'Everything I learnt about grief after my youngest daughter died'

After the death of her daughter Jasmine, Patsy Freeman decided to write a book about her journey through grief. She tells Amanda Cassidy how the process helped her heal, and what she discovered along the way.

This article originally appeared on IMAGE.ie on August 22, 2020.


"Jasmine, the youngest of my two daughters, died of breast cancer nearly seven years ago. She was 39.

Our relationship hadn’t always been easy. From her early twenties, she believed that something traumatic had happened to her as a child. I couldn’t think of anything other than the time she was bullied in the school playground.

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However, when she began meditating a few years later, some buried childhood memories began to surface. For Jasmine, it was jumbled and scary. Panic attacks followed.

At that point, I suggested she give notice on her flat and move in with me. I had just moved to a new home and a garden that needed attention. This was a perfect project for her as it kept her grounded and focussed. Later, Jasmine began her own gardening business, calling it Soulful Gardens.

Blindsided

“This pain is love. Allow the grief to unfold in whatever way it wants to"

A diagnosis of breast cancer came out of the blue. Jasmine died fifteen months later in a hospice near her sister. Nothing prepares you for the death of a child. It left a huge gaping hole in my life and I physically hurt. My heart broke and my ribs ached with grief. My professional career as a psychologist and counsellor went to pot, and I gave up seeing clients for two years.

In fact, it was the Irish chaplain in Jasmine’s hospice who gave me permission to grieve. “Let it rip,” he advised. “This pain is love. Allow the grief to unfold in whatever way it wants to. There is a healthy pain associated with grieving that will dissolve in time. However, when grief is held back and not expressed, the emotions stay locked in the body and can cause physical and emotional illness. So allow yourself to feel everything.”

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Feeling the feelings

"I felt I had let her down and not kept her safe"

I needed to be told that as my family never expressed feelings. Even in my professional work, I hadn’t experienced such profound grief in another person. I followed the chaplain’s advice. I knew that I didn’t want to be carrying grief around for the rest of my life, and sensed instinctively that allowing the grief to move through my body was what was needed.

I began writing letters to Jasmine when she was diagnosed with cancer and continued doing this long after she died. Discharging my feelings onto the page helped to ease my sense of anguish.

Grief is unpredictable and you never know when it might be triggered. Every emotion under the sun emerged – despair, deep sorrow, a good dose of guilt, as well as rage. I felt a failure as a mother, that I could have done more for her when she was growing up.....that I had let her down and not kept her safe.

Light in my life

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At this stage, I had no plans to write a book. This didn’t come until a bit later and the idea wasn’t mine. It was Jasmine’s. Four months after she died, I felt her presence around me. The natural light in the room became much brighter and I even felt a light brush across my cheek. I could hardly believe it!

At first, I dismissed the notion that this could have been my daughter, but when I felt her presence again, I realised that it really was her. Tears poured down my face. ‘You’ve come back. You’ve come back. Oh, thank you," I said out loud.

That was the beginning of nearly eighteen months of receiving signs from her. On two different occasions, a painting of hers dropped mysteriously off the wall; I felt she'd made the lamp in the sitting room flicker.  Invariably when I was sad; there was even the time when a heavy brass lamp hanging from the ceiling began swaying.

My grandson was staying and he said grinning, ‘that’s Auntie Jasmine isn’t it?’ Sometimes I would smell the fragrance of jasmine. It happened once when I was sitting at the back of a bus, wet cold and miserable.  I wanted to call out to the other passengers – ‘Can you smell the jasmine?’ -  but managed to restrain myself. I knew they wouldn’t be able to. It was just for me.

In search of you

"She is part of me now, here in my heart. I don’t need any more signs from her."

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All this helped enormously. I knew that although I couldn’t see Jasmine, she was close to me.  Little by little I began to embrace the notion of using the letters I was writing for a book.

After nearly a year and a half, the signs from Jasmine came to an end. I was beside myself, as it felt like another huge loss on top of the biggest one of all – the death of my daughter. In spite of this, I carried on writing to her.

Finally, after six years, I knew it was time to let go of the book. However, I didn’t know if Jasmine would leave once our project was completed. I needn’t have worried because she is part of me now, here in my heart. I don’t need any more signs from her.

Grief

Grief is a wholesome response to loss, and allowing ourselves to grieve is the way through. It will take as long as it takes, though there are few people who teach us this. It really does help to have support in place. Indeed, I don’t know how I would have managed without two staunch friends who didn’t flinch or turn away from me.

I feel transformed, lighter on the inside, more vulnerable, yet stronger within, and I now have so much compassion for my dear self, as well as for others. Grief is part of life, which means we are in this together. Let us not turn away from our own grief, or that of others, for together we are stronger".

To purchase a copy of Patsy’s book In Search of You – letters to a daughter go to patsyfreeman.com .You will find a link to the publisher’s Matador on each page.

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Photography by Unsplash. This article originally appeared on IMAGE.ie on August 22, 2020.

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