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GUEST BLOG: From Suppression to Expression: Resurrecting My Creativity to Navigate Feelings of Loss

It’s 12 years to the day that mum passed away. In some ways it feels like an eternity since I last saw her. In other ways, the difficult memories of her last few months are as fresh in my mind as they were when they happened. Having said that, I’m in a very different place to how I felt back then. The fog of the distressing last few months of her life has lifted a little and I do remember her when she was younger and well. But that experience will never leave me completely. I’ve learnt to accept that it will always be with me.

Mum had very lovingly said some wise words along her cancer journey (knowing her prognosis was terminal from diagnosis). One of her many comments of wisdom was that I will always miss her. Just as she always missed her mum. She told me that she’d occasionally have a moment looking out of the window of the family home, which looked down the garden. She would sometimes have a cry, whilst reminiscing about my grandma, the grandma I never had the chance to meet. My grandma came to live with mum and dad when she was terminally ill with cancer and loved to look out of the same window. My grandma passed away just a month before my older brother was born. A close friend of mum recently told me that mum was so stricken with grief, that she was terrified she would reject her soon-to-be-born baby. She didn’t reject her baby, but the fear for her was real.

“Sometimes you’ll just need a big cry, Emma. Then you’ll feel okay again. Even when you’re 50.”

How right she was. There really is no age limit or time limit on grief. For me now, the sadness and upset doesn’t feel quite so intense or bubble up quite so frequently, but it can still creep up occasionally, even after 12 years. It’ll never leave me altogether. It would be a little unnatural if it did, I think. Mum sharing that wisdom with me certainly helped to know that it’s not out of the ordinary to feel that way.

May 2010, I was still in an incredibly sad, low vibe place. My lowest low. Mum had passed away just over a year before, in January 2009. So much had happened in that year since, so many aspects of life were unsettled. There was so much instability felt. There were also so many aspects of mum’s last few months that still didn’t sit well with me, knowing others could be going through similar, avoidable, distressing situations which can come with poorly handled End of Life care. The trouble was, at that time, I didn’t have the physical and mental capacity to process and address everything, all at once.

I knew that writing was a good way to express emotion rather than bottling it up. The Arts and creativity are great for that. When you think about it, The Arts is one of the few social arenas where people encourage the expression of emotion, rather than the suppression of it.

I hadn’t written a poem since school, but I felt an urge to have a go at writing one that day. I sat and I typed a poem on my laptop. I titled it ‘Mother Mary’. Now, it wasn’t intentional that I’d use the same reference for mum as Sir Paul McCartney did for his late mother in his very well-known song (‘Let it Be’, if you’re wondering). I didn’t actually learn until very recently that he wrote that song specifically about his own late mother… but Mother Mary came to me in a subconscious, creative moment, having heard that song on many occasions leading up to this point. **seriously hoping Sir Paul won’t see this as copywrite

Here’s what else came out:

Mother Mary

Mother Mary, she knew,

Like no other would know,

She loved and she cared

Like no other could show.

Affection and embrace are not what we speak of,

True and wise words were the gift of an angel.

Pure and sincere, no complication of lust,

I could trust it would lead to such peace and content,

Important to her as a lung filled with air.

What does it take, to fix and to break.

Words strong and harsh, but kindly meant,

Daggers and swords, she had braved this earth

How is this life of love not a curse?

To have and to hold, if only just once,

Four corners, and lengths, and spheres in reverse.

Mother Mary was great, please help me relate

To the time she was with us, to the time life made sense.

<3 For my late mother, Maria, Nov 1954 - Jan 2009<3

10th May 2010

It was a start. It helped to get some of what I was feeling on paper. To see some words, rather than everything stuck in my head. It was no masterpiece by any stretch, but that wasn’t the purpose of it. The purpose, upon reflection, was to help express my emotions and use creativity to explore my grief and trauma.

People don’t talk about grief often. There’s not much understanding around it either. It still isn’t the social norm to talk openly about difficult experiences. It’s uncomfortable for many people, which unfortunately only perpetuates the issue when you’re actually experiencing something like grief.

One of my biggest hopes is that by sharing my experience of grief and loss, I can help someone going through a tough time and make them feel less isolated. I’m often conscious that people who know me now, and didn’t know me then, see me mostly focusing on the positives in a situation and doing my utmost to acknowledge any issues, but also seeing the blessings. They mostly see a smiley, happy version of me. I haven’t always come from that mindset. It really did and still does take a conscious effort and patience with myself. It also took some very kind and compassionate humans, who listened to me go over and over what happened with mum, trying to make sense of it all. By no means did I get to this point on my own.

If life feels hard for anyone today, know that you aren’t failing, you aren’t unlike others and that a positive mindset doesn’t come naturally when you’re in a really low place. But I’ve found it becomes more natural with time, perseverance and with a caring network around you. Even now, I’ll struggle in some situations. I’ll still have triggers which set me back. My biggest takeaway so far is that, when I was able to ignore other people’s opinions of what I should do and how I should feel (because often judgements will come from others as soon as they start to feel uncomfortable), I was able to say to myself, I feel sad right now, allow yourself to feel sad, go to a quiet space if you need to, expel some tears, shake out some sadness, let your bod do it’s thing and release some sadness. Then remember mum wouldn’t want me to feel sad for too long, wipe the tears and carry on a bit longer. Until the next big cry and release is needed. Because it will be needed. Our bodies don’t do well when we bottle up emotions. My body will tell me when it’s needed again.

Learning not to suppress emotion takes time and pretty in-depth self-awareness and self-development – our fast-paced lifestyles, current social norms and work environments don’t help us learn this quickly either. Understanding that and not making harsh judgments on myself made the grief process much more manageable. As a consequence, over the years, those intensely sad moments have become less frequent and less intense.

Everybody’s story and experiences are different and the methods we choose to acknowledge and address grief and loss are just as unique and individual. But just understanding that both low vibe and high vibe emotions are as valid and important to acknowledge and explore as each other, was a really pivotal part of my journey.

(References: Low vibe/high vibe terminology taken from Rising Vibe – The Rising Vibrational Scale)

Author: Emma Bates

With many thanks to Emma for sharing her story.

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