A tiny peering face could just about be spied through the window of the car that was packed to overflowing, reminiscent of our family road trips. The sudden pang in my heart hurt as I looked at this tiny, translucent face and I bit my lip in order to stop the tears from brimming over. My much longed-for baby, the baby that I thought would never be, the baby my body finally learnt how to cling onto, and since then, clung I have, is now a fully grown being, ready to face the world, to find herself and become her own beautiful person.
Bringing up children is not simple; from the moment the cord is cut, my task was to nurture and cherish, to shelter and protect her. I did this with every inch of my being, getting it so wrong at times, but then there were the times I got it so right, all along knowing I was teaching her to leave me. As a small child I supported her to let go of my hand and walk unaided and now the day had arrived when she was to forge her way. I had nurtured her, fought with her, prepared her for the world. From a distance I gazed at that little face through the car window, the feeling of pride and fear was overwhelming and I thought, ‘Who had prepared me?’
We arrived at this picture-perfect college, with hidden fear and excited faces and walked into the castle that was about to be called home. The stab in my heart radiated through my body as I saw the welcome home banner; this was not her home, this is where she was coming to study; her home was with me, where her bedroom was a tip, where I shouted at her for the tornado of mess and chaos that always ensued behind her.
We found her abode; as a family we hurried to unpack and make it her own, a mixture of new and old. Each one of us worked in silence as we hung things up, arranged book shelves and sorted through the array of cushions, throws and photos, each one of us contemplating what she meant to us, to our family and how life would change without her at home every day.
Every instinct in me was crying out to pack her back up, to turn around and drive her home. Barely being able to speak, I muttered that we should all eat before we headed home. Finding somewhere to eat was a challenge as I had not thought about the 1,000’s of students descending on this tiny university city that would all be having their ‘last suppers’ with their child. We found a restaurant to squeeze into, then we sat in virtual silence as we counted the minutes to having to leave.
Standing in her room, each of us hugging her in turn, I watched as my three girls grasped each other, a tearful embrace that did not quite understand what life would be as they had only ever known life with her. My heart was breaking, my body felt weighty, again biting my lip, I held back the tears, this was her moment, her day, her adventure. My job was done.
For the first time in her life, I walked away, not handing her over to anyone. There were no school teachers for me to explain her little quirks to, her anxieties, her likes and dislikes and all her triggers. I left my first-born standing alone in a room, not knowing what she was going to do next, not knowing if she would make friends or who she would eat her dinner with. We continued to walk down the road, the tears now falling freely, my body shaking and broken inside. Again, I asked myself who had prepared me for this day, what was I to do with myself now I had a fully formed, grown-up human being that was responsible for herself.
The first week was hard, I was lonely, dazed and broken. I missed her terribly, but reconciled that she would be having the time of her life and that no news was good news. Dinner times were empty, and more than once I set a place forgetting she was not here. There was no debating the events of the day around the dinner table. There were no arguments about going out, tidy bedrooms or how much work had she done and no sibling fighting. There was a quiet between the girls, as for the first time they were no longer a three. The week was slow, Friday night came and the phone rang. I excitedly jumped to answer as I saw her name on the screen, to hear her voice, to hear her news. I was so unprepared for the news that she was unhappy, she was unwell and did not know if she had made the right decision. It was my job, again, to be strong, to support her in letting go of my hand and make suggestions of things she could do to make it more bearable.
Her second week at university has passed with its ups and downs; she has faced tragic news, grief and her own mortality. She is finding her way and trying to integrate herself with people who one day she hopes to be able to call friends. She is not finding it easy, but my hope is that each day it becomes a little bit easier for her and that I have prepared her enough to be resilient to make it work. My heart still feels empty but not broken. I still await eagerly for any message she may send or telephone call she may make. I have raised my daughter, she has gone out into the world to make her mark; the umbilical cord may have been physically cut 18 years ago, but the cord in my heart has not severed and my job as her mother will never be done. I was not prepared when she was born and I am no more prepared today.
Experiencing loss can creep upon us without realising it is actually loss we are experiencing; other losses can be more confronting and can come as a shock. How we experience and perceive our experiences helps us to make sense, and or find meaning in our grief.
Can I grieve if no one has died? There are many examples of loss that don’t necessarily involve death, such as the loss of career, your role within your world, loss of health, decline of financial status, divorce, end of friendships and the list could go on. It can be a lonely time, you may try and reach out but no one is listening, as it “cannot be that bad”. There is little understanding of the magnitude of your pain, and therefore your loss is not validated. It can be hard to recognise your loss as grief in the absence of death, and therefore that might impinge you from accessing professional support.
My tips for experiencing loss would be to name and validate your own emotions; acknowledging the importance of your story and pain, and give yourself a break in order to help you recover.
Be kind to yourself; find something that is for you, that brings you comfort. Engage with others that will listen to you, and have positive experiences can work to reengage yourself.
Engage in positive self-talk; it is all too easy to gravitate towards self-blame, you deserve kindness and not to inflict negative messages on yourself which can be a further detriment to your healing process.
Find that person that can support you; friends can be a great source of support, but at times it is beneficial to work through your loss and grief with an independent person who is totally focussed on your story, your experience in a safe non-judgemental environment.