Grief Has No Age

 Article originally appeared on National Alliance for Grieving Children written by Lillian Brown

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other”   Walter Elliot

I remember my speech teacher giving me a book and the Elliot quote was on the first page. I have never forgotten it probably because at the age of nine it took me at least three minutes to sound out the word ‘perseverance’.

I had no idea how often I would return to the quote over the next 20 years.

I remember a hazy summer day in 1997 as I sat on the couch with my mum.  She was sick… so all of my family came over to help her clean.  This was odd, because my family usually only got together on holidays.  I think their gathering was meant to happen that way.  We finally convinced her to go to the ER.  I remember her looking so pale and only wanting to eat banana ice blocks.  She finally agreed to go after battling back and forth with her sisters. Mum didn’t want to go as I had my first day of year four the following day and she wanted to see me off on the bus.  She didn’t trust my father to get me on the bus, I assume. My mum was the kindest person I have ever met, no one had a negative thing to say about her and she loved me with every ounce of her being. I loved her too; she was my best friend.

I remember asking her to stand up and that I would help her.  She was so weak, but she tried to stand.   Before I knew what was happening my mum collapsed to the floor and took her last breath.  At that moment, my life as I knew it, would be a thing of the very distant past.  My family heard the commotion and my screaming, and came running and immediately called for help.   My mother’s sister Anne was giving her mouth to mouth resuscitation until the paramedics arrived which seemed like a life time.   When I peeked in to check on her the only thing I remember seeing was my mother’s eyes roll back in her head. I knew at 9 years old that I would never hug my mum again.

I remember asking the paramedics “Did you save my mommy?”  They didn’t even look at me.  They rushed my mom to the hospital where she was pronounced dead at 5:47pm.

I didn’t cry, I couldn’t.  I didn’t know how.

Even though I had no idea what was going on, I realized how fragile life is.  I remember holding a flashlight and turning it on and off.   Bright to dim, and I told my family as we all sat in the living area that we were like flashlights, one minute shining bright the next minute fading away.  Pretty deep thoughts for a 9 year old.

The viewing came and went, I kissed mum on the forehead she was cold very cold. (I tell you this because it was the first time I had touched a DEAD person.)

I had questions, a lot of questions, most of which would go unanswered for years. I remember asking the funeral directors what would happen next and they told me not to worry as everything was taken care of by the grownups..… (easy for them to say, I was going home without my mummy!) I just went along letting people pat me on the head and continue to converse about who was going to “take care” of her little girl.

I didn’t have any other choice.

Now you ask, where was my father in all of this mess? He was more than likely drinking and wondering where he was going to find the money to bury her. My father was very abusive and he was a long-time alcoholic.

He didn’t go to my mother’s funeral so in turn neither did I.

Let me say it again, my own father didn’t let me go to my mother’s funeral. I never got closure. I never got to say goodbye. The pastor who preached the funeral said that in his 30 plus years of preaching he had never witnessed a husband and child not attending their loved one’s funeral.

I had no one willing to talk to me to explain what was happening to me and why I felt that way.  What to do?   My first thoughts were to wonder how I could be with my mummy.  Later that night while dad was drunk again, I watched this show on the telly.  A lady took heaps of pills and went to sleep.  She died just like my mummy.  I wanted to do that to, just be with mummy.

The next thing I remember was waking up in a hospital.  Is this what it’s like being dead?

After that the man and lady took me to live with another family.  They told me the lady was my foster mum.  “NO SHE IS NOT” My mum is dead.  Since then I have gradually got my life back together with the help of counsellors and my “Foster Mum”.  Who told me that she was NOT my real mum and never wanted to replace her.  She was just there to help me like my real mum wanted.

Here I am, 20 years, 4 children, a husband, a dog, cat and tropical fish later working as a Vet and having to explain to adults that they need to support their children when a pet dies..

This life was handed to me because I am strong enough to live it and if I can be of help to just one person, one child, then it has been worth all the pain.

This is my life’s purpose, this writing (righting) here, right now…. My story.

Grief has no time limit, no age.

I was put on this earth to change the future for someone, and in a beautiful way I am finally finding closure — because I too, am still a grieving child.