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“Does it comfort you?” I finally ask. I always thought that faith and funerals were to comfort the living rather than service the dead. I never thought about what it might do for the dying.

I never had faith. We had religion, and plenty of it, in school. We rote-learned the prayers but never found their meaning. The church killed her brother. That was how she explained it to us in the time before clerical sex abuse and suicide had names, and when we were still judged too young to be told the full horror of it. I couldn’t understand how she kept her faith after that, because in school we were taught that to love God was to obey the church. They preached spiritual and intellectual slavery and called it faith.

Her only answer now is a pale smile, the ghost of the smile I used to hate when I was a child. It was a smile that told me some things were just too big and grown-up for me to understand yet.

What’s happening now is far too big and grown-up for me to understand. I need my mother. I need her to tell me what to do and how to survive it.

“Anything I can get you, madam?” I wish the baby-faced nurse would go away. I want real grief around me, or none. I don’t want her trained empathy and rehearsed sympathy that clocks in at 8 am for it’s 12-hour shift before going home again, sympathy and empathy stowed away with her uniform in her locker in the nurses’ room until her next shift.

This isn’t real. It can’t be happening. I feel detached. I feel like I am underwater while the rest of the world is above, and I’m submerged so I can’t see or hear or feel properly, I’m drowning and no one can get in to save me. Everywhere I turn there are people with mountains of platitudes and oceans of tea, but no understanding. Older friends tell me what it was like for them to lose their mothers, but no one but me can ever know what it will be like for me to watch mine fade and know that soon she will be gone. I can’t be in a world she’s not in. It doesn’t make sense.

“Please find my husband.”

I don’t want him there but without faith, I need someone there to hold me, to stop me from falling.

Bio: Naomi Elster is a writer and scientist based in Dublin, Ireland. She is the editor of HeadSpace, a creative non-profit magazine based on mental health.


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