If

by Penny Lane

A woman I barely know says she understands what I’m going through; she can imagine the horror of losing a daughter.

‘I couldn’t go on with life if I lost mine,’ she says.

I wish that ‘if’ was mine. The woman’s ‘if’ means she cannot understand. 

She cannot understand that when my daughter died at 34 from breast cancer, I lost not only her, but I lost all the people she had been. I lost my baby, my toddler, my growing girl, my friend.

The woman cannot understand how grief pierces me in unexpected moments. Maybe I see young women laughing together in a park, infants in their arms; maybe I hear someone calling out ‘Mum’; maybe I catch a passing conversational fragment, ‘My daughter said to me . . . .’

She cannot understand how I hold two conversations while I talk with her. One is a silent, half-imagined conversation with my daughter.

She cannot understand the searing sadness when I sense my daughter close by, yet, so impossibly far, like a tip-of-the-tongue word that never comes.

She cannot understand the urge to run along a night-lit street or an empty beach or a disappearing bush track, calling, calling, calling my daughter’s name to find her and bring her back.

She cannot understand that memories which once were happy now bring tsunamis of sorrow. She cannot understand the confusion of wanting memories and mementos, but not wanting the pain they bring.

She cannot understand that the memory of sitting with my daughter in a hospital waiting room and my daughter’s gentle nudge and her ‘clever, Mum’ when I worked out a crossword clue makes me want to return to that hospital lounge to feel the nudge and hear the ‘clever, Mum.’ She cannot understand my yearning to walk the hospital’s corridors to catch a memory or a molecule of my daughter.

She cannot understand how it felt, each time I opened the spare room wardrobe, to see my daughter’s wedding dress (‘Will you make my wedding dress, Mum? I want to wear a dress made by you.’) She cannot understand how the pain of the dress drove me to throw it in the bin and cover it with muddied garden debris so I didn’t give in to the temptation to retrieve it. She cannot understand the pain of hearing the bin emptied into the garbage truck.

Every week the bin empties into the garbage truck. 

The woman cannot understand that time doesn’t heal, time steals. It takes my daughter further from me. She cannot understand the awfulness of four years of growing away from the sight, the sound, the feel of my daughter. She cannot understand the desperate ache of that relentlessly growing gap between my daughter and now.

The woman with her ‘if’ cannot understand that this grieving life has to go on. For my grandson, twelve months old when his mother died, and whose glowing-eyed, dimpled smile is heart-piercingly hers.

If only this grief wasn’t mine to understand.

6 months ago