Deborah Carr, chair of the sociology department at Boston University says, “The death of a child is considered the single, worst stressor a person can go through.’ I can agree. I feel like it’s the worst trauma any human can experience. Ask me how I feel about the prospect of having to live through or be afflicted by any loss, any pain, any sickness, any disease, any humiliation or any physical, excruciating torture or terror and I’ll tell you that while I may not have known all of these things, I would take each and every one of them, in succession or at once, in exchange for having my son back today. The only thing I wouldn’t take; the thing I pray to never have to suffer, is to lose another of my children or grandchildren.
I’m lucky. I sit here to write you today relying on no medication, having not turned to drugs or excessive alcohol consumption as a coping mechanism and, apart from broken sleep patterns that go on, I don’t feel any unmanageable, prolonged/consistent symptoms of depression and I think it’s because I’ve been able to keep a sense of humour and perspective throughout. There are other coping mechanisms. I journal daily and I practise gratefulness. I cry all the time, of course. I cry because I miss my son, I cry because for a large part of the time I am alone in my grief, I cry when people are kind to me – which is often, I cry when they’re not. Occasionally I curl into a ball on the floor of my lounge, bathroom or bedroom having dropped to my knees clutching my stomach when grief hits at its strongest and from nowhere, as it is prone to do even now. But, having allowed myself that time, I get back up. You have to get back up. I appreciate that not everyone is able to do that, but I am. I’m doing it every day.
Among all the crying there are uplifting moments that I admittedly sometimes have to force myself into. For instance, I dance to my own silent disco in the kitchen. There is no mood lift in the world like dancing to happy music, even though you may be dancing with yourself as I very often do. It’s funny that I do this because it was a coping mechanism I wrote for a fictional, grieving widow character, Fleur, in my second novel, ‘I Hate That You Bloody Left Me.’ Now I know it works.
Last night I was lying in a salt bath thinking about everything that has happened to me since I faced one of life’s toughest tests. Too long to tell you about are the series of odd coincidences and synchronicities that have begun to occur everywhere that all seem to point toward helping me meet a specific objective I’ve realised of late: to write something powerful and important for the gay community and the gay pride movement. I’d written in a previous post on how I hoped to write those that had lost their lives for what or who they loved back to life, and was pondering all of this in the tub. And as I lay there soaking and thinking, something occurred to me that arrived so forcefully I had to sit up, overcome by a sudden, twisting pain in my stomach that made me physically shake. I started to sob uncontrollably whereas only moments earlier I’d been perfectly calm. I got out of the bath, reached for a towel and ran into the living room, still crying, to open my notebook. Because yes, in all things, the writer would appear to be present. I had to write down the thought that had torn the very heart out of me, yet at the time I didn’t even know why. Here’s the note I made:
The fact that I’m a mother of not just one, but two gay sons, had been the preceding thought to that painful episode in the bathtub. Like, just to drive the message really home we’re going to gift you the same thing twice. Two beautiful, compassionate, loving young men to raise, nurture and teach to be proud of who they are. Then we’re going to wrench one of them away from you during the hardest period of your life, because then and only then you’ll be ready to show everyone else that it’s time to stop listening to the people currently protesting about teaching LGBT issues in schools and speak instead about how every child needs to learn to live and let live. To love and let love. The loss will be so wide, so cavernous, that you have to make sense of it – find the reason. And you are the reason.
The odd thing is that while I did indeed encourage my children to be themselves, I wasn’t taking my own advice for a very long time. I’d been hiding parts of myself that I had in many ways learned to be ashamed of.
The first was my highly sensitive nature, something I’ve been teased about, disliked and mistrusted for, called names for being too much so and made to believe that the natural intuitiveness that comes with this trait is off. In short, I’ve been taught not to believe a lot of my own thoughts and feelings. I have a rich and complex inner life that is complete with deep thoughts and very strong feelings that I’ve struggled to completely share safely with anyone but my children. Much like a lot of gay people today, there is an authentic part of me that has remained under wraps for the sake of self-preservation for a large part of my life. And there was nobody to help me understand or make sense of it, I had to experience a lot of cruelty in order to finally go in search of my own answers to why I am the way I am. I’m a person that feels pain with maximum intensity, yet, perhaps conversely, seem able to endure it too. Which leaves me free to write it all on the page and give something back from my experiences.
The second thing I’ve struggled with is being noticed. That’s a biggie. I love music and to sing, have perfect pitch that enables me to play any instrument I can get a note out of with practise and was a backing singer in a band as a teenager. Yet I have fought with crippling stage fright all my life which has affected everything from giving simple presentations and talks to standing in front of any crowd alone to give a speech. I will do all of this with the aid of wine and whisky. Perhaps there’s some alcohol dependence after all… 😉
I’m unsure what it is inside of me that doesn’t want to stand up and be the person in any room everyone is looking at and listening to. I only know just the thought of it makes me deeply uncomfortable. I like to write things and hand them over for consumption, not read them aloud. Me, do stand up comedy? You have got to be joking. And I am NEVER the first person on the dance floor at a party; if I’m sober. I do a mean Oops Upside Your Head after a few whiskies. But then, that’s sitting down dancing on your own…
Tomorrow my friend Mandy and I head out for our North Coast 500, wild camping road trip and, as I’ve said in previous posts, I’ll be battling some of my personal demons head on while paying tribute to Ryan, who, let’s just say, lived life out loud. He also suffered a LOT of homophobic abuse in his short life. Regardless, Ryan performed in Glasgow as drag artist, Candy Vine. At the bottom of this post is the video of the performance that was played at the end of his funeral. He was given a standing ovation by everyone there, it was one of the most emotional moments of my life. THIS is my son being brave. This is my son showing ME how to be brave. We’ll be coming round the mountains, and dancing on ten beaches. I can now reveal when and where this thing I am only going to apologise quietly to myself for is occurring:
Posting it here means people will know. Posting it here means people in the area, perhaps doing the trip too will come and watch us. Yikes.
I’m being brave. But this time I won’t be dancing with myself. 🙂
Of course we’ll be filming and trying, with very scant WIFI, to socially share what we’re doing. Follow #dancingwithmandy on Instagram.