And they do insist you say goodbye. I wrote her a letter using photos of her life, and did as I was supposed to, sat down and broke both of our hearts a little more. This is the last photo of both of us I have.
The grief over the year that has followed has been the hardest and most awful thing I have ever experienced, and all the worst for being private, unnatural and atypical. This grief is so complex, grieving despite my girl being alive and, as far as I am allowed to know, thriving, settled and happy. Despite even the hope of seeing her again one day – a hope of which I do not allow myself to live for, because I have no control over how things are explained to her, how black I am painted, or the different person who by 18+ she will be.
Losing my mum less that 3 years ago has taught me a fair few things about grief. It taught me that grief changes. Not in logical progression through the grief cycle, although that describes some of the places it takes you. But it shifts as the months pass, and when you look back over bigger sections of time, 6 months, a year, 2 years, you can see the changes in feeling and thinking. To lose a parent is in the natural order of things – although my mum at 60 was younger than most of us hope that our parents will live to, it is right for us to mourn the passing of our parents. But just as no-one should ever have to lose a child, sometimes the worst grief is of the intangible, the things you never realised you had until they were gone, like health, and purpose, and what might have been.
C.S.Lewis’s ‘A Grief Observed’, which I read after my mum died, has actually been far more useful since my daughter went. He writes:
I once read the sentence ‘I lay awake all night with a toothache, thinking about the toothache and about lying awake.’ That’s true to life. Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.
This resonates with my experience – and whilst there have been some joys this past year, they are always tinged with the sudden remembering that this ‘living with grief’, like a greyness that shrouds my soul, is never far off. I wonder if getting to resolution (or acceptance) requires being able to shrug off the “why?”s and the “what if”s. The “why” – why me, why did a certain person behave like they did, why is addiction so hard to understand – I think I do ok with. The”what if”s can be excruciating. I’m not proud of these thoughts, as I think they walk too close for comfort to self-sabotage, or playing God, but they are slow to remove, moment by painful moment, guided by an excellent counselling relationship through which the Holy Spirit is most powerfully at work.
I talk about her in general conversation less these days. Initially I couldn’t help it, and it made clear the difficulties of reconciling in the listeners’ minds that I was the parent that potty trained my daughter alone, and handled being left at nursery anxieties, and was pretty clued up on which way to cycle with your little one at what age, and also that same person that could not stop drinking under Social Services scrutiny even when the greatest reason for motivation hung in the balance, and then let that little girl go, for a life that I felt I couldn’t provide. Admittedly I haven’t got to meet many birth parents, and I am sure there are many that don’t have quite such a dichotomy in their actions, and seemingly within their souls. But I have found where my safe places are, with those who can sit with spiritual unrest that has no glib answers, where I can let myself feel and remember this beautiful little girl, who remains my greatest pride and joy, and express this odd, hot, painful, twisted grief, for a girl that is gone and yet still there, a grief that, unlike my other experiences of grief, is resolving incredibly slowly, and still burns intensely and deeply.
Where is God in all of this? He remains my comfort in the anger and pain, my defender against Satan having a field day with my guilt and shame, and my heavenly Father, who hears me when I cry, praying for my daughter’s peace, growth and joy in her new life, and with whom I can be utterly vulnerable in my bewilderment at losing my “best big girl”, praying she is in His safekeeping, both now and always.