When Normal Ceased to Exist

July 20, 2017
photo by Antonia Hutt

 

What was normal, ceased to exist.

We were preparing for New Year’s Eve, laying out the food, chatting, laughing. Then came the phone-call. They said it was about my son. That policemen would come to my house. In an instant, life was put on hold.

Panic rose in my chest, gagging me. You enter a nightmare from which you cannot wake up. Frantic calls to my son’s mobile went unanswered. Again and again I phoned. Nothing. Click. Nothing. Click. Nothing.

In the moments between life and death, time slows down and stops.

I and my two other children sat on the sofa for over three hours, barely breathing. Two policemen did arrive. Eventually.

One minute I was whole, the next I was broken.

Once I had stopped screaming, had vomited my last, had seen his name on the report and read the word ‘Homicide’, my legs gave way.

At some point in those moments of utter horror and despair, the mother that was Alex’s disappeared and was replaced by a vast, gruesome chasm. The me who was now left without her did not know how to go on.

Hours later I would stand before the mirror in the bathroom and not recognize the woman who stared back at me.

Life became a blur. Numb. Shock. Trauma. That’s what I was going through, people explained. I heard their voices reach me from the other side, and I gazed back confused and uncomprehending

I would shake uncontrollably in bed at night. Sleep eluded me. Again and again I would play out my son’s last moments, imagining him lying defenceless and being hit over and over until he was killed. I ran through all possible scenarios in my mind, wondering how much he suffered, sensing his terror, whether he knew he was dying.

The mother that was Alex’s had not been able to protect him. I knew that, and she knew that. There was a disconnect between us. One part of me carried on as best as I could, like a sleepwalker, going through the motions of daily life. Meanwhile, the other part, the part that was Alex’s mother panicked within my head. She frantically sought her son but he was now dead. She was irrational, delirious, crazed.

I screamed at her. Stop! There is not enough of me to take such suffering!

Yet she would not listen. The mother in me who had cared for Alex, could not stop mothering. She was distraught without her son. She was tormented. The only way she knew how to continue being his mother was to think about his last moments as he died.

No one could help her. She was trapped inside of me, her love for Alex crushing my heart.

Winter turned to summer and then to winter again. Yet the greyscale world I inhabited remained the same. It may sound strange, but in those months of deep grief, I lost my mind. I no longer knew who I was and neither did I care. Life in the child-loss world held nothing for me, death seemed preferable.

Then, from somewhere deep within me, I realized that it was me who had to help this mother if I wanted to help myself. That she must be allowed to live out the love for her child, if I was ever going to survive the horror of Alex’s loss. She and I were one and the same person. My heart knew the way, and at last I was able to listen.

So I reconnected to the part of me that was Alex’s mother, fearfully at first, but conscious of the fact that in doing so I was allowing all of myself to grieve.

In the night, as tears rolled down my cheeks, I would let her weep. I was devastated by her desolation and despair. I watched her from inside of me, and she observed me from without. She, me. The distinction dissolved, we appeared and disappeared in each other, and I became whole again.

My love for my dead son was so powerful and all-encompassing that I could not deny its force within me.

It was that which gave me the courage to turn away from the chasm and accept his death. The two parts of me that had been lost, found themselves again in allowing me to continue to be his mother.

In this child-loss world I will always be the mother to three children. And so this is where I choose to stay. That is my new reality, raw, painful but true. Here my son can dance within my heart and I can hear him sing. And he will live forever.

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