I lay awake last night feeling intensely overwhelmed. Our daughter had woken and ended up in our bed and, as I lay beside her whilst she settled, I felt a huge outpouring of love towards her. I feel this daily, for both her and her brother. Some days it floats merrily within me. On others, my fear of loosing them kicks in. As for us all, they are the most precious to me and this worry has been present since our son’s birth. Would he survive his stay in neo-natal? How would I survive when being admitted to hospital weeks after our daughter’s birth? What if something happens, an accident….??? Lurking in the shadows, sometimes loudly, sometimes with less voice, has been this constant anxiety and last night, after the sweet closeness with our daughter, I felt once again the taste of it’s presence.
And, as I sat with it, suddenly I felt as if I was swimming in amongst a sea of illness and death. Last week, very sadly my father-in-law passed away. My husband was able to take a couple of days of compassionate leave in the days that followed which enabled us to saunter, take a swim, a leisurely lunch, a stroll in the autumn sunshine, whilst the kids were at school and playgroup. All wonderful food for the soul but too the familiar-ness of our meanderings left me feeling uneasy. We trod these same footsteps, of momentary nourishment, twice last autumn, after my mother’s then my grandmother’s passing. And had done the same just under two years ago when my sister-in-law died.
All I can do as I write these words is take a long and mighty sigh. To let it out. It’s a lot, sometimes too much, for a heart to hold. And last night, as I felt myself swimming, I bumped up against each death and illness that has followed us for these years. My aunt passed away from cancer at the age of 53 whilst pregnant with my son. When he was months old, my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and soon after my uncle. Thankfully, then, both went into remission, but not long after, my sister-in-law was diagnosed. When she went into remission, both my mother and uncle were diagnosed, he from a different form than the first. Another nearly perished when his home burned to nothing, him inside amongst the rising flames. And so the story continued, these falling dominoes coming to ground or almost, until now.
There have been friendships along this road that have evolved and changed and handful are no longer. My health too was very fragile for a good few years which, surrounded by this all, sent shudders through me for my own mortality. I am much stronger now, in health and spirit but the fragility of our beings and the weight of loss still haunts me. And I feel it far too frequently as I hold our children in my arms and witness their smiles and radiant inner-sunshine. The background of my mind mulls with the ghosts of our families that we have lost and last night I felt small and lost in this sea.
And, then within my awareness, I know my risk adverse behaviour that has increased over the years with our kids, with my own sense of my internal delicateness, with the losses that we have bared, I felt myself being a child again. The disbelief in my strength and resilience as I was wrapped in the cotton-wool of fear of breakages. I grew up always fearing I would break and I now see, without blame, where this came from. And how I am transferring this to my kids. Preventing them from falling. Not since the start but in the last few years, I know more so of this tendency. To hold back and overly protect.
And, in these days, I have been following, scanning, again in the background of my thoughts, the places where physically I have been caught. Holding. Holding loss within me. Holding anger. Holding fear. In my face, my jaw, my chest. My voice. My heart. And the more I have ventured into these spaces gently, inviting my listening, my compassion and care to pour inside, I have felt the twinklings of love and light within. And I realised, this light and love, is life. I haven’t been seeking to ‘Get my life back’ but, instead, calling LIFE back into me. It reminds me of one of my favourite Leonard Cohen lyrics, “I ache in the places I used to play“. I found these words so poignant as teenager and for now, I see where I have stopped playing. Taking so much so seriously, so intently in my adult, parenting self these last few years. Yes, we’ve had much to process but I think now is of the time, whilst I continue to dialogue with these points of holding, to go PLAY! To underline the preciousness of this life with some yielding and dancing into this earth. To allow the weight of sorrow to also be accompanied with some lightness and gratitude.
It’s a lot to take in. It’s a lot not to feel pulled down on days. Some days it will pull me right to the bottom of an immense sadness. And some to the fear of our here-ness and the unbearable fear of losing those I hold most dear. But if I let it eat me, I will inhabit more death than life. And I will forget of the majesty of the gift that was bestowed upon us all.
It gives me hope to remember this. I want to sow the flame of this breathe into into me more. Continue re-igniting life within. Not to run from the grieving that needs to unfold but in a desire to marry it will the magical pulse all around. I don’t want to forget this, for myself. Or my children.
Illustration: Arthur Rackham