Coping in Space

I arrive back home from dropping off my youngest this morning and was met by my daughter who was in tears. She told me that she did not want to be in that silence. It is ,”too quiet in there Mum” she said and sobbed on my shoulder. She was referring to her class at college which she has told me, after each of the three sessions that she has so far had, is unspeakably quiet. Literally. It is so quiet that you dont want to speak. Not that his has put her off trying- she has come back from class with mounting stories of her attempts to speak in the space which she refers to as the ‘unspeakable place’.Today though this is a silence she does not want to be in. The thought brings tears and we sit and hug and she cries and we chat.She is overwhelmed with the remberance of her brother having had a seizure the day before last. She was alone in the house and so she was first on the scene , a scene which she responded to exactly as I had told her too previously and from which she was able to get him the right care and keep him safe until the paradmics arrived. What she has been left with though was a memory of the sounds of the tonic clonic moan which, for those that have heard it can be quite alarnming. For the rest of the day and all of yesterday she spent the day talking to her friend – all day; doing work and playing games all while on face time and only when she had to go to bed did she finally hit the power off switch on her TV and end the call. She didn’t want to hear the silence because of what might come out of it but this morning faced with the prosect of the Silent Film Class, a door opened in her mind and let in what she did not want to think about.
It made me think that it is remarkable, the power of the mind and what we will do to fill in a gap that might let in a thought unknown , or perhaps a thought known but not wanted. Either way the mind has a propensity, a duty even to protect and provide an escape from something tht might be a bit unbearable.
15 years ago now, I received a phonecall from my brother in law- well it may have been my Dad but someone to tell me that my sister was going back to hospital three days after giving birth. She had a headache and was confused and the doctor was concerned. I remember thinking “ah maybe that is why she was not that bothered by the picture that my eldest son had drawn of her and her growing family”. What I did not think was that the last goodbye had been the last. A week later she passed away. She was diagnosed with Acute Hemorrhagic Leukoencephalitis, an inflammatory disease of the brain. I remember being told that the hospital had only seen three people presening with this diagnosis up until this point, one had passed and the other two had been left completely incapaticated needing 24 hour care. No – one could help.
Her passing left a space which I have wondered about recently,a space which has been occupied by many distractions, none of which have allowed me to be able to clear the path ahead and make good emotional progress in life. Instead the feelings of grief swim in and out of my days cornered by defenses that usher them out.
I refer to her death as leaving a space but chasm probably better describes the gap that was created. Her passing opened up a hole so vast it reached across by life span, where memories will not be formed and childhood moments that make us, will dissolve without her to help preserve them. A gap where our children have grown apart where their lives would have joined and where I grew a life which is far removed from the one I inhabited in her life-time. I have filled the time with training as a teacher, youth worker and now therapist and of course bearing a son, her nephew, who will never know his Auntie. Less tinged with emotion, its also a space where global events have occured which would have impacted us differently but which we would have experienced and reflected upon together.
This gap in my life went on unprocessed and as we know, if you have read my previous entry , when lockdown began the additinal space that this event created was a bit too much to bear. It was confusing, noisy and chaotic and offered no respite, but and there is a but, as it continued i found it a useful place to be and so decided in the end that I wanted a bit more of it- that perhaps now was the time to actually sit myself right in the middle of it and take what it had to offer.
It has been wonderful, enlightening and so far i have achieved more with all the children in four weeks (and 6 months if you include lockdwn) than in the previous four years, since the youngest arrived. There is routine, laughter, lots of time together, we eat together and conversation flows from each room , between floors. Its been tough financially but the merits of being at home are priceless.
What has been more difficult to bear, is that as time goes on since my resignation, the things which I remember as bothering me but which I didnt want to think about, have slowly crept forward; my sisters death being one of them and I visecrally find myself reacting daily to moments of real space where i have been confronted by panic and sadness. In all my years and all my exeriences I have never paniced which is quite remarkable given, so this is novel and quite honestly, scary.The frequency is becoming infuriating.Sometimes the feeling that there is nothing or no-one to hold onto is unbearable. It takes me to a place where a primitive anxiety lies, which in the words of Esther Bick feels as if, “With every separation and discontinuity (in knowledge of the object, for instance) [is] another unknown dimension, the fall into space”(Bick,198:150). Bick proposed that the infant when unheld in this space, will search frantically for something to hold onto to prevent this fall and I feel as if the work that I have undertaken teaching and caring has prevented me from such a descent. Now, by choosing to put my career on hold, this space is too vast for me to cope with and the panic is the fall into space I have avoided. I am reminded though, of Donald Winnicott whose proposition of the potential space which exists between mother and infant is crucial, to allow the child to grow and cope with the space that stretches out before them in life. This potential space is how we learn to be with ourselves , by ourself.I am encouraged by this concept, feeling that here and now I have my own potential space and although not with my Mother I am with the famliy I have created. Without the previous distractions previous defenses are disarmed and I have the chance to learn to be again. It has felt slightly disconcerting that I have regressed again however perhaps this is where I am meant to be. Shelia Heiti in Motherhood notes that if we are brought back to the same situation more than once, despite efforts to build a different life, perhaps this is our destiny. This is where I am today – feeling that my attempts to cheat on myself with an alternative persona are a denial of where and who I am and I should not be ashamed that I am a mother and a mother alone.

And so I think back on today and I am overjoyed to see that being given space is not interminable to my daughter;where I will stretch the space over years and be unable to find anything to hold onto or will hold on for too long, she with good wisdom embraces the bad feeling she ignored yesterday, then does what we do when sufficient conditions have been created in early life – we reach out and give our fears back to our parents and let them digest it for us.

A bit like the bird who part digests its food for its young – part digesting childrens emotions when they are young, is so important. It allows them to be able to process their feelings for themselves later on and not rely on the effortful and ultimately damaging diversions which many of us create for ourselves.

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