I wrote Phase One after my mum’s funeral and wake. I was 17 trying to make sense of my grief. Sat on the floor, next to my bed, I scribbled the beginnings of Phase One down. In fact – the whole thing was written in one, very emotional, go.
I then left it in the depths of my wardrobe for me to pick it up in years to come. This is the result – and the blog below explores a little bit about my grief, my mum and my writing further.
A bit about my mum and my grief now
My mum was my rock and my best friend. We often glamorise people after death, but even now, when I look back on diaries from when I was 13 or 14, I’d described her as a Saint. She was the person I enjoyed spending my time with the most and she knew how to make me feel better on my darkest days.
It’s been almost a decade since she passed away. A lot of people think it gets easier, but the reality is, grief is like a knife wound to the heart. Throughout the years, your skin will grow over the open wounds and you’ll learn to live with it. But then, on some days, you’ll wake up and you’ll stretch your body at a certain angle and realise the knife is still there. It’s both the memory of them and the hurt of losing them, you can’t remove it and you can’t live without it. It’s a part of you.
Writing is my way of both acknowledging the knife’s existence and making sure I honour the memories I share with my mum too.
Names over illness
I never mention the word cancer in Phase One, this was a conscious decision. My mum had been diagnosed with Cancer, but she was never defined by it, and for that I am grateful. I also think that one of the most frustrating parts of being a griever is that no matter what, a stranger somewhere will always ask you ‘What did they die off?’ more out of curiosity than anything else. And yet, majority of the time, people are not defined by their illness – I feel the better question to ask is ‘What is their name?’ ‘What are they like?’
I started therapy a few years after my mum’s passing. The first question I was asked was my mum’s name, Katherine. That question broke me. No one had asked me what my mum’s name was in what felt like years. I had not uttered the word Mum in in 4 years, after having spoken it for almost every day of my life until she passed.
Slowly in therapy and with help from friends I began to speak about her more. I still get asked by people how she passed away, but now I know to also state who she was. She was the person calling all her friends to the hospice at the last minute to have a party, and she was the person pulling all the strings in the background to make sure me and my sister would be okay. She had a big love for shoes, Sunday morning walks and was always my biggest supporter.
My mum was a free spirit and an icon. She was not defined by any illness or any job role. She knew who she was and I admired her deeply for that.
Why is Phase One an important piece for you?
For years after my mum’s death I didn’t really write much. Or process my grief either. Until I hit 22. I decided something was off, so I broke up with my boyfriend, enrolled in bereavement counselling, and started a new freelance job in TV. It was only on my first counselling session that I realised I couldn’t access any other memories of my mum. It was like those 6 months described in Phase One was all I had.
In between shoots, I continued going to bereavement therapy (which was very difficult when your job requires you to be happy and approachable, despite the fact that you’ve been crying your eyes out across town not even an hour prior). During this time, I had to recall a lot of the memories in this poem; the effort my mum took in trying to get herself a diagnosis, the stages of my anticipatory grief and denial, the first time my mum woke up in back pain, the second time I called the ambulance. I remember her going to GPs, osteopaths and chiropractors. I remember having to call my sister and feeling so incredibly sick. I remember not eating for days. These were the memories that were vivid and were stuck in my mind – but these memories were also big clouds – preventing me from seeing anything else.
In grief we tend to remember the last (and possibly traumatic) days and not the bigger picture. Phase One is important to me because once I was able to release it into the world, I also began to see the memories that were clouded more clearly.
I remember one birthday she took me to Carluccio’s and we had meringue and tea. It was so special, because we didn’t have much money at the time and the experience felt like such a big treat. I’m saying all this because it’s so important to write these things down and cherish them – whenever I remember a good memory now, I write it down, in the hopes that whenever the cloud of illness and sounds of hospitals creep in – I can experience the good memories too.
I’m saying this because there is no right answer to grief, but getting stuck on the last few days can begin to play havoc on the rest of people’s memories of that person. Again, it might not, this is purely anecdotal, but in my own experience, getting stuck in the ‘last days’ as opposed to the ‘entire life’ is a hard thing to come out of.
What was your intention with releasing Phase One out to the world?
What no one tells you with grief is that life goes on. The world does not stop just because the person you care about the most has passed away (unless, of course, you’re the Queen or of royal lineage). People will keep going to work, friends will still go to parties, and whilst life for you has changed completely, around you people’s worries will still be relatively the same.
You might listen to Phase One, and have had a similar experience, you might feel some relief that you weren’t alone. You might not have ever lost someone but are on this page to help a friend. You might – like I did – be googling what to do after a parent dies. My google searches told me to write everything down that I remember. I’m thankful I did as it proved a great resource in the grieving process.
You also might find that putting the most traumatic parts on paper – like Phase One – might help you process it all too. Either way, the more we can talk and share our loved ones with others, the more it feels like they are still with us.
That’s why Let’s Talk About Loss is so important, it gives young people the space to speak about their grief freely and to allow their loved ones names to be spoken not with pity, but with pride.
Phase One is written, performed and produced by Suzanne Pearson.
Original Music Score and Sound Design by Benjamin Squires.
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