I suppose it’s quite natural to not feel happy after a major bereavement. I can’t say I’m UNhappy, just not happy. I didn’t ever feel guilty about laughing or having fun after my mother died though I know many people do and I understand that – in fact I felt guilty about not feeling guilty which I suppose serves the same self-flagellating purpose. Bizarrely I booked a mediterannean cruise less than a week after my mother died so I obviously didn’t feel that it was unacceptable to enjoy myself, though frankly I still have nooooooo idea what I was thinking – not much thinking involved I suspect, just an empty hole of a life that I was trying to fill up. On the upside, we had a lovely cruise around the Med in August.
What I feel is that I don’t quite fit in my skin anymore. Who am I, if I am not my mothers daughter?
I think the feeling is magnified when you have been caring for someone who is ill alongside other responsibilities (in my case as a single parent). Then that is taken away from you and you still keep your phone next to you through the night for a while just the same, and your child who has needed so much support starts getting themselves to school and disappears off to their room to play loud music (“Have you ever heard of Black Sabbath, Mum?).
Even my name is not quite me anymore. “Susan” to my mother always and forever, never anything else. And mostly to friends at school in Wales too – no-one shortened it for some reason. Then at University, “Sue” began, with my new home-counties friends and it swelled llike the spring tide over the years, through jobs and new friends and a new life in England. I never once introduced myself as “Sue”, my business cards all say “Susan” and my email signature does too. But the world will have it way and so “Sue” I became. And I got used to it and even became quite fond of it. But never to my mother, my mother held that tide back like a matronly red-haired King Canute, not because she was so very powerful or so very determined but because she used it so much more than anyone else. Probably more than everyone else put together.
We spoke frequently, met frequently, laughed frequently, argued more often that I’d care to admit and I was Susan through it all, over 53 years.
I miss that voice calling me Susan.
So now I am “Mum” more often than I’m “Sue” and “Sue” more often than I’m “Susan” – it sounds like the beginning of a riddle ending “Who am I?”
I don’t think my identity crisis began with my mothers death but before – a common angst in parents of teens who are suddenly less dependent physically (we’ll leave the emotionally draining side for now). I seem to have been a mother or planning to be a mother for a long time probably heading for 20 years if you factor in the failed fertility treatments and adoption process. And as a lone parent I haven’t had the luxury of building in me-time over the years, particularly with a child who couldn’t be left with babysitters only my mum and who had terrible separation anxiety even with her. It was never a chore, I adore him so much that I would not only die for him (I can actually think of several children close to me I’d die for in the hurtling juggernaut scenario) but I would kill for him, if anyone hurt him I do feel able to kill them coldbloodedly and laughing maniacally. (Editors note: you do realise that I don’t actually anticipate this with relish regardless of how I make it sound?)
But my lovely boy will not be well served by me living my life through him and the best gift I can give him (in addition to the secret family gravy recipe) is to free him of the responsibility of worrying about me
So I am off to find my happiness. A little bit like an adventure of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet.
I might have dropped some of it in unlikely places or carelessly left it behind in bus-stops; some of it will no doubt be found in the practical and some in the emotional and I may even stray into a kind of mindfulness despite the fact that I am the least “mindful” person I know, because happiness often lurks in everyday things and when looking and listening carefully you can catch it unawares and hold onto it for a little while.
I plan to document the quest and how and where I find my happiness, just in case you need some too and you coincidentally left it in the same place.