Traumatic Loss

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Lily shares her experience of losing her mum suddenly, and reflects on how complex circumstances can make grieving even harder.

It came out of nowhere on an ordinary Wednesday, a short sentence over the phone that ended with the ending of all endings. Three simple, devastating words ‘…and she died.’ And that’s it. That’s it? But no, no… Where’s the time? The time to see her, talk to her, care for her, anything? But…just… What? Surely not? Profound, flattening shock. 

The way she died was violent and taboo, amidst complex circumstances. I have come to realise that knowledge is vital when someone you love dies – we have the need to know exactly how they died and what happened to them. What happened? Why? Living with the mystery, the whirring unanswerable questions, the endless possibilities, is a particular kind of torture. As are the countless sliding doors in the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years running up to her death.

It seems to me like a storyline from a film or TV show, and can be difficult to believe it actually happened in my life. Her death was reported, horribly sensationally, in the news. The publicity and narrative taken out of my hands was another excruciating layer. The articles are still sitting there online and include my full name.

My grief is deep and complicated. Then there is trauma, a separate and wild beast. There’s sadness, shame, guilt, anger, confusion, dark humour. This stuff is not pretty, neat or tidy. It’s not palatable and it makes people uncomfortable. It’s isolating.

Pink flowers in a jar against a grey background.

My body feels different, like it’s made of different substances now. My mind has changed, too. It doesn’t work as smoothly as it used to, things take a lot of effort, there are intrusive thoughts and images to contend with. Wild emotions. It’s all, mostly, invisible.

Time marches on, as it inevitably does. For every change in my life, significant and small, she’s not here. For all of her plans and hopes and ideas for her future, she’s not here. For the beautiful and boring mundanity of daily life to the big challenges, she’s not here. She’s missing out, and I’m missing her, again and again and again. It all mounts up as time passes. 

I miss her, every day. I do things to try to keep her close, like wearing her clothes or using her mugs. I have some of her ashes in a ring. These things are a comfort and can also feel futile. She feels so far away. 

I like to hear people say her name, talk about her or ask about her. It can hurt but it’s also a relief, because it makes me feel like people remember her, they care, and she mattered to them. She still matters to them. She matters. In the present tense.


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