I can’t deny I was a wreck, a total wreck and felt utterly bereaved. I wanted to take away this horrendous empty feeling that was left as my son went off to university 60 miles away for chrissake.
I felt almost utterly ridiculous at how lost, lonely and sad I was. I’d have laughed if I wasn’t crying. My child’s gone to university! I should be celebrating right? I knew this was coming? I was in the throes of complete distress.
I wanted to write passionately on the subject and typed furiously on the cutting pain but managed to delete the first Cut in the uncanny way you do when particularly passionate. Perhaps it was for the best. Maybe the true snotty sorrow was something private which I needed to experience alone.
I deleted also, painstakingly typed out extracts from a 19th century letter from pioneering psychologist William James to his 13 year old daughter at boarding school. She had been writing home of her despair and anguish which was met with intransigent rationality from her father. I heard this read out on Radio 4 ‘Something Understood: Speak Your Mind’, during a bout of insomnia the night my son left for university and I lay wracked with misery and restless grief. The removal of my son from Home felt to me like the biggest and realest wrench I’d experienced since the loss of my sister.
William James pretty much just said to his daughter, stick with the facts; don’t out pour your pain for others to hold uncomfortably or unfathomably; sticking with the facts will stabilize the horror of your feelings or something like that. I can’t bear to listen and type his actual words again mostly through my laziness.
There was some sense in James’ words; a comfortable societal resistance to her raw and adolescent pain (which I had to imagine since it was just his words which have posterity). Researching him a bit, I can see he was interrogating the subject of emotion. He believed essentially that actions could overrule emotions- a useful tool maybe for those knocked back by the force of emotion.. perhaps there is a method to overruling violently difficult feelings by avoiding identifying with them and sharing them explicitly and passionately… I don’t know. Modern therapy has many approaches to dealing with pain; some to concentrate on the solution; some to analyse and sit with the pain. I’m there in my writing, attempting to articulate it, in the attempt to, maybe selfishly , maybe to my detriment, express it as it arises. Asserting its identity.
I’d be curious to know how Miss James turned out -being encouraged to stay her strong expressions of anguish from her parents. Alas there is little on wives and daughters tales and life stories from long ago to be found as readily on search engines as the male’s stories. Did she become a well rounded adult…did she benefit from hushing that passionate and confused Being that flapped wildly in her breast and uttered its word in letters to her parents? Or did this part of her end up in the attic; demurred, repressed and silenced, sentenced to yellowing madness?
I must say, that I took an instant dislike to William James, particularly because the voice who narrated his letter for Radio 4, was insipid and gentle in the seeming face of his daughter’s anguish. It made me cross and I took it personally as if he’d just read one of my blogs and was reprimanding me, or as if he was articulating the response I worry anyone who endures to hear out my feelings must feel- I mean really, do we, do I, does anyone have a unique thought or feeling? Aren’t most bored by misery and death and mental mayhem?
James made me feel lazy and like a feminine pool; that rather than waiting till I have found a nugget of truth and articulating something powerful and positive from the flood of emotion; I write instead, outpourings, not fact, whatever that is. Is this not just the weak subjective female response to everything? Or is that where the heritage of female mental illness; or general repression of the myriad of human expression evolves from? The silencing of the passionate, sometimes painfully beating heart; the insufferable stiff upper lip? The description of valid emotion as anguish and outpouring; as disdainful as a puddle of urine mistakenly and shamefully released? Is that what expression is? What tears are?
So anyway, I bawled and inhaled my sons pillow and sat in his empty room filled with his-story; his left behind belongings and with my sadness, regret, guilt and utter desolation that my first born child had finally flown. Even though it’s a positive thing, and I know how lucky I am – he’s alive, healthy and has gone to university, I still felt bereft and abandoned and fearful that I wouldn’t be able to carry on without him and furthermore, that my feelings for my other two children would be diminished at the absence of my child born when I was barely a woman and who muddled through life with me on the tenuous journey through woods and rambling dreams, the intransigent and unromantic institution of social education, daily mistakes and the tangled path of daily life.
Even though we have had a struggle in recent times, both of us sometimes stressed and argumentative and downright not getting on, the underlying love and tenderness and friendship pervaded and now suddenly he was gone.
The years and years of plans and life and hopes and dreams; of things done and somethings left undone, abruptly altered in the pinpoint of a moment. As we said our final goodbyes at the university and tears initially pricking our eyes then fell unchecked, off we drove, watching him fade into the distance. I felt like this was the ultimate nursery drop off and that my massive beautiful toddler with his mane of glorious hair and his kind, loving gait, was finally setting himself free from family domesticity. And right this is. And natural and good. But the grief I felt was immense and gaping.
The next morning I cried in a guttural sort of way that I connect to the animalistic wailing that is spontaneous when you loose a loved one to death. The sounds of my sadness rose up from deep within me; like those of a wounded animal. I’m either a depressed human with attachment issues, or every separation and loss IS a small death which I am deeply sensitive to. Shit I hope I toughen up a bit.
Having once again decided to try to carry on drug free, I nearly reached for the anti depressants again, unsure I could handle the emotions aroused in me. What if the despair would not abate? Or if I decided to walk out on my family because I miss my partner in crime.
Later on I found myself in old haunts from his early years, and with my youngest son, we played in the park and wandered through the graveyard and the streets that built the memories from my big son’s childhood. This was cathartic.
The next day, I awoke a little better. I admit, I did go to my sons bedroom door wondering if perhaps he may be in there, and opened the door to see light streaming through the window onto his bare and duvetless bed; his frame no longer there melting into the pillow the same as it did when he was five and hated getting out of bed- my baby teenager I’d call him. And I lamented not savouring every single moment that he was there, instead angrily knocking on his door to wake him up on college days or bemoaning the piles of damp towels abandoned on the floor over and over. Had I told him I love him enough? If I could just sit with him once more and hug him. Those kind of grieving thoughts multiplied with fearful abandonment. But I also was so grateful for any and every moment I’d spent with him in the context of him still being under my care at home. Any time I’d managed to curtail any other ‘stuff’ and just hug him or talk with him or tell him I love him.
So yes, Mr James, Yes, I find myself quite pathetic. But I refuse to censor myself and while my self says- write something of value and meaning, my other self says, ‘what’s that?’ and ‘I have’ .
I like to write in whichever way I choose; flawed and passionate though it may be. I also can hear my inner critic, who today is a bolshie insensitive female taking the piss out of my mollycoddling and frankly pathetic syrupy reaction to my son leaving for university but I don’t care. She can scoff and laugh and say what she likes. She doesn’t know me or me life or what we’ve been through. And anyway, she doesn’t exist.
Finally, the strength of the emotion of loss was huge and I sank into it like a stone in soft mud and there I wallowed sad and full of hot gulpy tears like a small child abandoned by its mother. I’m sure the journey of accepting this part of children growing up/the ever turning wheel, will be a long and infinite one as long as I feel, but I suppose there is an acknowledgement too of the possibility of being simply happy that he’s happy and thriving. And I don’t want to abandon my other children just yet! Roll on teenager number two! Help!
Meanwhile, I will embrace the pain as it arises, and to heal, I will speak where I fear to tread.
Maybe then I am a fool.