I am the youngest (by many years) in a family of five children. Mum was 42-years-old when she had me, a baby that was never planned but couldn’t be helped. My nearest sibling is eight years older than me and the oldest is 17 years older than me.
Earlier this year my Mum died following complications from a drug-resistant bacterial infection. She was 89-years-old and had been disabled by a stroke for the last 13 years of her life. If it had been possible for her to end her own life at any time during those years I know she would have done so.
Six months prior to Mum’s death, my husband’s younger brother committed suicide. He was in his early fifties, in pretty good physical health, but after living alone on the family’s rural property for years, his mental health had suffered.
Two years before my brother-in-law left us, my father died at age 85. He had talked a lot about euthanasia during the years he had cared for my mother and had shared his guilt at never being able to give her the relief that he knew she wanted. When the time came for him to make a decision about his own life, he decided to be proactive by halting further medical treatment. Sadly this didn’t bring a quick and clean death – Dad’s passing was slow and painful and caused a lot of trauma to my siblings who nursed him through it.
These three deaths have framed the last five years of my life. All three were surrounded by numb shock, anger, familial guilt and gut-wrenching grief. I haven’t yet restored my balance over any of them, but I keep moving forward and looking to the stars, as we all do. I think I do an alright job of it, but I’ve noticed that some people are REALLY good at picking themselves up and dusting themselves off. I call them the ‘Ant and the Rubber Tree’ people. I, on the other hand, tend more toward the ‘Chicken Little’ school of life. I’m startled by the unexpected, prone to thinking that the sky is falling down, and invariably assigning responsibility for the faulty sky to myself.
So it’s no surprise, I guess, that there have been some dark days at my house in recent times. My long-suffering family has endured times of tears, silence, hyperactivity and restlessness. It’s the restlessness that has me worried and I know where it has come from. When faced with grief, and being very aware of my propensity for catastrophising, I have developed a habit of putting the worst of my grief away. I let some of it out at the time of the sadness, but I box the rest up and pop it outside the door in my mind. I know it’s there. I feel its presence.
Occasionally the box knocks on the door and wants to come inside, wants to empty its contents and lighten its load. I don’t let it. I’m scared of it. But the effort of remembering to keep the door locked is taking its toll. It’s making me fidget. It’s making me forget about all the other cool things I could have stored in that box, like family memories and travel tales, a million happy things that would be better to store than all this grief.
My question to anyone reading this: How do I open the box and deal with the sadness without having it take over? ‘Chicken Little’ needs some help from the ‘Ant and the Rubber Tree’ people.