Losing My Mum at Six Years Old
I enter the hospital room and my body freezes. Before me stands a lifeless room full of clinical white light. Death lingers in the fringes, waiting for permission to feast. Bleach engulfs my nostrils. My feet shuffle past the door as I take in the slumped bodies occupying the room. Sunflowers sit in a vase, pathetically trying to beautify the sterile environment. No one speaks.
Grief contorts the face of everyone present; I am bewildered by their distress. Members of my family glance my way. Each one takes a moment to express their love and a few words of comfort. I avoid their gaze. Instead my attention remains on the strand of cotton hanging at the hem of my dress. My finger twirls the thread as I try to suppress the suffocating feelings welling in my chest.
Dear six-year-old self, I want you to know this isn’t your fault. Nothing you did made this happen. Do not feel guilty. Don’t allow self-doubt to manifest. Your tantrums, unfinished homework and messy bedroom aren’t to blame.
My eyes dart to her: three crisp white sheets and a green blanket hold her close to the bed. Cords run across the room from one machine to another. It’s as if her body is the centrepiece of an intricate technological device. My eyelids flutter rapidly, as I try to muster enough courage to face her. Even at six, I couldn’t be fooled. Her brown eyes don’t register me, they don’t blink, nor do they falter. A vacant vessel carrying no recognisable life. I beg the universe to intervene, but my pleas can’t and won’t stop the inevitable.
Dear six-year-old self, I want you to know this will be hard. You will be angry. Hurt. Damaged. Confusion will eat away at you. Sadness will overwhelm you. Loneliness will be your best friend.
The room erupts in chaos. The machines attached to her body scream; blue-scrubbed foreigners rush into the room. Family members burst into uncontrollable sobs. People begin to say things to me, but I don’t register what those words are. All I can focus on are the big blue and green bruises forming all over her body. I witness the last bit of life evaporate from her. Her whole body goes limp as she crosses into nothingness, carrying a one way-ticket to the afterlife.
I imagine her translucent figure floating above her corpse in a hopeful gesture. I don’t want to think she is gone. My mum is dead. I was never going to get her back. Tears stream down my face as someone lovingly ushers me out of the room.
Dear six-year-old-self, this is how I remember watching Mum die. There is nothing to take away your pain and nothing to replace your innocence. I can say nothing to console you. My heart breaks reflecting on the extent of your agony.
It has taken me a long time to reach this point: A time in my life where I look back and reflect on the hardships that occurred. A series of circumstances beyond our control.
From the tender age of six, I stared into the soul of death itself. I have attended more funerals than weddings. I have battled with insecurities, body image and suicidal thoughts. I was forced to see the fragility of mortality in a matter of moments. I became an adult overnight. I endure turmoils no child should experience. My body has convulsed in bouts of extreme anger for no logical reason. My chest has tightened in panic. My mind has been devoid of any reason, logic or love. I have cried rivers, waded in self-pity and played the blame game more times than I can count.
Dear six-year-old self, I want you to know that you will be okay. In the darkest of days, you will grin a devilish smile as you defeat the many challenges thrown your way. I want to thank you. Thank you for never giving up, for holding your head high. For having an appreciation and thirst for life beyond what you knew.
I want you to know that the grief you feel will not last forever. I want you to know that I am so very proud of you. I know mum is too. You have weaved your own web.
At 22, you are happy. You counsel people with kindness. Talking is one of your favourite fortes. You are a fearless woman who radiates warmth into the world. You laugh at your own jokes and drink red wine from a mug. You will fulfil some of your deepest desires and rise above personal expectations. You nurture and empathise with others in a way only loss will teach you. Often you will slip up, yet you continue to try. At times, you reflect on your childhood memories with a profound sadness. This is okay. This is normal. It is not bad, weak or silly. This is how you remember. One day you will understand.
Dear six-year-old self, sometimes I imagine me, now, looking on at you the day she died. I watch you intently as your calm demeanour breaks, your fingers fiddle and your eyes water. I vividly envision myself reaching out to wrap you in a tight embrace. Your curled-up body lays deflated on my lap. I quietly hum soothing melodies, swaying us gently in a rhythmic motion. I allow your constant flow of tears to saturate my shirt. I look down into those big hazel eyes to see a face full of torment and terror. I explain that this grief will flourish, disappear and expose itself in many ways for as long as you live. I tell you that one day we will be okay.
Cover by Becca McHaffie