Being fifty-something, I’ve needed help from others many a time.
Today I clicked on a Twitter link and up popped an image that took me back almost eight years to a time when I needed help. Big time.
The photo was of a local psychologist, a counsellor whose practice is centred around supporting people and their families through the impact of trauma.
I zombie-walked into that very counsellor’s practice a few days after my sister Gay passed away. Her death had been unexpected. Totally. I was right beside her when she slipped away and, when I couldn’t revive her, eventually watched as a team of several amazing ambulance officers did their best to bring her back to life. I was disbelieving. Shocked. Distraught yet weirdly wide-eyed and pumped with an energy I couldn’t dispel.
Some time later that day, between police interviews, desperate phone calls and endless visitors to our house, my sister-in-law pressed a business card into my hand and whispered that I should think about “seeing someone”. I took that as professional advice; my sister-in-law is a psychiatric nurse. And I’m so grateful.
I was scared of a lot of things but a biggie for me was the fear of not coping with the grief that I was certain would envelope me once that adrenaline backed off. More than anything I wanted to be strong and be there for my family. I didn’t want Gay’s death to mean our family fell apart.
And I didn’t want to go crazy.
With the loving support of that lady who popped up unexpectedly on my Twitter feed today, I didn’t.
Our first session was just a few days after Gay died. T (let’s call her that) and I sat in the sun by a north-facing window with a small round table, a glass of water and a ginormous box of tissues between us. We needed them. Both of us.
Over the next few weeks we met regularly, and in that time T:
- Talked me down from my unsubstantiated notion that Gay had been murdered. I hadn’t shared that idea with my family, but I was convinced it was a real possibility. I even had a suspect in mind. T rationalised it with me, convinced me to wait for the Coroner’s Report and then promised, that if there was anything unusual in there that she would support me in going to the police. “It will be our duty,” she said, as if we would go together. Of course, the Coroner’s findings were conclusive. Nothing fishy. Gay had died of natural causes that had kicked in unnaturally early. Fuck Heart Disease. T had circumvented my need to blame someone for Gay’s death and saved me from inflicting even more angst on my family by sharing my suspicions.
- Convinced me not to reach out to the personal trainer who had been conducting our gym session when Gay died. I was compelled to let him know it wasn’t his fault and that I didn’t blame him (whacky when you consider I was so keen to blame someone, anyone). As T so diplomatically pointed out, the PT was a professional and he had his own support network to help him deal with what had happened. I had enough to do coping with my own stuff without getting into his. Right again.
- Taught me the difference between the “press release” spin I put on for the rest of world and the real feelings and self-talk I stuffed down deep inside. No matter how often I told everyone it had “been a privilege” to be with Gay when she died, it had not. It was terrifying and traumatic and damaging. And I still wish it hadn’t been me there with her. And I still feel guilty about wishing. And about surviving.
- Helped me deal with all those little things people say when you’re grieving, the things that get under your skin and grate on your bones and make your eyes roll so far back you see your brain pulsating. Things like “Gay wouldn’t want you to be sad”. And I’d reply (sweetly), “I know” while my inside voice was shouting (washer-woman-like) “how the fuck do you know what Gay wanted? I know what Gay wanted: to be here with us sharing a bottle of red on a Friday night.” T taught me not to blame or judge people for those little well-meaning comments.
- Cried with me. And laughed with me. Wondered about the afterlife and the existence of a greater being with me. Shared some of her own life with me. Accidentally wrote almost half my fee receipts out to “Sheryl Crow” because I reminded her of her, and because our christian names were spelt the same way.
Eventually the time between our sessions stretched out as step-by-step I regained traction in dealing with the day-to-day stuff without T’s support.
Eventually, I just didn’t go back.
I’m not healed. I’ll never be healed. But with T’s support I got through those stonkingly dark weeks and months of uncertainty. I learnt to get on with living and not let the horrendous stuff that happens suck the energy out of everything else.
Because if you let it, it will.
It’s true … Gay wouldn’t have wanted that for me.
She’d have wanted me to “see someone”.