‘Loving Ellie’ #17

Part Three – The Blue House

I am at peace here. This is, and always has been, my sanctuary. I can be happy here. We can be happy here. We are happy here. We organise the house, and begin to decorate it lovingly. We make it into our home. I feel safe, secure, content, and peaceful.
As we make the tiny little house into our own beautiful home, we watch our son grow. It is an amazing and sacred time. Nothing in life could ever be better.
But it’s hard. It’s really hard work. Raising a baby is always hard – I was prepared for that – any mother will tell you so. But doing it after freshly losing my own mother, and without any friends or family around to help, is proving extremely difficult at times. Dad and Jane went back to Canada in May, and I miss them like crazy, and they miss their grandson August. They spent heaps of time with him before they left, and that was also great for me because it gave me a bit of a break. Ross’ parents live in Perth. They come down to see us sometimes, but it’s still not like being close.

And just after I gave birth to August we found out that Ross’ dad, Geoff, has prostate cancer. Another hideous battle our little family will have to endure. We cannot lose another parent. It is already so unfair; it would be far too cruel to lose another. It surely will not happen that way for us, not when we are just getting started again.
Still, despite it being hard, and the worry about Geoff, my days are filled with genuine happiness. Ross has got a great job working for the Council. And I am happy decorating my home and taking care of my son. It really is a beautiful existence. I soak up and treasure every moment I spend with August. I absolutely cherish every day with him, because I know how quickly it can all be taken away. I take nothing for granted. We have so much fun together. But it is very hard at times, I cannot deny that. There is no-one to help us, and both Ross and I are beyond tired. Of course it’s well worth it. August shines such a beacon of sacred light into my universe that I find it quite impossible to be unhappy.

But there is unhappiness lingering within me, lying dormant … the loss … the grief. It’s all still there. And I cannot deal with it properly because my focus is obviously on my son. But that also means that I cannot heal properly. To do so I need to sit with my feelings and emotions. I need to acknowledge them, to let them out, and then maybe someday I can accept them and let them go. This is not something I can do with a glorious little bundle of joy. It wouldn’t be fair, and I don’t want to do it right now anyway. I want to love him completely. I want him to have all of me. And he does. I’m a good mother – I am confident of that.
There are still at least twenty points in my day when I think about my own mother, and how I will never get to see her again. The grief strikes again, with renewed ferocity, even if only momentarily. There are so many emotions in me – both extraordinarily good and horrifically bad. But I’ve realised that despite what I may have thought, it is possible for a human being to be truly happy and incredibly sad at the same time.

Ok, so I haven’t written for a while … a long while. Why? Well, I haven’t been able to write because my focus has been on my three month old son – my beautiful, exquisite, adorable son, who I thank the stars for every single day. He’s such a good baby, so I probably could write if I wanted to. The problem is that I can’t bring myself to do it. I’m too scared. There is still so much emotion in there; too many feelings welling up inside me, that I’m afraid I might get lost in them and not find my way back. I’m a venter by nature – an emotional venter that is. But with something as momentous as this, you can’t just pick it up and put it down whenever you choose. It cannot be controlled in that way. To delve into it, to acknowledge what’s there, to look once more into the essence of my grief and the unforgiveable scar it has left, is far too dangerous. It is black and consuming, and it would take over if given the chance to breathe and take fire again. So it must be repressed at all costs. There is no other option. To take care of my child – to nurture and support him the way he deserves, without him having to bear witness to the intense suffering in my eyes – I have to repress it all. It is too raw, too unadulterated, too fresh and stinging to do anything else with.
Besides, I know what’s in there anyway. You can function in a seemingly normal world quite well, and even be truly happy if you have a child. But grief is still there. He is present – omnipresent in fact. He is quite separate from your perfect life in the little blue house you fought so hard to attain, where you are now living with your partner and son. This life provides so many good feelings, it really does. But there are other emotions battling for attention within you … darker ones … ones born out of loss, and out of love.
This part of your being – the hidden part – smoulders under the surface, ready to lash out with a fresh bout of open madness if given half the chance …

It is a desperate violet echo of happy times gone by; happy times washed gently and callously away, into an unattainable past.It is a shriek of unimaginable agony, an overwhelming pull into the truth of your experience. The truth of it is still so overwhelming. Grief has an insatiable lust for suffering. Unacknowledged grief lurks at the bottom of the ocean, with lustful yellow eyes, hungrily waiting for you to dip your toe in, so he can drag you under and sate himself on your primal misery. Grief is an open chasm of grey, sluggish forms, writhing in unity, in ecstatic, sadistic chaos. The truth has never been so ugly. The truth is something to be revered in all other cases but this. The truth of loss is an insurmountable blistering beast that strips layer after layer from your soul, until there is nothing left but a bruised void. There is an eerie numbness where there was once a vital soul.
And the void just gets worse. Everyone says it will get better with time. This is a blatant lie. It doesn’t get better with time; on the contrary, it gets worse. You miss the person you have lost more and more. The void widens and stretches and bends, and becomes more empty and hollow. The only difference time makes is that you learn to live with the void in your soul. You become used to its presence – its haunting, mournful, lonely presence. You learn to inhabit the real world with the void in tow, like a lowly shadow of hideous discomfort. It becomes familiar to you – like an old friend, one you never really liked, but can’t seem to bring yourself to get rid of.

To Clap or not to Clap?

Ellie and I were at His Majesty’s Theatre, watching a magnificent play starring the formidable and legendary Maggie Smith. I was about 23 at the time. As was the usual practice we had dolled ourselves up and gone out to dinner first. We now sat immersing ourselves in the first act of the play, Ellie secretly hoping for a round at the pokies post-play, and I fearing the very same thing. The play was beautifully performed, both heartfelt and funny.
But I was deeply perturbed by something. After each scene the actors received a vigorous and well deserved clap from the audience. I heartily joined in the clapping, but I began to notice that the lady sitting to my left was blatantly refusing to clap. She was the only one in the whole theatre that refused to clap. After each successive scene I became more and more enraged and baffled by her sheer audacity.
At interval I quickly and eagerly turned to Ellie, highly irritated, and exclaimed, ‘Honestly, I fail to see how the stupid bitch next to me could possibly think the play could be any better, its Maggie Smith for god’s sake, but the stupid woman won’t clap!’
Ellie furrowed her brow at this display of frustration, marvelling at my rage. She cocked her head to one side, and very seriously replied, ‘Rebecca, she can’t clap, she’s only got one arm’.
I froze. And then I turned ever so slightly to get a glimpse of the lady’s missing limb. Ellie was indeed correct, the lady could not clap. As I registered the lady’s misfortune I felt my seat begin to jiggle. Ellie, having fully comprehended the situation, had begun to get nervous hysteria. She sat, her head in her hands, slightly crying with laughter, her shoulders heaving, making the entire row of chairs jiggle joyfully. I managed to calmly extract myself from my seat and fumble out of the theatre just as mum’s hysterics set in. She quickly followed me out.
We retreated to the ladies room where we threw ourselves against the wall in side-splitting laughter, much to the dismay of the sophisticated dames finishing their business and powdering their noses. We were still laughing, tears streaming down uncontrollably, Ellie almost wetting her pants, when the bells sounded for the second act to resume. I immediately panicked. Wide eyed I grabbed Ellie, quietly screeching, ‘What will we do!? I can’t go back in there and sit next to her, I’ll keep laughing because she won’t be clapping!’
It was a very serious predicament. We actually, in our mad hysteria, considered the fact that we may have to just get up and leave if we couldn’t control ourselves. Formulating a plan, to simply calmly get up and leave if we could not manage to exercise restraint, we filed back into the theatre to attempt to enjoy what would be the most difficult to endure second act of a play in history. And if it wasn’t for the brilliance of Maggie Smith we surely would have succumbed to our shared madness and been forced to dive out in shame.

One of the worst things about loss is learning to use the past tense. You’re having a normal, light-hearted conversation with someone, and without really thinking, you say something like, ‘Yeah, mum loves it there’. Then there’s a hideous, pregnant pause, as you, and the person you’re talking to, both freshly remember that she is dead. You correct yourself and mumble, ‘She loved it there’ – past tense. You cannot talk about her in the present tense anymore, because she is gone. She loved things. She will never love them again. But the damage is done as soon as you realise that you’ve used the present tense. The acknowledgment of the need to use the past tense creates an uncomfortable void in the room – like you’re suddenly sitting with the person you’re trying to talk to on a squishy, vulgar, uncomfortable chair.
This is a terrible situation no matter who you’re talking to. Conversations used to be easy. Life is plagued with ‘used to’s’ now; they etch crevices into every surface of normal daily existence.
When you’re talking to someone that you’re not particularly close to – someone that you’re acquainted with, but who didn’t really love her – then those past tense blunder moments are just really squeamish, uncomfortable spaces. When it happens you feel ridiculous and you try to cover up the fact that you have just openly admitted the brutal truth of your vulnerable experience. The other person is also in a squishy place, as they try to ignore what has happened and continue the conversation normally, knowing all too well that they have just been privy to a tiny piece of insight into the haunting grief of the one left behind.
These ‘normal’ people, these acquaintances, are quite tricky. You find it exceedingly difficult to deal with them. They know what’s happened and they obviously pity you and empathise. But they’re not close enough to do anything about it. So they try to engage in normal conversation with you. You can do this, and in fact you think you’re pretty good at fooling them that everything’s going okay. But you don’t feel normal when conversing with them at all. The light-hearted conversation seems to blatantly defy the suffering of your inner being; to flagrantly dismiss the hideous events of the recent past. To deny the fact that your mother is dead – or that she ever existed. These ‘normal’ people now appear like aliens – unnatural beings that are distant and removed from you. They are people that you used to know in your former life, before you were broken. They glide into your life sporadically, like subhuman shadows of a past reality that you cannot touch.

On the other hand, the past tense blunder moments are far worse when you are talking to someone that you know well – someone that really loved her. These conversations are far worse. Both parties try in vein to partake in normal conversation, but both can visibly see the internal suffering of the other. When I say, ‘Mum loves it there’, and I have to correct myself, the internal pain of both people, which has been locked away, gets a moment of release – a fresh breath of life. It spew’s out of both of us for just a moment. And then this moment becomes a mutual silent yelp of agony, uttered by two grieving souls. The grief over losing her hangs in the air between us like a wet grey blanket.

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