I lost my mum in August. It was very sudden, very unexpected and very traumatic. Eight months on and we still haven’t had the inquest or any legal asset thingamajigs finalised which should give you an inkling into how unusual the circumstances were and how miserable a time it’s been.
It’s Mother’s Day on the 22nd of March. Like all holidays, companies and advertisements are being promoted well in advance but this year there has been a noticeable twist; they are letting you know they know your mum might be dead.
It started with Thortful, a greeting card company you may have seen on Facebook that I purchased cards (Jeremy Corbyn cards as well, now that is a loss I’m definitely still mourning) from once. The quality, delivery and price were great at Thortful but be aware that once you order from them, you are bombarded with emails. Every day, “Hey order a card!” “Yo, here’s a funny joke to make you order a card!” “Hiya, did you like that card you ordered and do you want to order more cards?”, it’s constant. Thanks to that whole GDPR debacle, we can unsubscribe and be free of such harassment within a couple of weeks, but you probably know as well as I do that even a little click of a hyperlink in an email you don’t want to be opening in the first place is a mammoth task right there in the moment. So, like the lazy self-saboteur I am, I just deleted the emails or marked as read for months as soon as they came in, telling myself that eventually I would unsubscribe.
And then came the final nail in the coffin. No pun intended.
I freaked the fuck out. A total stranger was trying to relate to how I would feel in the very new wake of my mother’s death. Christmas, New Year’s Day and Eve, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, Burns Night, they all happened before Mother’s Day but I didn’t hear a peep. Why so direct on this one occasion?
How did they know? How do I shake off this ‘Girl-With-Dead-Mum’ title hanging over my head once and for all? Was I supposed to be dreading the day? Was I a bad daughter for not shrouding around in black in preparation for one day I’d forgotten about?
It took a minute and a couple of screenshots from other people to realise it was most likely a blanket email and not targeted to any group of people in particular. Some people in my same predicament actually praised Thortful’s sentiment, and in the coming weeks more companies offered to ease my future suffering by generously allowing me to opt-out of those violently triggering emails if my little heart desired it. As I say, for some people, that was a nice gesture.
I thought it was fucking disgusting.
I want to make a couple of disclaimers here (though I don’t know why I bother making disclaimers anymore. Despite constantly tip-toeing and making sure I say on every tweet, status, post and spoken sentence that “It’s only my opinion and I’m not an expert and there’s other people out there and I’m not telling you what to do and oirfoijesrifjapsomfcskfjap…” a man will find me and tell me how silly and short-sighted I have been and demand I justify my answers and opinions right there and then. I thought it was pretty obvious these posts are OPINION pieces and I am entitled and equally qualified to make observations about culture and society as any man with a keyboard that thinks I need critiquing is. But they come through anyway, striking up “debate” without any foundation to even make small talk with me on, and not offering balance which you do need in a civil discussion; what you’re doing is actually just loudly disagreeing. That’s fine, but why do you think I want to hear it? I don’t. Stamping your opinion all over me when you disagree with me is not helpful to my writing. There is no feedback to be had from that. You don’t like my ideas. That’s fine. Bitch about it, share my links and ridicule them, comment on the blog as a visiting reader, block and delete me. But do you really have to find me personally and be all “Well ACTUALLY…” if you disagree with what I’m saying? Make your own blog sweetheart. Tell me about factual errors, if I’m endangering people, or if I’ve spelled something wrong. Otherwise fuck off).
First disclaimer is, I don’t know if that rant is grammatically appropriate for brackets.
Second disclaimer is that grief is not linear and there is not a universal one-fits-all way of showing it. How I deal with grief could be incredibly damaging and saddening to another person. Society loves rules and it loves expected behaviors. It’s how we separate the good from the bad and the safe from the unsafe. But grief and psychological response to traumatic events defies any rule or schedule you can try to give it, and what I’m about to say is only what my brain thinks is the best response to Thortful’s email and dealing with grief in general.
Something I have really struggled with throughout this process is how much it feels like everybody is waiting for you to break down. People don’t seem to grasp that you can be hurting whilst being functional, that any instance where I can go about my day normally doesn’t mean I’m ignoring my grief or trying to forget my mum. I want to process my feelings on my terms. But people want you to talk and talk and taaaaaalk about the death constantly and it feels like they’re waiting for the “GOTCHA!” moment where they can reveal that ha HA, you thought you were coping but I wore you down, I know you better than you do, after my interrogation and forcing you to recount traumatic events you CRIED, HA, I KNEW YOU WEREN’T REALLY OKAY! It’s not that I don’t want to ever talk about my mum or how I’m coping, it’s that I don’t want to talk about that stuff with you.
When you have an anxiety disorder like me, you spend a lot of time analysing your behaviour and how your thoughts and emotions work and connect to each other. Stepping outside myself to do emotional damage control and being introspective enough to pick apart why I do certain things comes pretty easily to me now. I don’t deny anymore. I know my triggers and my slippery slopes. I’ve worked with psychologists, counselors and doctors over the years to fully understand how my mind works and why I react to things the way I do. I have my support system in place and know when I need to reach out. I give myself a break but ensure I have routines in place. So honestly, as nice as people intend to be when they bring up how they feel sorry for me because my mum’s dead and then corner me to force me to share my private thoughts and feelings; I can handle it by myself.
I don’t want to talk to you about my mum’s death because even if you’ve been through the same thing, you don’t understand how I feel. Any attempt to pluck a breakthrough Good Will Hunting therapy moment with me feels insincere. You can’t give me what I need by callously prodding at me in public. My sadness is done behind closed doors, without distraction and without judgement. I am private about my sadness because I’m more comfortable that way, but I am not in denial over the loss of my mum and the tears that I will always cry over that.
I don’t think I will forget that my mum died for as long as I live. I live in pain from it every day. There are parts of my mind and memories I can’t even visit and may perhaps never be able to because it is too painful. Every time I re-realise I’m never speaking to her again, my stomach squeezes itself and I feel my eyes starting to look sad. When you love someone so deeply and sincerely, everything in the world reminds you of them and everything you ever experience is connected to them in some shape or form.
And yet Thortful thought I’d forget that unless I saw their oh-so special email promoting Mother’s Day.
Society is run by corporations. Social media affects our supposedly democratic elections for Christ’s sake. So I’m not surprised when companies inflate their worth in their customer’s lives in their robotic, money-making minds at all, but it still pisses me right off.
I wanted to email back saying, “How dare you. If I’m so horrifically affected by a fucking greeting card company mentioning that Mother’s Day is indeed still a thing that didn’t cease to exist when my mum died, I’d make fucking sure I’d done all I can ALREADY to mute any correspondence associated with it. Thanks for assuming I am both selfish and stupid. Cheers love, yours sincerely, Girl-With-Dead-Mum xoxoxox”, but it’s not Thortful Sophie’s fault.
That is how it feels though. Mother’s Day might make me sad. Like I said before, grief is not linear. It makes it a fun little game because you could be absolutely fine one day and crumbling down the next. You can’t even prepare yourself for triggers; I was reasonably okay at my mum’s funeral, the day when you think I’d be most upset. But then not long after, I went to my GP for a medication review and started sobbing uncontrollably when she said the word ‘Tablet’ because it reminded me of how my mum was crazy for tablet, the Scottish delicacy.
That doesn’t mean I spend every day in anticipation of being devastated on certain days though. In all honesty, I’d forgotten about Mother’s Day. I usually do until a week before. And yet an email that was made to spare feelings that I didn’t even have yet, conjured up more worries and panic in that moment than what I (now) am expecting to feel on the actual day.
Corporations are getting way too encroaching. They’re like a new being sharing the space of the planet. There’s humans, plants, animals, and corporations. The trouble with this is, corporations are trying to act like pally humans more each day, and humans are starting to act more like corporations every day.
As I said before, what works for my grief will not necessarily work for everyone. If you want to support a friend, colleague or family member while they’re grieving, you need to unfortunately listen to them and know them well enough to recognise the unique signs that mean they’re not doing so well. Unlike Thortful, you don’t have a wholly sincere and incredibly personal email you can send that will erase all feeling of loss and improve their lives in an instant. You and your person are humans, not corporations.
Some corporation-minded people have done the wrong thing for me while I’ve been grieving, that I will say, and I do think some of it can actually be applied to anyone going through grief. Here are some of the few things you shouldn’t do to anyone while they’re grieving:
- Don’t apologise for not going to the funeral. The day is a total blur and they have enough to focus on. You will know if you should be there, so if you’re not there, odds are the grieving party weren’t looking for you or refusing to start proceedings until they saw your face. To be blunt, someone has just died; they don’t care where you are.
- Don’t encourage any life-altering or big decisions to be made in the immediate aftermath. When you are grieving, your head is all over the place and you are in no position to be making permanent arrangements while you’re essentially in shock. Yes, moving home or going inter-railing might help, but don’t chance it while you’re scrambled in the head. Tell your person to breathe, sleep on it, and revisit in a few months.
- Don’t reassure someone that they don’t have to be ‘brave’ in front of you. If someone is being solemn and reserved, odds are it is not for your benefit. For some people, that is a way they can comfortably cope with overwhelming situations. For others, they get hysterical in private and simply have already used up their mourning energy earlier that day before you saw them. For a lot of people, playing the part of normalcy makes them feel good about themselves. When you reveal that you think they’re acting brave, regardless of whether it’s true or not, all you do is make that person feel that they’re not convincing you. Their safety net has been rumbled and now they feel awkward, shitty and like everyone is judging them, all because you wanted to come across as the little holier-than-thou guardian angel you think you are.
That’s about it though.
It’s also tough for the surrounding people in a grieving person’s life for that reason. You’re having to navigate this process of loss yourself in how you respond to someone’s grief and what you do to make that person feel safe and loved. It is really tricky, but all you can do is listen to what they tell you, let them know you are there for them, and make sure they know there is no pressure for them to behave any particular way or do any particular thing. You’ll know the little personal touches like their favourite foods or if they would appreciate getting out of the house, but that comes with ‘knowing the person well’ territory and can’t be applied in a blanket way across society.
Whatever you do though, if I’m your grieving friend, don’t send me a fucking email about it.