I am a very sad mother. I am a drug addict’s mother. I have had little choice but to delete my son from my life because it became too unbearable to witness any more of his behaviour.
I haven't seen my son in twenty-five years.
My child (born in the late 1960’s) began to die to me when he started using drugs at fifteen. For thirty-six years I have trodden a scary path not of my choosing. It’s a path I would not wish upon another parent as it takes you to the very edge of life and to the deepest part of your soul.
Each year as December begins I think I am doing absolutely fine until the hungry ghosts come searching for me.
I try to hide from them but they sneak up when my back is turned and catch me out. I do everything in my power to bring joy into my life but to no avail.
Last Christmas was a shocker. Now this year I will just meet the ghosts at the door and invite them in to take a place at my table. I will just have to sit with them.
I am done pretending my son never existed for other people's comfort.
Having to face their judgement and shame, their pity, and above all their silence. I must continue on as there is no way out but to sit with the grief of a living child that just clings to life by a knife edge, not fully alive and not dead. Grief is all about the love you cannot give and that’s what makes it so hard as your own love energy has no where to go.
For many years I blotted out my son’s memory as I was bed-ridden for more than 12 years with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). I had no energy to feel. In fact I believe my body was in shock waiting for the fateful phone call about my son.
The total absolute grief I feel about losing my son and living with CFS is beyond words. However, more recently I have built a rich internal tapestry through books and on line healing programs that I may never have had the chance to do if I hadn’t fallen so ill.
Thank-you and many others for your responses to my question: what do you want to achieve in 2020?
I have to say I’ve enjoyed our interactions since I started this series and once again, I love your spirited response.
I don't think I want to achieve anything. Does that sound hopeless or without motivation? What I am trying to say is that achieving is like having a vision of what you want to happen...for me achieving something is pressure to perform, or accomplish.
I admire your resolution and your grounded character. I admire how comfortable you are with yourself.
How I wish I had more of that!
After reading your response I decided to probe my discomfort.
In the last few years, something has happened to make me realise that I have a use-by date. Some might say it has already passed! It’s that small voice in my head that drives me to question (and it is always about the questions)
What do I want to do with the rest of my life?
Some years ago I interviewed a British peer.
Jean Corston was raised on a council estate and left school at sixteen because her family needed the money. Her first daughter died at birth. Jean went back to her studies and became a barrister in her forties.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair made her a peer in 2005 and she became the Right Honourable The Baroness Corston. After a commission to study and report on vulnerable women in the criminal justice system, she became a campaigner for women in prisons.
MaryAnne, the thing that stuck with me most about Jean Corston was something she said about the House of Lords on One Plus One. At first it seemed to her a stuffy organisation which frustrated legislation. But once she got among her new tribe she had a revelation.
I went down and found that it (the House of Lords) was for the people. They were remarkable. I began to realise that these were people who would not have stood for election but who had nothing to prove. They didn’t want anything from anybody. They were beyond ambition.
Well, I cannot say I have reached that stage yet, but I fully intend to. I intend to extend myself by creating work that’s important to me. I hope it's important for other people too. I intend to make the most of my available time to create and experience pleasure and to have purpose.
I love that you are not a people-pleaser MaryAnne:
I don't believe I have to achieve anything, prove anything, or create anything....I think I just have to show up, be willing to do whatever comes, walk through whatever door that opens, be kind and present to whoever is before me... Isn't that achieving something?
I chose an image to go with this post entitled Woman on a Tangerine Ribbon by the Chinese artist Su Xinping. I bought it nearly twenty years ago and I love it. Watching acrobats flinging ribbons across a stage, I visualise a ribbon as having two sides: shiny and matte. The slinky material throws up unexpected bumps, softens and stiffens at inconceivable moments. And yet it doesn't rest.
What I'm saying is that I don't think there is a wrong path.
MaryAnne, thank-you for your provocative and inspiring response.
I will try to post more thoughts before I go on tour with David Suchet in January. Then this series will take a break for a few months.
I want to wish you all a joyous Christmas and a healthy, vibrant 2020. Thank-you for answering my questions. You have helped me so much.
Thank-you for your responses to my question: who do you need to forgive and why?
We are told that this is the 'most wonderful time of the year' yet for many reasons, my spirit feels heavy. Our blue sky has disappeared. Far worse, people have died, lost homes and businesses as a result of the bushfires. There is no rain in sight. Across the ocean, a natural disaster has ensured that some families will mourn while we are supposed to be in the festive season.
My good friend Sarah puts it well:
Christmas is like living in a snow globe. Tensions can flare and old hurts can rise and everyone can feel pretty shaken and vulnerable at the same time as wanting the pretty scene.
Another contributor, Diana, talks about a problem that occurs more frequently than we acknowledge:
My siblings hurt me badly when they engaged a lawyer to keep me from benefitting from my mum's will even though I had been her carer for almost fourteen years. One day I may be able the reach the point of forgiveness but I am not ready (yet).
As for me, I’ve recently been on the end of some criticism that I felt was undeserved. The old desire to get back at this person on the one hand or set them straight on the other, has my brain doing thought-flips. It makes me feel anything but relaxed or festive.
And what does forgiveness really mean? Tim Goodsall asks.
I think of forgiveness as an act of compassion where you aim higher than your thoughts and feelings would have you target. Sometimes action requires the passage of time. Sometimes, you cannot bring yourself to do it. At any time, you have to live with your choice. A good question to ask yourself, as I am asking myself at the moment, is:
“Can I live with this state of mind?”
At vulnerable times like this, I lay down safety nets. I increase self-care and try to keep connections open so that I don’t feel isolated.
On the matter of family disagreements after the death of a parent, I believe it’s important to start those conversations early, and preferably with the parent. Too often we think talking about estates is a taboo subject. Death comes to us all. Consult. Listen. Be your best self. Bring together, don’t split apart. Be fair. Be generous.
If I can return more specifically to the subject of forgiveness, Sarah has some great of advice:
Forgiveness is an action.
I’ve often used this little analogy with clients and in my own mind, that the painful thoughts are making a groove like on a vinyl record. To stop falling into those old dreadful scenarios that can play out over and over - both in reality and in memories - I need to make a new groove.
This takes practise and the more I do that, the more I forgive , the easier it is to fall into the new mind space where I can breathe and relax. It doesn't mean I've forgotten what happened it just means I choose not to carry it anymore.
Or there’s Angela’s forthright approach:
I don’t need to forgive anyone. In fact, I’m over the whole power-based concept of forgiveness. Growing up Catholic I was forever told I was a sinner and unworthy and must seek forgiveness. To die without confessing your mortal sins meant eternal damnation.
To be honest with you, writing this post has lifted my spirits. I know who I have to forgive but in the meantime, I’m grateful that by reflecting and contributing we can help each other a little bit.
Note: In the lead-up to Christmas, I often think of people who have fallen out of my life for whatever reason. Sometimes forgiveness is something we need to do for ourselves more than a public gesture.
Thank-you for telling me about your spur-of-the-moment North American holiday in response to my question: what’s been the most rewarding journey you’ve ever taken.
When I came up with this question, I was making preparings for taking my group to Ethiopia, so I had exotic travel on my mind. However, I wanted people to interpret the question for themselves. So, I put it out there... and I wasn’t disappointed.
Sarah, this community shared stories about risks taken, hobbies discovered, new loves and fresh passions. We learned about sudden and deepening friendships and surprising connections.
You told me about an impulsive decision to take a holiday with your friend after she waved a newspaper ad at you. The trip brought you joy and magic which you still think about four years later!
Sarah, can I share with you one of my most rewarding journeys?
Dear Ms Hutcheon....
One day in October 2017, I got an email from a man in Texas I had never met before. His name is Yuteh Ma. He was born in Shanghai and migrated to the U.S. in the 1980’s. Yuteh had just read my first book From Rice to Riches and in the email wrote that his father had worked for my Mum's family, the Cumines. He mentioned their first names, the big house where they lived. He particularly enjoyed the description in my book of a certain type of Chinese tea - Keemun tea - which has always been the preference of my Mum and her family. Yuteh said his family only ever drank that kind of tea too.
(The Old House)
A few months, a few dozen emails and many FaceTime conversations later, Yuteh and I decided to meet in Shanghai and explore the places where our families had lived and worked. Yuteh’s family history goes back centuries. His mother and brother still live in Shanghai, in modern apartment buildings in the suburbs. However, the era where his Dad worked for my Mum’s Uncle Henry was from the 1930’s to the 1950’s. After the Japanese occupation and then the Communist takeover, Uncle Henry lost all his property, and begrudgingly moved to London.
The entire tale is too long to tell here. However, I did elude to some of my Mum’s story in my parting interview for One Plus One.
Sarah, the most magical moment of the Shanghai trip for me was when Yuteh and I returned to the house where my Mum lived. It was built by Mum's Uncle Henry. Despite Shanghai's modern make-over, it is still standing, in the former French Concession where reminders of the past are tucked into every corner. When the Communists came to power, the house where one large Eurasian family had lived since the 1920's, was subdivided into about six apartments. Incredibly, Yuteh had an old connection to one of the residents. His old friend agreed to show us around.In the grounds of the old house, I was desperate to find the rooftop flat where my Mum lived following the death of her beloved mother Elsie. As Yuteh and I chatted to neighbours near the entrance of the house, I noticed some greenery on top of what used to be a row of garages (Great Uncle loved cars). My Mum often spoke of the rooftop garden. She said part of the roof had been partitioned and built-in to create the room where she stayed.
I asked if I could go onto the roof.
Within minutes Yuteh and I stood outside the door to the little flat. Someone rents that flat now. The residents were not home. As I closed my eyes, it was as if a lifetime of my Mum’s stories danced around me like a grainy virtual newsreel. I could just SENSE that I was in the right place.
Yuteh and I are still friends and we talk about finishing our respective and connected Shanghai stories.
So Sarah, while this particularly journey isn’t yet finished, unlike yours, I marvel at this serendipitous connection and the joy of an interwoven story.