. I have to continue. All the pretense has been ripped away. I no longer pretend that I am someone else or that I have a life in common with other people. I am real now.
I know people are sick and tired of my grief and believe me I am sick and tired of it too. I am sick and tired of my daughter being dead. I am so sick of it. I am tired of being angry and frustrated that this is the life I have and that my daughter has none. Believe me, if I could have it any other way, I would.
My daughter did not die a clinical, sanitised or controlled death in a hospital. She was not sick. She died a dirty, crowded and violent death on a wild and foreign shore. She was torn from my hand, tossed and smashed in the water, fighting for her life. Drowning. It was immediate, sudden and personal. She was six years old.
Her death is personal. This life is personal. She is my daughter. I will grieve for her in my own way and I will not let you forget.