By Arline Rowden
On June 2, 1969, 49 years ago today, my mother, who was 59 years old, died on the way to the hospital after being in a car accident. I was at work when one of my sisters called me to tell me what had happened. I was in shock. At 24, I was the youngest of her seven daughters. My grandparents and an uncle had died before but I was not prepared for the death of my parent. It’s unlikely that any of us are prepared for the sudden death of someone close to us.
I remember going back to work the day after the funeral. I was a mess emotionally but I believed that if I expressed my grief that no one would want to be around me. Being alone with my grief was scary and I didn’t know how to process my grief. So it was pushed down and I moved through each day as best I could. I’m sure it wasn’t the first grief that I didn’t process, so this new grief was added as another layer to the grief I was already carrying around.
Later that month, I realized that I was pregnant. I was in a relationship but not married. We talked briefly about marriage but I decided that I didn’t want to get married and I didn’t feel emotionally stable enough to raise a child. I also felt that my experiences growing up in such a dysfunctional family didn’t give me a foundation to be a healthy parent. I had decided I would give the baby up for adoption so it could have a better chance at a good life than I felt I could give it.
At the beginning of September, I left my job and was going to stay with a friend for a few months until the baby was born. I went home to spend a week with my Dad before moving. While I was there, we received the news that one of my sisters had been murdered (9-13-69) by her recently divorced husband. I remember not being able to sleep that night. It didn’t feel real. How could all of this be happening? My sister had 7 children ages 5 to 15. What would happen to them? Another sister who lived close to her was so traumatized by the event that she was hospitalized.
That week of the funeral was a blur. Our oldest sister and her husband from out east decided they would adopt the 7 children. So I helped them gather some clothes and belongings from their home. At some point, I left and went to live with my friend and her husband. I don’t remember talking about it to my friend. I don’t think she knew what to say.
Those next months until February 5, 1970, when my son was born are a bit of a blur, too. As I look back at that whole time I realize that when one doesn’t process their emotions they actually fog one’s perception of life. I gave up my parental rights in April and moved to another city. I needed to find a job and move forward. At this point, there were many more layers of grief that were stored away within me.
I experienced a lot of depression for years after that time. One therapist called me a high functioning depressed person. I don’t think that was meant as a complement. If I hadn’t tried so hard to hold it all together I might have moved through the pain sooner. I’ve since learned that one needs to go into the pain of the emotions to be able to understand and release them. I needed to acknowledge my feelings and accept them and find a new way of seeing all of these experiences. What were the lessons and how could I use what I had experienced to be of service in the world?
As I healed, I realized that I was able to find compassion in my heart to hold a space, acknowledge and listen to others as they find their way through their pain. It is all part of life. If I resist parts of life, I miss the parts of life that are beautiful and heartwarming. It’s been quite a journey and I’m in a much better place in life now. The layers of grief can be released.