Saturday, March 6, 2010
Childhood in a room
Surrounded by the deepest jade ocean waves it did not matter which room I was given when I arrived at the villa. The first 5 nights were in the master bedroom, although I never really settled into that space. Night 6 and my friend’s family started arriving. Asked if I would mind making room for a couple I moved to another room. Being single I only require a single bed. Opening the bedroom door I stepped back took a breath and realized I was entering the room I had never been in. It was a beautiful child’s room filled with toys, books and residual laughter from days when children played and slept here.
I’d like to say my family was a safe forum for expression, that I actually talked about my mother’s death or even my mother’s life and that I found a family member who provided much-needed emotional support. But none of this was true. My sister was married with a beautiful baby girl only one year old. My brother was married, lived a far bit away. We were raised by two different sets of parents. When I returned to my real parents my brother and sister really did not take me in. My real dad was an alcoholic. Shortly after my mothers funeral I sent out thank you cards. My dad sat at the table drunk. There was never another word spoken about my mother.
Silence and suppression transformed me into an emotional mannequin, frozen with proportions so perfect they were never more than ideal. The morning my mother died I entered a zone of counterfeit emotion: no tears, no grief, little response at all except a carefully monitored smile and an intense desire to maintain the status quo.
If I could not control the external chaos, I could at least try to balance it with my internal reserve. How could I give in to intense emotion? Raised from birth to age 6 by my uncle it was he who told me at the funeral I had to be strong because I was now on my own. He knew. At 14, I was on my own.
Families like this mine are not rare; many households view even the most innocuous expressions of grief as reminders of the loss, and they shy away from confronting collective pain.
Grief does not vanish because we try to lock it up in a sealed drawer, yet that is the way many of us are encouraged to cope: ignore the pain and it will go away. Anyone who has tried this approach knows this is not true. Ultimately the thing that makes you crazy is not that your mother has died rather, you cannot talk about it. The sounds of silence begin and then grief will find a way to seep out elsewhere, through our eyes ands ears, through our very pores.
“Without suffering there would be no joy, what dark is to light. Pain is prod to remembrance. The way of escape is wisdom.”
-Paramahanoa Yogananda Autobiography of a YOGI