Grief and Generational Trauma

Learning that I’m not quite as alone as I thought on this road to recovery.

This blog entry includes some of my Instagram posts so if you follow me there it may feel like repetition. I’ve had a really hard week and wanted to try to gather my thoughts on it all in one place.

My grandpa died a week ago today. I went to work because I thought it would be good to keep busy. I had cried four times before 9am the day after finding out but I stayed in work, I didn’t feel like I had a choice. It felt important to keep going, keep moving/thinking/talking. Plus my attendance record is appalling and I didn’t need another absence.

Grief is such a powerful force. It crashes through the centre of you in waves with no warning. All of a sudden you are reminded of the loss. A longing to speak to the person. The pain of remembering times you will never be able to get back.

And each new grief reminds you of all the other griefs. It brings with it a tsunami of memories of all the people you long for that are no longer in your present life.

When I told my four year old son that his great grandpa had died he dropped his head and his eyes filled up. He said, ‘it feels sad in here’ and put his hand on his chest. He’s right, it does… it feels so sad inside.

I text Anna as soon as I found out saying, ‘My grandpa died today. I postponed my last visit to him because I was tired, I feel awful. I should have gone. I’m sorry to text you, I know we don’t do text chats but my first thought was to tell you. I’m really gutted 😢’ I didn’t think she’d reply but she did send me a message back within half an hour and stepped outside her normal boundary to say, ‘I’m so sorry to hear about your grandpa but glad you have told me. That is very sad news. You looked after yourself, that is self care and nothing to feel bad about. Maybe take some time to yourself, and think of the many times you had together. The times we have with loved ones are special, please don’t dwell on one missed visit. Be kind to yourself, spend time with Luna and your family. Take good care of yourself.’

It really went in… I felt it, her care. I really believe she was pleased I reached out to her and that she wanted to be there for me. I asked her for a session on the Tuesday but she didn’t have any time for me. She said, ‘unfortunately there have been no cancellations.’ I do actually believe that she wanted to be there for me. I did want to see her but also felt relieved that I could just stay at home. I’ve been feeling so tired recently. I just wanted to sleep.

The following day Anna sent me a message out of the blue asking if I’d like a phone call. I jumped at the offer. She said she would call me at 7.30pm and she did just that. Something about that consistent, reliable care is both intoxicating and terrifying to me. It made a part of me melt and a part of me panic. I never experienced consistency and reliability and trust with my parents – this is going to be a massive part of my restorative healing process with Anna. Letting her be the things I lacked and believing I deserve it.

I didn’t even know what to say to her when I answered the phone… she said, ‘let’s start by thinking about what made you say yes to a call to begin with…’ I said, ‘because I wanted to talk to you. I’ve just been feeling so much since grandpa died and I knew you’d know what to say. You know me and you understand more than anyone that this is a whole new world of grief for me now I’m not numb anymore. I thought you’d know what I’m going through…’ she said, ‘yeah, I do.’ I talked a bit about my grandpa and my realisation that this grief is the same as the grief I feel about my childhood. We talked a little about that but I could tell she was keen to keep me ‘in my adult’ for the 20 minutes of the call. She talked about how it’s important to tend to my small child parts too. ‘Make sure your having lots of cuddles with Luna and that you’re telling Little Lucy that it’s okay and normal that she’s grieving. She needs your love and compassion now more than ever… she is grieving all the memories she has with your grandpa. I know you can do it because you’ve done if for your own children.’ She said, ‘Remember it comes in waves. You’re allowed to feel okay in between the sadness. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling.’ As the plans for the funeral are underway I feel the stress and family chaos building. There’s just so much to do and think about and so many different opinions to take into consideration.

Like I said to Anna on the phone, I have noticed that this grief is familiar to me. It feels exactly the same as the pain I feel in my chest when I think about my childhood or my mother. The longing for it to be different. The grief of it all is the same as the grief of someone dying. I’m actually feeling it now instead of being numb to it.

I’ve managed to talk to Adam a bit more than I usually would about how I’ve been feeling. I’ve been so overwhelmed by the emotions that I’ve not been able to hide it from him. Randomly crying in the middle of making the dinner or watching tv. My husband and I have been together for over 18 years. We met when I was still living with my mother. He witnessed a lot of what was going on and we talked about it at the time but then as the years went on it felt natural to let all of that stay in the past. We rarely bring it up these days. A couple of years ago when I was working with my first therapist I asked Adam, “when you first came back to the house and saw the chaos, didn’t you think ‘I want to get the hell out of here and away from that’ to protect yourself from it all?” He said with complete sincerity, “no Lucy I thought, ‘I want to get her the hell out of that house and away from all that chaos!’ I wanted to protect you.” His words mean so much to me. They say ‘I saw it all, I saw the way it was and it WAS that bad’. It’s so immensely validating.

Recently I shared with him a story I’ve never told him, about a time when my mother deeply betrayed my trust when I was a child. He said, ‘you grew so kind and so caring when these things could easily have turned you to stone.’ I work so hard at letting his words reach me. Ignoring as best I can the shouting snarls of the inner critic.

The other night he noticed I’d been crying and he said, ‘I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this grief, on top of all the pain and overwhelm you’re already going through. It’s so unfair. I was thinking about you today when I was at work. I imagined this barren, destroyed waste land, like a nuclear fall out space… and a lone green shoot pushing up out of the cracks. You are that green shoot – resilient and determined. You’re doing all this work by yourself, despite how painful it is, pushing up out of the shit that you came from… I really admire what you’re doing you know…’

My dad spoke to me the other day of how he got to know my grandpa so much better in recent years since my grandma died. He told me how my grandpa was like a broken man on the inside. How he would cycle round have these very dark periods where he’d repeat what a failure he was, that he believed he was a coward, a useless human. This is the man who dedicted his life to serving others. My dad told me that grandma hid (and managed by herself) years of grandpas mental health dips. But there was more that my dad learned… my grandpa’s father was a sensitive man who had been signed up to the army and forced to be a machine gunner in the First World War. I can’t imagine what that would do to a young man. There’s undiagnosed, untreated PTSD right there. Then he met the life of his life when he was quite a bit older and they got married, shortly after became pregnant with my grandpa. My grandpas mother died in childbirth. So from his first breathe he was motherless… born into trauma. Within my grandpas first 9 years of life his grandma and his aunt (both of which had cared for him) died. So much loss in such a young life. Trauma inherited. Layers of it. My dad told me he could hear his own inner voice in the words my grandpa would say about himself. I told my dad that those words had been passed down to me and my brother. Generation upon generation of trauma, self hate, abuse, neglect, loss.

It has to stop with me.

Thinking about Adams analogy of the lone green shoot pushing up out of the barren landscape reminds me of the community here and on Instagram – of all the people who are swimming upstream trying to heal their wounds. There are so many lone shoots of green, pushing towards the sky and away from the trauma that we ‘grew in’. What we are doing is having a greater impact than we realise. A ripple affect far stronger than the fall out that tried to destroy us.

I had a really holding session with Anna on Saturday, in the middle of all of this. We sat next to each other. It was quiet and slow. I talked about the funeral arrangements. I shared a couple of memories of my grandpa and showed her some pictures of him. She reminded me to not let myself get pulled into the games that everyone else was playing and to try to focus on my needs and my well-being.

I eventually pulled Luna out of my bag after talking quite a lot about the anxiety I felt about showing her to Anna. I sat her on my knee and Anna was so delighted I’d brought her. I handed her over to Anna and watched as she held her between her hands and spoke to her, then made Luna speak back. She said she could see why I’d fallen for her and that she wanted to keep her. It was lovely to watch. I wanted Anna to hug her but she didn’t. I think part of me felt like I was watching Anna holding a very young part of me. I will bring her to future sessions and maybe we’ll progress to that.

Anna reminded me of how precious the memories of my relationship with my grandpa are. She told me that however I feel is just fine. That it’s okay if I feel numb (which I did in the session) and it’s okay if I’m crying my eyes out (which always happens to me at funerals). I’m seeing her the evening before the funeral as well which is amazing. Feeling very well supported and held through this. I think she understands how much more painful this feels for me now that I no longer block all my feelings.

I’ve been writing a letter to my grandpa. In it I’ve told him how grateful I am for all that he did for us and all that he shared. I’ve also apologised for not visiting him the week before he died. The guilt I was feeling over that was immense but Anna has helped ease it. I’ve also told him that I am working hard at untangling the web of trauma that has been laced between and around our family for hundreds of years. That I am not just doing it for me, for my children or for generations to come… I’m also doing it for him and grandma, their parents and all who were before them. Those who lived in a time where mental health was not as well understood and help and care was not so easily accessible.

Interestingly I learned recently that my grandpa actually saw a transactional analysist for some time in his early adulthood. I don’t know if I’ll ever find out more about that but it’s comforting to know that he did try to heal things. My dad also saw a psychologist as a teenager. Perhaps I can see the work I’m doing as a link in a chain. Not an isolated shoot… maybe there are other shoots around me that died but their roots fortified my roots…?

Not sure if any of this is making sense, but here it is anyway.

17 thoughts on “Grief and Generational Trauma

      1. slantgirl

        also, it’s an immensely powerful thing to say ‘this stops with me”
        i’m going to send you a cool image on insta that i found about precisely this

        Liked by 1 person

  1. This makes so much sense and is so so heartfelt. Your grandpas story sounds similar to my God father’s. I didn’t see him before he died either but you know in your heart you felt how sad it was you didn’t get to and that in and of itself is huge. I am so glad you are crying and reaching out for comfort. That is wonderful and I know how new losses just bring up all of the old ones. Its why we have to go so gently on ourselves. This was heart wrenching to read. Thank you for sharing it all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this. My grandpa’s funeral was today and it was so hard but such a beautiful tribute to a life well spent and a very well loved person. All the work I’ve done with Anna really supported me through the day 💙

      Liked by 1 person

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