I feel like I’ve been winded. My tummy feels tight.
I am crying. The tears started and didn’t stop. The happy feeling dissolved.
My heart hurts and I don’t know which way to turn. How to act for the best.
An argument with my 11-year-old daughter caused this. I have to write – I really have nothing else.
I’d said something fairly subtle about finding happiness again and she jumped down my throat.
‘Oh stop going on about it. Everything is about Abi. You only want attention. It’s so annoying.’ (Think tween when you read this and you’ll get a good idea of tone!)
I’ve been here before with her. I’ve spoken to experts. She’s not struggling with her grief, she’s doing well, but she is acting her age.
Any parent will complain about not being appreciated, of being the target of pent-up stress, of being tested to near breaking point. I get that this is normal behaviour. But to her, Abi is just another cause for complaint now. In her mind, we’ve dealt with it and need to move on, stop dragging up our unhappiness.
I state as calmly as I can that even if it annoys her, I have a right, as Abi’s mum, to talk about her whenever I like (which I already don’t overdo because I know it irritates her). She can choose to ignore me if she likes.
I go into ‘therapist’ mode and try to use this as an opportunity to dig a little deeper, to find out what annoys her about it. Does it remind her of painful feelings of that time? Does it embarrass her?
‘No. Don’t be stupid. Everyone’s always talking about it and they should just get over it. I have.’ (By ‘everyone’ she means us and Abi’s friends who often write messages on Abi’s Facebook wall about missing her still.)
Still trying to be the peacemaker, I say: ‘Sometimes when we are sad it can come out as feeling annoyed.’
‘No. Because I’m not sad about it (she starts laughing to prove her point, as though I’m being idiotic). I don’t care at all. You’re all so annoying and need to get a life.’ Then she carries on chatting to her friends on her iPad.
None of this was said with much passion, anger or pain. She was being hurtful and to her mind, truthful. Yet as much as I know she’s just a child who has no idea or empathy with emotions like this, I cannot stop feeling upset. I walk away, as I can’t think what to say, and go up to my bedroom to hide my feelings from her. I sit on my bed and weep – weep for Abi, weep for her sister downstairs, weep for myself. I look at the cross on my wall and pray to God to guide me.
This is the girl who has lost her big sister. Who’s world was rocked by this loss. I have albums of photos of her and Abi, having fun together. Just 22 months apart in age, they were like chalk and cheese, yet close. They did so much together. In the last year or so of Abi’s life there was some change as Abi found new freedom out of the house with her friends, but they always had each other.
Perhaps I should let her see me cry. Show her how she can hurt someone’s feelings. But no, that would show weakness, that she has the power to upset me. She needs the security of knowing I am strong for her. Yet I’m angry and vulnerable. I’m dogtired. I don’t feel like being strong.
As much as I want to scream at her, I can’t force her to mourn Abi. I wouldn’t. I can’t get angry at her for speaking her mind. It would damage any trust between us. As a parent you have to repress so very much emotion it’s a wonder any of us remain sane (and why so many of us write blogs!).
She is so calm, feeling irritated by me. Even some emotion would be better than this. You’d expect a bereaved child to display anger, perhaps start causing trouble at school, or be depressed and withdrawn. I could make allowances for that. I wasn’t expecting this, this off-handedness. The enormity of Abi’s death hits me even more when I see how quickly her sister has ‘shelved’ it. But then I will make allowances for it, because I know deep down it’s her way of coping.
She’s an intelligent, funny girl. She has inherited my love for writing and reading. We share our faith, our prayers. She has more glimmers now of being herself. The girl I love. I’m ever proud of how she has progressed and how she knows her mind. I also understand her anxieties and insecurities, and give her opportunities to overcome them within a loving and secure family environment.
I love her so much and long to be close to her. She’s my only daughter, now. The other day, we went to the local park. She got lost following us and a stab of panic hit me. I held it together while we all went searching and she wasn’t far, and was simply a bit embarrassed, but I couldn’t help that clenched feeling inside. I cannot lose her too!
I know her outburst means I need to hold her even closer, not push her away.
I know it’s her age. She’s found something to test me, get a reaction.
I know she doesn’t understand how much her words hurt. Why would she?
I know she dislikes the attention. She doesn’t want to feel the pressure of being sad.
I know she’s been robbed of her childhood because of this.
I know she’s grieving too, That this is her way of coping with emotions even I cant truly understand.
Yet it hurts.
It may come out differently over the years and I’m already dreading the teenage years, there’s enough angst anyway without this terrible thing she has to live with too.
I’m upset with myself too. For getting upset – I should stop being so selfish. For not parenting her properly though this. It’s my fault she feels so resentful. I don’t know how I’ve done it but I know it can only be my fault. I have to rise above it and keep going.
And I will rise above it, again. That’s what mothers do. One day, in the distant future, maybe she’ll realise, maybe her sister’s death will surface, maybe it won’t. But for a brief, exhausted hour, I give in to the hurt.
This is the real challenge of parenting through grief. When a child dies, people treat you all as though you’re on the same mournful journey. But we all grieve differently. They ask me how she’s coping and I feel I should be saying she’s missing Abi terribly, just to appease them. But I know to my cost that sometimes sympathy is not what a child needs or wants, and as normal as that is, as a parent and adult, it can be unbearable to live with at times.