Here comes the run up. The countdown. Ticking away in the back of my head – an unseen metronome or a daily calendar shedding pages like autumnal leaves. I can see it coming through the fog of future days and I anticipate the dates, bracing myself for a flood that will come down on me. I’ve felt it for almost eleven years and yet here I am; my brain working its way through frantic moments, second guessing every feeling that passes through. But, despite growing accustomed to the sadness that the time of year brings I never consciously, or unconsciously, prepare the sand bags or walled defences.
It’s called, in the mental health community, “Anniversary Reaction”. The brain takes snapshots throughout life and some, obviously, take in upsetting views opposed to happy moments. So, as I ease into the New Year my brain is already browsing the banks of pictures we’ve stored. Memories slip into dreams and change the landscape of thinking. Each year I get to a certain point in January and it clicks into place… “Oh, that week is coming up”.
I’ve been having bad dreams a lot recently as my brain begins to prepare itself or sort through the emotions that will certainly arise. My dreams have been a jumble of seeing my daughters ill, or dying. A recent nightmare consisted of me knowing that my older daughter had been in an accident and she had died, but we weren’t allowed to visit the hospital. In another, my youngest went missing and no matter what we tried, we couldn’t find her. Each night my subconscious is tinged with this darkness and it seeps into my daytimes, bringing on a bout of depression.
That’s where I am right now, and it was only as I walked out of my flat this morning and locked the door behind me that I paused. My key still in the lock, my fingers tightening on the key; It’s only two weeks away. Before I was aware, my breathing began to speed up and images flew through my mind.
Every day recently I’ve noticed my mind lingering on the negative, more than usual. I notice patterns or the lack of them in my daily interactions. I fabricate and concoct situations both knowingly and unknowingly in order to distract myself from what’s really coming. I’m training my mind for the inevitable race in February, when the third day of the month rolls around and I get thrown back through the years to that day, to that moment. When it all changed.
I felt like I had reached a point in my grief where I’d come to terms with what had happened. I began to feel like I’d made my peace – I wasn’t as angry as I’d been in the past and thinking of my daughter, Amelia, was becoming easier. Now I realise that although I have made my peace with the fact that she is no longer her, her actual death is still fresh. I’m still angry. More importantly, I’m still mourning for the life that could have been. And I don’t really know how to deal with that or adjust that process.
I began reading about Anniversary Reaction and Mourning, finding a lot of information about feeling depressed and not knowing why until the realisation falls into place. Most of the things I read talk about repressed memories and how they surface with aid from an external source, but that doesn’t feel right or really capture how I’m feeling. But maybe I am repressing it myself? Maybe that really is why, at this time every year, the emotion creeps up on me.
When I sit here and begin to unpack how I feel, it isn’t her death that becomes forefront, it’s her dying. A better way to look at it; her actual death and the fact that she is no longer here is something I live with. It’s hard, but death happens to everyone – even when it’s out of line with life – so we have to accept that it happens. What I come back to, is her time in hospital and watching her die. That is what I’m repressing. Or at least, not dealing with. The idea that I stood by her bed and watched as she slipped away is what hurts. And then we come to the biggest problem and one that I’ve never truly learned to accept or handle; that I gave permission for life support to be removed.
It’s something I come back to often and despite what others – personal and professional – might say, I will always feel a semblance of responsibility. Amelia didn’t die alone, and on one hand that makes me feel better – I took control of the situation and removed any chance that she might suffer or be in pain. However, nobody can prepare you or cushion you when that decision has to be made. I didn’t kill my child, but the subconscious mind doesn’t recognise that at all times. A quick Google doesn’t bring up any hits that could help me come to terms with this and family or friends repeating a mantra of good will doesn’t put a stop to those thoughts.
And that, quite likely, explains why I feel so angry and why I repress the idea that the anniversary of her death approaches. I’m not blocking out her death, I’m blocking out her dying. I’m blocking out that conversation. Because those images that flashed through my head this morning were of the room where I heard the news; the look on the face of family when I told them the decision. I saw the private room she moved to and the act of the doctor removing the life support. I saw her last moments as she faded from life. The snow fell outside, her chest stopped moving and she was lifted into my arms. That is what I saw and that is what I run from.