by Carmel Breathnach
Is Carmel afraid of death? No. Is Carmel afraid of what may come after death? No. What is Carmel afraid of?
Lucy has her eyes closed as she poses questions to the healers and spirits from alternative dimensions, messengers who connect with Lucy in her healing room when she calls upon them. She must ask the right questions in order to receive the correct answers. I stare at Lucy’s red dyed hair tied back in a loose ponytail, as her soft, wrinkled facial features contort in concentration. The woman’s mascara-laden eyelashes flutter as she focuses, her hands wonder at the answers and every now and again they move towards a notebook where her fingers scribble down indecipherable sentences. Seated in a comfortable armchair next to Lucy I allow my eyes to wander across the elaborate room. Each detail appears to have been executed meticulously from the framed photos of spiritual leaders on the table opposite to the palette of candles and essential oils next to me.
So, you were eleven when your mother died!
It isn’t a question. I’ve already given her this information. Lucy let out a screech when I said I was eleven at the time of my mother’s death. She told me she had sensed this and had wanted to tell me herself. She wanted to convince me of her psychic abilities, I suppose. Too late! I mentioned it before she said anything, partly because she wasn’t saying anything, about me at all. She was filling me with tales of the people she worked with and I wanted her to focus on me and why I was there. After hours of sitting patiently in her company, as soon as she brought me into the conversation I blurted out the age I was when Mam died. Her screech shocked me back into silence.
You watched your mother suffer for a long time?
Carefully, I let my breath out, trying to conceal my frustration. Lucy wasn’t coming up with many of the answers for herself. I had heard such great things about this healer woman and had driven a long way to spend some hours with her. About to hand over quite a bit of money in exchange for some quality healing, I needed badly to believe in her. I wasn’t here to get my fortune told, but in order to find out what part of me required healing, Lucy needed to discover some deep truths I might not be aware of.
You’re stronger than your mother, are you? I don’t mean physically. I mean, you are tougher in character, perhaps?
Momentarily I consider this, reflecting on my desire to stand up for what I believe in and for those who need help finding their voices. I speak my mind and take no crap. I came to the USA all by myself. Lucy might have a point. But I shake my head. No. My mother was a courageous fighter. For six years she battled ovarian cancer. And most of the time she did it with a smile. She persevered, believed God would help her, and loved her family with a kind and full heart. How was she able to do it? If I get a stomachache I whine and worry. I fret and panic and wonder if it’s terminal. The doctors didn’t give Mam more than two years but she battled on, telling my father she was fighting to stay with us. For years she went in and out of hospital. She suffered through chemo and a host of other horrible procedures, several operations, months in hospital away from the family she loved and not once did she come even close to giving up. I cannot imagine being as strong as she in her situation. In fact…
Lucy has her eyes shut again. Is Carmel afraid of decline? Is Carmel anxious about decline leading to death? Yes. Yes, Carmel is afraid of decline leading to death! Is Carmel anxious about the physical decline of her health leading to death? Yes.
A massive ball is beginning to form in my stomach. It’s filling my insides and pressing into my throat and I have to focus on breathing. Lucy’s ring-laden fingers scribble on her notebook. She looks at me with sad, kind eyes and her hands move as she explains what she has come to realize.
It’s completely understandable. You witnessed sickness and suffering at such a young age. Your mother got sick when you were, what five or six?
How awful! Lucy shakes her head in understanding. Her compassion touches me. You watched your mother suffer and fight illness for the formative years of your life. You didn’t know your mother in her full health. You remember her being sick and fighting for her life. Heartbreaking!
Lucy’s eyelashes lift and she looks at me with heavy sad eyes. I swallow hard and breathe. You witnessed a slow, drawn-out, agonizing demise of the person who was supposed to be caring for you and loving you the most. The person you looked up to and needed. You’re not afraid of death itself, are you? It’s the decline you are afraid of.
Decline. Again the word hits on something inside of me because my heartbeat races and I feel a little nauseous.
Oh dear, it’s understandable. Lucy uses the word “understandable” often. Is it understandable? I suppose so. But who understands? Lucy does, apparently. Some of the healers I’ve seen understand. My teachers didn’t understand when I was a child or a teenager. Doctors don’t seem to understand. Do I understand the effects of what I experienced?
Nobody, no child, deserves to experience such sorrow. Lucy waves her soft hands in the air as if to reject even the idea of it, to expel it from the healing room.
And your father. He was a very good, supportive, loving father.
Well, she got that right without me having to tell her.
He was present for your family. You were very fortunate to have him. But you watched as he suffered too. He couldn’t make your mother better. He was losing the love of his life and it wasn’t something that happened quickly; these were years of suffering and physical decline in your household.
Yes, years of visible and penetrable suffering.
Nobody could help make your mother well. The doctors couldn’t. It wasn’t their fault. Western medicine is behind in many ways. There’s much they can do, but they can’t do everything. They couldn’t help your mother.
I roll back my shoulders and exhale. I don’t cry in front of people much. Not because I’m ashamed to; there is no shame in crying for those we loved and lost, I’m well aware of this, but because in my mid- to late twenties I cried most of it out of me. Yet, sometimes somebody hits on something and a raw place inside is awakened where instantly I’m little Carmel again, gazing at my kind and beautiful sick mother. In that moment, I am overcome with a sorrow and a longing so deep and desperate I become unhinged. Lucy’s emerald earrings swing in suspension as she tilts her head towards me and I blink away the bristling tears forming in the corners of my eyes. The comforting scent of frankincense and sandalwood from the lavender candle on the table at my side hangs in the air and I inhale deeply.
None of what happened is your fault. I know you know this, Lucy says, but I say it because you need to hear the words. The residue of childhood trauma still clings to you. We, she says, waving a suggestive hand towards ornate symbols and images of her personal healing aids, will work on clearing all of it.
I believe this woman has hit on something and I’m ready to release it if I can. Even at eleven, I knew Mam needed to let go in order to free herself and us from the pain. I didn’t want her to die, but the torment was becoming too much to bear. I witnessed the long, drawn out process of death in the early stages of my life. My introduction to living was an introduction to dying. I’ve carried this with me all of my life. I’m scared of hospitals, pain and suffering, and terrified when any sensation that isn’t a good feeling one materializes in my body. A symptom such as a tingling nerve or an ache in my pelvis is a trigger and it propels me into a world of anxiety and dread. As Lucy says, it’s understandable, and I’m always in search of deeper healing. I adjust a cushion behind me and close my eyes.
Born and raised in Ireland, Carmel Breathnach moved to Portland, Oregon in 2005. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature and Irish language studies from NUI Maynooth, and a Diploma in Education from St. Patrick’s College, Dublin. Carmel’s writing is centered on childhood grief and mother loss and its lasting effects. Her work has been published in Huffington Post, Upworthy and Scary Mommy. One of her essays appeared in the anthology Hidden Lights by Golden Dragonfly Press. She keeps a regular blog and an active Facebook page dedicated to mother loss and grief. She is currently seeking representation for her memoir A LOVELY WOMAN.