Last June, at the height of the covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, I wanted to die.
Quite suddenly, I had lost my Ma. Grief fed my chronic depression and suicidal ideation.
For years Ma wistfully told me on the phone how she longed to see my face, and how “you come like one ah we own”, after all, I had spent the only years I felt any sort of happiness growing up with her and my Grampie. In the end, she died nearly 5,000 miles away, having not seen me, and I, having not hugged her in nine years.
There were, of course, reasons why I had not gone to be with my beloved grandmother and grandfather who were Mother and Father to me; Whom I doted on, and whom during the worse years of my life when depression threatened to engulf me, were the only reason I tried hard to stay alive.
But however valid those reasons are, even if my grandparents accepted that I could not be with them, it did not sooth my mental anguish.
I was off work for a month. Thankfully I have kind, compassionate bosses who knew the toll it would take. My team was supportive. So were my neighbours and friends. I couldn’t ask for better support. Still, I spiralled very quickly.
In the end, what brought me from the brink of a precipice were emotional support, a conversation with my friend’s mother, a cat and my two month old plant Sunny.
My Ma had green fingers, and a thriving plant nursery when I was growing up. She sold all sorts of plants and flowers, which grew in our front garden. I loved sitting in the veranda watching her tend to them. Being around greenery always reminds me of her. In particular, I remember the sunflowers which stretched towards the skies, and towered over the wired fence.
In April 2020 when I was struggling massively with missing my Ma, I decided to grow some sunflowers in pots. I’d never grown a plant from a seedling before (I barely kept my last succulent alive). From the moment I sowed the seeds, it was a painstaking, anxiety-inducing affair. The neighbourhood squirrel kept digging them up, including after the plants sprouted. Of about seven seeds I planted, following numerous squirrel attacks and tumultuous weather, I was left with three, which I fenced around with wiring. Everyday I tended to the flowers (collectively called Sunny) I marvelled at their growth. I talked to them, touched them, encouraged them and loved them. I thought how proud Ma would be if she could see what I did and persisted through.
By June they were nearly as tall as me, and had started flowering. In the days and weeks following Ma’s passing, I struggled to get out of bed. Grief had exhausted me. I couldn’t shower, comb my hair, or eat. I spent most of my days in bed, except for when I got out to tend to Sunny. I had to, if I didn’t they’d die. I would sit outside with my sunflowers and gaze in silence. Looking at their subtle dance in the wind, and at the bees and butterflies visiting. During this time, I had many more visits from my neighbour’s cat Bailey. Bailey and I had been friends for about a year, and despite being the neighbourhood’s most standoffish cat, she had a habit of always turning up when my mood was at its lowest. It was like her cat feelers could detect I needed her.
On days when I thought I couldn’t smile Bailey amused me with her antics and Sunny gave me a reason to get out of bed.
I thought it would get easier as time went by, but my mood plummeted and I sought solace in my then flatmate’s mother. She is a grief counsellor with an incredible ability to connect with people. We had met only once before and she didn’t know my history but she had extended her support when she heard news of my Ma.
I don’t know how but when we spoke on the phone she knew I had been wanting to die. Truth is, on my worse days it was all I could do to resist the compulsion of ending it all.
Though she was miles away, I felt her near as she said things that resonated with me:
“Alisha, imagine you are a garden that your Ma has planted and she’s spent all these years and all this time nurturing you so you could grow up to be strong. Now that your Ma has gone you have to look after yourself, your garden. Are you going to just let your garden die? You are your Ma’s legacy. How do you think your Ma would feel about that?”.
Susanna’s analogy hit a nerve. It gave me the impetus to nurture not only my sunflowers but myself. I’m still on that journey learning to love myself but what helped was when Susanna said I should try to see myself through my Ma’s eyes. She said that Ma looked at me when I was young and saw a child needing a special kind of love and nurturing, and she gave that to me. And now my Ma isn’t here I needed to see myself as that said child and nurture myself.
It’s nearly a year without my Ma. I still grieve, and I still struggle. Lots has changed since then. Bailey has moved, I have moved house; my sunflowers only lasted one season… but now when I am in nature, amongst flowers and plants I feel close to my Ma and I see her in all of it. And I remember that she would want me to nurture myself and thrive, just as my sunflowers did.
Gentle hugs x