Letting go

Dawn Walton
11 min readJul 16, 2021

Change is not a gentle thing.

Change is uncomfortable and disruptive.

When change happens you have no idea what it will be like on the other side. And that’s scary. Our brains like the familiar, not the unknown. Better to stick with what you know, even when it’s rubbish, than head into the unknown.

This week I went to my mother’s funeral. This was always going to trigger another disruption in my life. If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you’ll know why. If you haven’t, trust me, it’s complicated.

It was further compounded by a betrayal by a friend who had been pretending to be friends with me for years so she could pass information to my mother. A pretence that she boastfully dropped as soon as my mother died.

That compounded my lifelong belief that there is something wrong with me — that people seem to think that my feelings are not significant or relevant in anything they do. I have lots of evidence to support this. I had a father, stepmother, mother, stepfather and grandfather that all treated me that way. And then this friend.

Struggling is normal

And funnily enough, it’s that problem that I’ve been really struggling with for the last few months. So much so that I had convinced myself it was just who I am and I needed to learn to live with it. I dropped the ideas of being able to do Tony Robbins style talks to a global audience. I dropped the idea of getting a book on the New York Times bestseller list. “I’ll only concentrate on my day-to-day clients” I decided.

The Universe did not approve of this decision. My business got very, very quiet. In fact, it’s been the quietest it’s been in the 8 years of being a therapist — and that includes lockdown last year.

So I’ve been sitting in limbo. Knowing something needed to change. Not believing that the change was possible.

Events unfolding

Then my mother’s cousin got in touch. My mother was extremely ill and had no more than a few days left. I had lost my mother in 2015 when I disconnected from her after the court case. She had lost access to me and to her grandchild. There had to be some consequence to putting herself first. In this case it was that she lost the most precious things in her life.

When I cleared her stuff I was given four large boxes for my child. They included gifts and birthday and Christmas cards from the years where my mother couldn’t see her grandchild. I know it was hard for her. But it was a result of her choices.

I had a bit of a wobble a few months ago, worried that I was letting my stuff limit my child. I have always told them that “nana pink” (named by my child because of her pink hair) was a lovely grandmother and I had no problem with them being connected, but it would have to be when they were 18 and could do it without involving me. I was worried for a while that this was unfair on my child. But I realised that they had everything in life they needed and weren’t missing out. And obviously, now that isn’t even an option.

My mother was a lovely person. She had many friends that loved her dearly, and she was a doting grandmother (when she was allowed to be) My cousins are in between my mother and I in age. One helped my mother look after my brother and I when we were babies. My mum was born with a bit of her spine missing, but hadn’t realised until she gave birth. I learnt this week , that at 23 years old, she had found even lifting me and my brother impossible and was really struggling. My cousin, A,who was 15 at the time, ended up spending many holidays helping my mother and formed a real attachment to my brother and I.

When my mother was dying, A called me because she was concerned that in a few years I would have regrets. It was a lovely thought. I would have no regrets. I explained to A, at a top level, why I had disconnected from my mother. I have no need for closure. Nothing is unresolved. Obviously she had no idea at all and was really lovely about it when I told her.

I knew, despite all of this, that my mother dying would cause massive disruption. It was always going to be a turning point event in my life. Even though I joked that I wanted her to die so I could get my photos, the reality is, if you take away the betrayal and just look at the moments and memories, she was the only adult in my childhood that demonstrated love and kindness to me, and we had, at least of the surface, a close relationship.

I find it’s important to keep perspective, and try and avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater! I can want nothing to do with her, and still have fond memories, although admittedly they all got a bit tainted by the betrayal.

I sent here this text. She was heavily sedated and could not respond, but as the hearing is the last thing to go I asked her friend to read this out. I figured the deathbed is not the time to hold grudges. Plus I have worked hard over these last 10 years or so to make sure my stuff doesn’t affect my child, and it’s important sometimes to behave in a way I would be ok with them seeing.

On Friday the 2nd July my mother died.

A mum shaped hole in my memories

I wasn’t that upset by my mother dying. I’d already grieved her loss. I was upset by my friend betraying me and boasting about it, but not by losing my mother.

But her death removed a mother shaped hole from my memories, and a whole bunch started unlocking. It was unexpected. They were the worst most unpleasant memories too. And as a result of that I made some connections I’d not made before, and that was even harder to process.

My friends, as ever were super supportive. And I’ve been struggling with that. ‘Why do you care?’ I think, ‘Nobody else does. It must not be real’. And, as I wrote and shared things as I processed (like I always do) I found myself wanting to pull away from all the friends that I know in person. I didn’t want to be hurt. I didn’t want to be out there.

The change had started. The disruption was unpleasant, painful, and confusing.

I went for a walk and my ankle twisted. I swore loudly and the floodgates opened and I had a full on sobbing meltdown. Luckily I live in the middle of nowhere as it took me a good 15 minutes to reign myself in and get a bit of control. When I got back I spent an hour sitting in the garden just crying. I don’t cry. I don’t do emotions. But I just let this flow because I knew I needed to.

Over the days running up to the funeral I struggled. My emotions were all over the place. My memories were surfacing like oil bubbles floating to the top of water.

I drove down to Anglesey with my child. I went a day early so I could go to my mother’s house and get the photo albums from my childhood, and the trinket boxes that’s she’d collected for my child. It was hard being in her house. It was the first time in about 8 years that I’d been there, and it felt like she’d just popped out. The house did not feel like that of an ill person, or a dead one. It was a live house. I didn’t expect to get sentimental about objects, but found I was when I was there.

The photo albums

When I left the house, I headed to Penrhos nature reserve with Ash and we started looking through one of the boxes my mother had given them.

And then I started looking through the photo albums. (left is me with my mother in 1981 — I would have been 9).

I was shocked to find quite a few photos of my stepfather in there. Given that my mother had tried to piggy back off my court case with her own issues with him, I would have assumed she would have got rid of them. There were some that were just him and her, and some in photos with us.

Ash said they would cut them all out, so later that day they went through all the albums getting rid of any photos of him.

They did a great job. And then my friend said we should burn them. We’d just had a barbecue so it was still hot.

We threw the bag of unwanted photos onto the barbecue and watched them burn. Ash held my hand and hugged me, and was an amazing support.

The funeral

At my mother’s house, I asked who was coming to the funeral. The plan was a limo would take me, Ash and two of my mother’s friends to the crematorium and back (I knew my mum wanted to be cremated because she was very claustraphobic!)

I asked who else was there, worried that the friend that betrated me would be. The good thing about Covid is that the funeral was being live streamed so a few people would not have to travel and watch it that way. The friend wasn’t coming but my mother’s friend, that I originally disclosed to, was going to be there.

On the way back from my mothers house I told my child the story of why I didn’t talk to my mother anymore. I obviously spared them the gory details of the abuse, and I didn’t tell them the early stuff…just enough so they knew why I didn’t talk to my mother, and why seeing this friend at the funeral could be tricky.

They took it well, and were very supportive. They said if they’d known, they would have wanted nothing to do with my mother — so I’m glad they didn’t know before. My stuff belongs to me, not Ash.

On the day of the funeral, the limo broke down (luckily the hearse was fine) , and I ended up driving everyone and following the hearse. That was a bit of a new experience for me. I definitely had a moment, when I first started following my mother’s coffin. It made it all very real.

When we got to the funeral, the friend had changed so much that I didn’t recognise her. I was introduced to her and said hello before I realised. After that I blanked her. The ceremony was fine. We came into Dancing Queen by Abba — my mother’s favourite music. And we left to “Who wants to live forever” by Queen, which Ash and I both found hysterical. The priest kept giving us “A moment to think about Katy” which was strange. And just towards the end he talked about Jesus dying and being risen again, which I thought was a little inappropriate for a funeral with the coffin in front of us. “Dear God no!!” I thought lol.

Overall, like many ceremonies like this it was just boring. The eulogy painted a picture of my mother based on what her friends knew. Within half an hour it was over, and I drove peopel back to my mother’s house where everyone was going to be in the garden (covid rules) and take stuff from my mother’s house that they wanted to keep.

I left straight away. I had no intention of mixing with any of them. I was using that as a chance to close the chapter and leave that part of my life behind.

All except my cousin A. She asked to have drinks and a catch up when I told her I was walking away from everything. I met with her the evening of the funeral. I had sent her the blog posts to read with the story of my life. I told her I understood if she didn’t want to read them, and if she didn’t want to meet, but she did.

As it turns out, I’m really glad she did. A is the only person that has known me in every phase of my life. She has known everyone that I talked about, and she has remained close friends with my mother.

She said she wishes she’d known and had done something. She said she was sorry I went through that. She believed me, and listened to me, and filled in a few details I didn’t know. And she still wants to stay in touch, but said she’d respect it if I didn’t. I do. It was liberating for me to first say goodbye to my mother, and then have someone from my past listen to me and not try and correct my version of the story.

The next day I felt lighter. The memories had stopped swirling. The emotions had gone back to normal. It really felt like I was moving on with my life.

And so…

My abuser is still out there abusing others. Until he dies or is sent to prison, that will remain open. I did everything I could though, and there is nothing else left for me to do.

It’s not what we go through in life that defines us. It’s how we recover and what we make of those experiences.

I’m good. Another chapter in my life has been closed off and I’m in a better position to move forwards. There is very little of my past left in my present.

I need to resolve the belief that there is something wrong with me, but I’m focussed more on the future than I am on that right now. It feels a little fuzzier than it was. I think I actually believe I can change that now, whereas before I didn’t.

Just a note

Writing is my therapy process. I’ve mentioned before that people have always told me not to speak, but noone has ever told me not to write. When I write stuff down it gives it form and allows me to look at it objectively. If people read what I write, then it means I have to write it in a way that is clear and understandable. This also helps me process. Then when people comment on what I write, I get to see things in different ways, and that helps again.

My social media friends have been amazing these last couple of weeks. And because of the betrayal with my friend, I have found myself pulling back from all my ‘real life’ friends. I just feel burned right now and am locking back in with just a few close people.

And I know lots of people have been worried as they’ve read what I’ve written. Don’t worry about me. Writing is part of my process, and it means I’m coping. It’s when I go quiet that you should really worry!

Normal service will now be resumed though, you’ll probably be relieved to hear!

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Dawn Walton

Therapist and brain reprogrammer. If 1 in 4 people in the UK has a mental heatlh problem, then 3 in 4 don’t. Not True!