Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I Remember My Brother's Death

I am skipping forward many years at this point. When I was about 28 or so, I was in therapy in California, dealing with the fallout of my family dramas ( of which I will write in other posts). My therapist was a great woman called Anne Gildersleeve who had a huge impact on me and helped me make some sense of the traumas I had experienced. She suggested, at one point, that I try what was then a new form of therapy called EMDR ( Eye Movement Desensitization and Re-Processing). It had been developed for Vietnam Vets originally as it was discovered that it had a great effect on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was one of the very first non-veteran patients to experience it. My older sister, Javine, has since used it with enormous success in her psychotherapy practice, particularly with people who have been abused in some way.

The first time we used EMDR in my therapy, without going into all the details of how it works, I was able to remember things from before I was verbal; so from the time I was born to about 2 years of age. The remarkable thing with it was that I had visual memories that I could then put words to. On the second session, I remembered my brother's death. I later verified some of the details with my oldest sister as I was worried I had remembered things that had not actually happened.

My memory was of standing in my cot screaming crying, in a wet nappy. It was dark outside and there was a cold breeze from somewhere. My mother was holding a child in her arms whose skin was sort of grey and who was covered in dead leaves and with water dripping onto the ground. My mother was screaming and screaming, hysterical. I only remember that fragment but I remember also, very clearly, the terror I felt. I was obviously too small to understand what I was seeing but I know I was terrified at my mother's screams and knew something terrible was happening. With the therapy, I was able to put that experience into a place where I could handle it like a file that is replaced in it's proper place. It did help me to understand some of the anxiety I often felt but could never explain and, to this day, it colours my sense of abandonment. In that moment, as a very small child of only about 8 months, I 'knew' on some level that my mother had left me somehow. It has nothing to do with real abandonment ( which came later) but with the sense of security a child should feel with it's mother. It shook the core of my small being, making me aware of being alone in the world. I was not using verbal language at that point so I had no words to describe that later on and, in fact, was not aware of the experience until I had this therapy session. It put a picture and words to the feeling I had long held but had never understood.

I often think of children who are traumatized in wars or disasters or, indeed, abuse and how much damage can be done just by being witness to the terror of others but most particularly the terror of a mother or father. I think it does permanent damage to one's sense of security and trust. For me, being able to voice it and see it in this type of therapy helped enormously as I was able to make some sort of sense of it and can now write about it without having any ill effects.

I will never know really how my mother and father felt about that terrible death. I can only imagine it. It doesn't bear imagining. I know for sure that a lot of blame was thrown around and it put yet another nail into the coffin that was their marriage. My mother had a tendency to shut off her feelings (which I learned well from her) and so, to our small eyes and ears, it seemed like she had got over it. As an adult, I understood that she never had. How could she? The pain may have lessened but I am sure that whenever thoughts of her beloved son came up that she must have suffered greatly.

After his death, we stayed in Greystones, Co. Wicklow for six months as they did not want to be far away from his small grave. Eventually, we all went back to Cobh and my parents went on to have another daughter a little over a year later and then twin boys less than 2 years after that. One of those boys was also christened Dermot, which seems to me to be a legacy too heavy for a small child.

My father was buried with our first Dermot in 1992. It makes me so sad to see both their names on that gravestone.

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