Comfort

Yesterday, I took this selfie at my desk as the sun came in through the window as everyone looks great when kissed by the sun.

Two minutes later, my eldest daughter came home, and said that it looks as if I’m at the end of a movie ready to say something profound, before galloping off into the sunset.

After some discussion, we decided I would go off into the sunset Lego Batman style:

Emmet: Hey, guys? I think we’re about to crash into the sun.
Batman: Yeah, but it’s gonna look really cool.
(The batplane smashes through the sun, creating a batsign.)

My daughter – who isn’t impressed about it – looks just like me, Ruth, who looked like her mother, Jean, who looked like her mother, Phoebe, who probably looked like her mother, Rhoda. I don’t know for sure, as I’ve never seen a picture of Rhoda, ‘cos we are talking 1800s here. But, it doesn’t seem possible that she couldn’t not look like us. I looked so like my mum and her mum that old people would come up to me when I was on the bus or walking down the street and say: Phoebe and shake their heads in disbelief at the carbon copy of a young Phoebe before reminiscing about what a wonderful woman she was.

Consequently, I have always liked my face. It is a friendly face, a familiar face, and one which resonates on such an emotional level with people that they will come up to me to say lovely things for no other reason than to have a moment, to connect. And, that has been a great comfort to me all my life.

I have said on here so many times that we are all looking to be seen, heard, and experienced. We want connection.

Attachment trauma therapist, Alan Roberge describes it beautifully as our noble need for emotional resonance.

In my own mind, I’ve always called this comfort, because connection to others is a massive comfort, it gives our life meaning. We are seen and heard, we feel that we matter. It doesn’t get more comforting than that.

Roberge says that an emotional engagement is a connection with another person who makes you feel nourished, validated and affirmed, and vice versa. And, it is so important, that he describes it metaphorically as going to church. To bear witness to another human being’s noble need for emotional attachment is nothing less than a sacred act. And, if someone cannot do this for us, if someone doesn’t participate in this resonance, then it causes enormous grief within us. And, we have to detach from them otherwise it can damage us. 

Wow! This has summed up for me the reason why I’ve had so many awful interactions for more years than I care to think about. I thought if I gave more, said more, did more, then people would respond in kind and things would be better. But, alas no, I know far too many people who cannot and will not participate in reciprocal emotional engagement no matter what I do, and that causes my heart no end of grief.

They just can’t.

My mum died last year and I miss her terribly and grieve her loss profoundly. Most of last year is fuzzy for me because even though I was going about my day-to-day, my heart was aching and it took a lot of energy just to stay upright, and even though I told many people in the hope of getting some comfort, too many of them just couldn’t. I thought at times that I would go under. I would drown in my grief, the grief of losing my mum. Thankfully, I was surprised by a couple of people who really saw me and held that space for my pain.

Sadly, I missed my mum for such a long time before she died, because for many years she was no longer herself, and had no idea who I was. The first time she didn’t recognise my face – her face – my whole world shifted and I was lost. Had I had people around me who connected to me on an emotional level then it would have helped immensely to ease that pain. Instead, I had to learn to comfort myself.

I tried so many times to rekindle a connection to my mum and to help her remember who she was, and who I was, but she didn’t want to know, and sometimes she would get really angry with me. Oh my, I recognised her then in those moments. She was quite fiery, my mother. But, I wanted her to see me, to know me, to love me. I needed that emotional connection and grieved deeply in the space where it used to be.  And then on the day that she finally died, it was gone forever.  Or, so I thought.

If she was here today, looking at that picture she would probably say two things: 1) I love me, who do you love? and 2) Did you not brush your hair? It looks a mess.

She was a tough love sort of woman which didn’t sit well with me at all, as I am super oversensitive and I irritated her no end. She was always finding ways to toughen me up and would shout at me a lot: You’ll never get through life if you cry like that, Ruth. 

That said, she had a fabulous sense of humour and she could light up a whole room, and as my mum, me mam, she did a zillion loving acts for me, all the time, all through my life. I had forgotten how she loved me, and all the ways in which she demonstrated how she loved me, mired as I was down in the pain and anguish of watching someone I love slowly withdraw from life.

It has taken a good year for all the lovely memories of her to return and comfort me. I was afraid they never would. That she lived for another seven years after the first time she wasn’t expected to live, and pulled back from death many times more before she actually finally left forever, is a testament to her strength, her fierce life force and, her sheer bloody will. 

Over a number of years there was one person who used to reach out to me on my worst days, particularly on days when I had to have really difficult discussions about my mum’s care. The thing is, this person had no idea that they were doing it. We met online and then we met in person a couple of times, and they comforted to me. They would talk to me a lot, until the day that they completely withdrew.

They just couldn’t. 

I grieve this loss but have, hopefully, learnt the lesson of love this grief has to offer me:

This person and I emotionally resonated. We had a mutual love and respect for each other until they decided to shut down all emotional participation. Now they ‘phone it in’ if they respond at all to me reaching out to them. More often than not though, they just totally blank me. I don’t exist. It’s like I have died, which breaks my heart. But, bless their heart, their poor tender heart, because that’s gotta hurt, or at least, it has to hurt to choose to be that numb because their fear of being vulnerable hurts more. 

They just can’t.

However, what they did for me with their ‘before and after’ behaviour – their emotionally resonant and then emotionally dismissive behaviour –  is that they shone a torch on all the other relationships I have in my life with people who are emotionally connected and those who are not. And, this as painful as it is, has been an enormous gift. Now, I am choosing only to cultivate the reciprocal relationships in which there is room for mutual love and respect to flourish, and enrich both parties lives. I no longer look to emotionally unavailable people for comfort. I try not to get attached because the grief is exhausting and the poor excuse for a relationship, ultimately futile.

I owe nothing less to my mother who loved me all her life and wanted what was best for me. Why would I settle for anything that was not sacred? Why would I spend time and energy on people who don’t treasure me?

And, as it’s the end of the blog, the end of the movie, I am ready to crash into the sun,  because why it still shines when my mother is dead I just do not know and some days it is just too much to bear. But then, I remember to take a breath and think about comfort. And, as I look in the mirror at the comforting sight of my mother’s face, her beautiful loving face, I realise that I was wrong, she hasn’t left me at all.

She never can and never will. I can connect to her whenever I want. I just have to look in the mirror and see her.  And, the comfort that gives me is so immense, it makes me cry.  And yes: I will get through life just fine like that, but, to answer her questions: 1) I love me and I love you, and 2) No, I didn’t. I’m growing it out and leaving it curly.

I imagine her tutting and rolling her eyes in her own way – our own way – to which I would say:

Yeah but, it’s gonna look really cool.