Keeping the Dead Alive

Clea has been dead for 182 weeks (that is three and half years) and I am finding life very difficult. I spend a great deal of my time trying desperately to keep Clea alive. I do many, many small things each day to ensure her survival in the minds of others.

I talk about her as though she is not far away. I talk to her as though she can hear me. I write to her in my diary as though she will one day be able to read my letters. I say goodnight to her each night as though she is there in her bed waiting for me to kiss her goodnight. Her brothers wish her goodnight.

I do not look at Clea’s photos over and over again. Photos do not have the life of Clea. They do not hold her essence or her personality. They do, however, make me cry.

Sometimes, I can will myself to feel her against my skin as we cuddle. I can almost breathe her into my body. Sometimes, I can hear her voice or recall the way she sat on the lounge chair with her long languid legs draped over the armrest or strutted down the hallway pretending to be a model on the catwalk.

I have no belief in a god but like those who do believe in a god, I too have an invisible friend. Clea has become my invisible friend; one who I want walking beside me every day.

It may sound hypocritical to say that I talk to Clea. I stand above her grave and talk to her; I drive in the car and talk to her; I walk around the garden and talk to her; I sit in her bedroom and talk to her. But deep down I know that I am talking for my own benefit and although I would dearly love to believe that Clea is listening, I do not believe so.

We try to keep people alive so that we, those who are alive, can cope. It is a coping mechanism or strategy (as I am continually told). My strategies do not always work very well and facing up to the reality of her death can knock me back to those foggy months of after she died. I find that I cannot get off the beach or out of the morgue.

I have finally succumbed to having to decide whether to take anti-depressants or not. I do not want to take anti-depressants so I am searching for ways to calm my mind and find peace within. I have a prescription but I have not had it filled by a chemist yet. It sits in my handbag. I am not sure what I am waiting for, complete collapse or eventual peace. I can’t meditate because I can’t still my mind. I can’t even make a decision about taking anti-depressants!

I cried at work last week something which I have never done – not uncontrollably anyway. I know the woman did not understand my trauma. How can she understand? She knows my daughter died in a tsunami but she does not know that my daughter was holding my hand or that I was on the verge of death. Those are things that I would find hard to explain in person. She does not understand the relationship between the stress of work and the traumatic stress of my life. The connection is lost on her; which reminds me of a quote from TS Eliot:

You know nothing? Do you
                       I remember …

TS Eliot – The Waste Land, II A Game of Chess

As I have told others, this new job is doing horrible things to my brain. And as friends in trauma told me last week, my brain is not my friend; not anymore.

I visit Clea’s grave each week and it makes no difference but I have to look after Clea in some way. I have to keep her alive. That is my only coping strategy.

One day, maybe, I will make it off the beach or out of the morgue but in the meantime, I have to force myself to ask others for help (this is something I am definitely not good at doing) so if I ask you (and believe me, it will take all my energy to ask) please listen and try to help me.

Thank you.

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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10 Responses to Keeping the Dead Alive

  1. Jennifer Couttas says:


    I cannot even begin to fathom the depths of your despair. Each and every one of these entries makes my heart break for you, for all of you. I hesitate to comment back because I’m certain that my words and my sentiments are inadequate.

    Simply know this. You are being heard. I promise to remember Clea and your love for her. As little as it is, I can offer you that. I remember at the end of each year, when you would send Greg photos of her and later of the three children. We would smile together and comment at what a character she appeared to be. I wish that I had known her.

    I also wish that your memories of her could be a happy thing. I know that you say you are not a spiritual person but so many of your words about Clea, I find deeply spiritual. I simply cannot believe that she has left you entirely. I hope it doesn’t hurt you or make you angry when I say that I believe she feels your love.

    I also want to share one other thing with you.

    I have suffered from depression my entire adult life. As a strong, educated and independently minded woman I fought it and was convinced that I managed it well. I blamed my lack of achievement in certain areas of my life for my black moods. Then, when I achieved each and every one of the goals I had set, and still had those horrible, bleak days, I called myself selfish and ungrateful and self-indulged.

    You see, there is no reason for my depression. Other than a bio-chemical one in my brain. I was unable to accept this until my mid-30s. At this time, my doctor finally convinced me to accept treatment. It was the best decision of my life. Prior to me taking anti-depressants, Greg was the strongest advocate against them. You have never seen such a turn around of opinion. I was lucky. They didn’t ‘change’ me or my personality. They didn’t cure me completely. They simply evened out the large ‘dips’ in my life to a more manageable level.

    Unfortunately, I had a brain condition about three and a half years ago and I can no longer take the medication. I try to manage my depression through exercise and counselling. I do okay but it is hard at times.

    I don’t know whether medication will help you. It certainly won’t take away your pain or your memories or your loss. But perhaps, if you are lucky, it may even out those dips in your life and enable you to function even a little easier. It’s worth a try, isn’t it?

    Love to you all.
    Jen C

    • Thanks Jen. I really appreciate that you and Greg read what I write. I have very fond feelings for both of you. I’m still not certain about the medication mainly because I’m still not convinced that my problem is my brain – although that may be me simply fighting against the thought that my brain is not my friend (as someone else kindly told me). I do wonder what post-traumatic stress or any ongoing stress does to your brain; I don’t think it does anything good to your brain. I am trying other things and working on how to deal with work (I have to work). I may call you one day for a chat. love to you all too, Trudie

  2. Sara cannon says:

    To Dear Trudie,you have a lot going on in your life at the moment,when things are going along okay,”normal” we seem to bump along with life okay and cope somehow but with extra things happening in our lives like your new job,your father in nursing home,watching your mother and family trying to cope with this, one wonders how we cope at all.
    We visited uncle Max on Sunday and it was upsetting,to say the least , we had seen him last September when he was able bodied.
    I have taken anti depressants on and off for the past 10 years since Chris’s death.
    I hope this helps in some way ,you are doing all the right things,don’t be too hard on your self and drawing on other people strengths and experiences (and by now you know who they are)will help.
    Take care
    Love Sara

  3. I also talk to my son all the time, though I’ve never had any belief in an afterlife. Now that my son has died, I can’t completely reject the possibility that there could be an afterlife. Nothing has ever been proven one way or the other.

    Therefore, although I don’t know what to believe, I feel compelled to remain open minded. I wouldn’t say I’m hopeful, but I do take comfort when I meet intelligent people who believe that there is something more after we die. This might be wishful thinking, but I don’t see how any bereaved parent can survive the complete absence of their child for all eternity. It is unbearable.

    I, too, have cried at work and at random times in public (I cry frequently when alone). I haven’t considered anti-depressants because I think that my crying is to be expected, considering how much love I have always felt for my son. But each situation is very personal and that may be something that you decide to use briefly. I doubt that the pain will ever disappear, it’s probably more a matter of learning how to live with it, like a chronic illness. We do now have a chronic illness: a broken heart.

    Instead of using anti-depressants I have tried to do some positive things to keep my spirits from being completely destroyed, We adopted a rescue dog who keeps us busy and is very affectionate and silly, I’ve tried to get exercise most days (the dog helps with this), and I’ve discovered that I can distract myself when doing chores (a time when I usually think about Graham and then begin to cry) by listening to audio books. A good story is a great way for me to keep my mind occupied with something pleasant. I can’t listen to most music because Graham was a classical and jazz pianist and so most of the music that I love reminds me of him. All of these things are strategies that I use deliberately to help myself cope.

    And I also can’t let myself collapse, because then my daughter will have lost both her brother and her mother. She needs me and I want to be here for her. So, no matter what, I do what I can to take care of myself.

    I think you’re doing an amazing job of keep Clea alive in other people’s minds and memories. I never met Clea, but I know quite a bit about her and I do think of her. That is no substitute for Clea being alive here with you right now, but it is better than being completely forgotten. I, too, share the fear that my son will be forgotten. I already feel as if I have had two completely separate lives and sometimes the one with Graham only feels like a dream. This saddens me beyond words.

    Keep writing because it surely must be helpful to you and someday your sons will be able to look back and read everything you have written.

    • I didn’t realise that Graham was a classical and jazz pianist – I will have to tell my sons as they are learning to play the piano. I find that most music makes me cry only because of its emotional pull. I do try to find other things to do – I exercise, I read constantly without stop sometimes, and I focus on my sons and their school. I volunteer as chairman of the school board and I try to help out when I can. I seem to be able to ‘function’ in some aspects of my life but not in others. It’s more the stress of work that wears me out. Stress never used to bother me – when the children were young (before they started school), I worked part-time in a job where I had to travel a lot and we lived about 50km from my work place and I managed somehow. But now, I can’t seem to cope with the smallest amount of stress. I agree that we have separate lives; the before and the after, and sometimes, the one with Clea does seem like a dream which tears at my heart. Thank you for reading what I write and for taking the time to write a comment. I really appreciate hearing from you. I write because I can’t think of anything else to do.

  4. Frank d G says:

    Dear Trudie
    I will never forget the day one of our work colleagues rushed into a meeting to tell me that they feared you may have lost a child in the Tsunami. She was sobbing uncontrollably I remember vividly the funeral, and saying to no one in particular that no mother should ever have to bury one of her children, let alone in the devastating circumstances you faced.

    I never met Clea, but like any parent I feel a sharp pain in my heart whenever I think of what you must have gone through.

    Finally, for what its worth, don’t be afraid of the medication. Let me endorse Jennifers comments above. I also have experience with depression and resisted medication for a long time. I wish I had not. It does help.

    Much Love

    Frank dG

  5. I took anti-depressants for a while after Jason died. I also took sleeping pills for years. They took the edge off, to be sure, but I’m not sure how much good they did in the long run. When I stopped taking them, I still struggled to function at an even keel. When I started taking the anti-depressants, I was not functioning well at all, and I felt I needed something to help me “be there” more for my family. It took a while to get the correct dosage, so – if you do decide to take them – just remember that it make take a while to find the correct dosage. I don’t think they are a “blanket” cure or a “blanket” curse. It all depends on how the one taking them reacts to the medication. You have to decide what’s right for you.

    Hugs to you. I know I have told you this before, but I think of you and your family often.

    • Thanks Rebecca. I’m not sure they’re a cure all either. After all, nothing will bring our children back to us and I wonder what will happen once I have to stop taking them. So, I still haven’t started. I do take sleeping pills on and off because I can’t stop my brain sometimes. I’m going to work on a few other strategies before I accept the anti-depressants. I don’t have an answer. I too, think of you and your family often. Love Trudie

  6. Livonne says:

    Trudie… Keep Clea alive by continuing to talk to her. I keep Aimee alive in my life after nearly 18 years. To think of a world where there was just nothing of her would be too much to bear. All this time down the track I still have days where I cry uncontrollably for her. Just last night, I dreamed I was planning her funeral again and the grief was so overwhelming it was like the first day all over again. You are doing amazingly well by putting one foot in front of the other each day and just being. Be kind to yourself.. Clea would want that for you. If ever I can be a shoulder for you, please just say so…. Livvy xxx

    • Thanks Livvy. I just read your mask blog and I know exactly how you feel. I used to think Clea got her drama from her father but I think I’m pretty good at pretending too. Take care, Trudie

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