Survivor Story ( )

Learning to live life

It was the summer of 1980 and I was seventeen years old. I was in love for the first time and worked in a tiny chemist. I really thought I was the bees and knees – hair in pigtails, overdone eye makeup and my white uniform with its little blue collar.  I was so happy that I was earning money and gaining a small measure of independence. I thought, well, what any seventeen year old thinks – life goes on forever and somehow they can direct and control it.  Slowly and I can now see immaturely, I was working towards a life independent of my Mother’s influence.  Still, for the first time in over ten years I was starting to feel physically and psychologically safe.

Yet, my fragile sense of self collapsed on August 12th 1980.  I woke up in the middle of the night after hearing the phone ring.  I could hear my Father’s soft voice in the next room – I knew then that my Mother was dead. The result of an overdose and after spending several days on life- support, my Mother died alone.  This time, she had waited too long to call for help.

I lay in bed and quietly sobbed. My tears were for my poor, lost childhood and for my Mother’s psychological torment and her final overwhelming loneliness.  She had lost everything that should have mattered and I suspected that realisation had gradually crept up on her.

The tears that fell down my face and onto my pillow were also those of relief.  At last, I was free or so I naively thought…  Afterwards for years, I carried a heavy burden of guilt for that sense of relief.  It was only many years later that I learnt my private, guilty, sense of relief was an understandable reaction to the stresses of living with my Mother and her subsequent death.

I really believed at seventeen that my Mother’s death would end my angst.  In reality though, it was another chapter to my Mother’s life and I was still one of her unwilling characters. I was trapped in my unhappy role, alone and isolated – for a few more years.

I have since been so fortunate, although I have worked hard to overcome my difficulties and the awful, destroying belief that I was unlikeable and unlovable.  In some ways, for a time I think I was. I built such a solid, high psychological wall of defence that well, people just could not penetrate it.

My past with my Mother is part of my personal history and I accepted that many years ago – to a large degree it has shaped who I am today.  I have grasped firmly with both hands my childhood experiences and my Mother’s death with its devastating consequences. It is that or drown in the aftermath of a self-inflicted death.  However, best of all, I have been fortunate enough to have been able to use my experiences positively and will continue to do so.

Yes, occasionally there are still challenges and I do acknowledge that I still yearn for a mother – I think I always will, but sadly not for my Mother. I do however, continue to feel sadness and regret for my Mother’s life and her death.

Ultimately, as sad as this may appear, I recognise that I would not be who I am today with the achievements of my life to date if my Mother was still alive. Paradoxically through her death, I have finally learnt to live with my Mother.

Caroline