'The Long Road'

"I wrote the poem 'Emptiness' about 11 months after our beautiful and much loved daughter, Kathryn Mary died as the result of a heroin overdose.

It was in those dark days that the words of George Eliot in “The Mill on the Floss” came to hold so much meaning for me.

“There is something very sustaining in the agitation that accompanies the first shocks of trouble, just as an acute pain is often a stimulus, and produces an excitement that is transient strength. It is in the slow changed life that follows – in the time when sorrow has become stale and no longer an emotive intensity that counteracts its pain – in the time when night follows day in dull unexpectant sameness, and trial is a dreary routine – it is then that the despair threatens; it is then that the preemptory hunger of the soul is felt, and eye and ear are strained after some unlearned secret of our existence, which shall give to endurance the nature of satisfaction.”

Eliot wrote these words over 140 years ago, but I feel sure that the feelings expressed will be all too familiar to anyone who has lost a child. “It is not right – it is not the order in things in life as is meant to be” is our anguished cry. All our beliefs are shattered and in our despair, we often question the meaning of life itself.

So what does life hold for me now, over 11 years after that tragic day we lost our daughter?

I still miss her, sometimes unbearably so and I have come to accept that I always will. There has not been a day since Kathy’s death that I have not thought of her – often with sadness, sometimes still with gut-wrenching pain, sometimes with anger that she took the terrible risk that cost her life and thankfully now more frequently, with joy – joy that she was our daughter and for the many wonderful memories she gave us in the 28 years we were so lucky to share with such a special person.

Every time I look at our lovely granddaughter, I feel blessed to have this living memory of our daughter, always tinged with dreadful sadness that Kathryn is not here to share the joy of watching her daughter grow into a beautiful young woman.

For a long time, people asked me “Have you recovered yet?”, “Is life back to normal now?” whilst others commented encouragingly “It’s good to see that you’ve learned to live with it” or “It’s great you’re getting on with life again.”

The answer to their questions was an emphatic “No” and I have still not learned to live with the fact of Kathy’s death – I have learned to live around it”

Any effort to rebuild a life as it was before is doomed to failure. The pieces that made up the jigsaw of my life were broken and scattered the day Kathy died and I know I can never put them back together as they were. Vital pieces are missing and others are altered or damaged irreparably.

There were many difficult lessons to learn.

I learned that the gaping hole that our daughter’s death left in my life will always be there. The earth around that hole has firmed and I tread the paths around it much more confidently. For many years, often without any warning, I stumbled and fell. When this happened, the despair was as black and engulfing as ever and the pain of my loss as unbearable as that of a new, raw gaping wound. With time, the difference was that I knew I could climb out of that hole again and that the length of time between falls would increase.

The lack of support from some friends and the estrangement that followed was a bitter pill to swallow. The death of a child, at any age and whatever the cause, is every parent’s worst nightmare. Death from a drug overdose brings its own special horror. Some people do not know what to say, so they simply say nothing. Others make “sympathetic” comments such as “Well you must have expected this” or “She’s probably at peace and better off now” or “At least you know where she is now.” I really wanted to scream when people said “I know how you feel. When my mother died” ---- or even worse “when my dog died---.” I’m sure these people meant well but the death of a child is not the same as that of an elderly parent and certainly not that of a pet, no matter how loved! Moreover, the overriding sorrow is for the death of your child, not the cause of death.

Yet I learned that anger and bitterness are so destructive to the one who feels them and that letting go is a healing experience. I found it much more valuable to turn to and be grateful for the friends who were there when we needed them. Sometimes that support came from the most unexpected sources, making it all the more special and valued.

The most special people in the world for me are my family. I have always loved them dearly, but Kathryn’s death taught me that nothing is certain in this life and it is important that we value and make the most of every day. Not one of my wonderful family or friends can ever “fill the aching emptiness that Kathy’s death has left for me”. I know that now and just treasure them, not only because they have helped me to live around that hole, but because they each bring their own unique brand of happiness to my life.

The journey has not been an easy one and for many years I wondered where I was going and indeed would I actually ever get anywhere. There were so many days when I felt I was not achieving anything and I really struggled. But I accept now that very few journeys in life are always in a forward direction – certainly not this one.

Yet without the Palmerston Bereavement Group and the wonderful counsellors who guided us, I strongly suspect I may not have even started down that road. It was all just too hard. The shared pain and grief, the collective wisdom, the permission to grieve without fear of judgment, the compassion, the love and support offered there cannot be measured. Their value is beyond words and both my husband and I will be forever grateful that in the darkest days of our life, we found a glimmer of light at Palmerston.

The support and comfort we found there was really an extension, albeit at a deeper level, of what is available to any member of a family dealing with problem drug use within their ranks. I strongly urge anyone in this situation to avail themselves of the family counselling, individually or in a group, provided by caring people specially trained to assist families. This is available whether the drug user is in treatment or not.

Of equal value, particularly when used together with counselling is a Family Support Group, where the understanding, non-judgmental support offered is an enormous help in relieving the terrible sense of fear, guilt, blame, anger, despair and isolation so often felt by the families of drug users. Again, I urge people to join one of these groups and discover you are not alone in your suffering, but able to share experiences and coping strategies with people in a similar situation to yourself.

As a result of all that has happened, my values have changed dramatically and my priorities in life rearranged. In the words of a good friend who had also endured the agony of losing a child, “You learn to cut all the shit out of your life, leaving only room for what really matters.”

I have come to accept that my life will never be the same again, but that I could build a new life and it could be a good one. At one time I would never have believed it could happen, but there are so many days when I can say with feeling that my life holds much happiness. To the wise and caring counsellors and my fellow travelers in the Bereavement Group I say a heartfelt ‘Thankyou.”

True Stories

"You guys really stood by me when the chips were down. I've felt totally supported through my journey.... I'll always think back to my time here with fondness. Thanks guys."

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