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What Life is Like When You've Experienced Trauma or Loss as a Child

A young woman shares her experiences since losing her mum at a young age

Mental health and wellbeingFamily
By VoiceBox ·

Teigan Banks

I’m a 20 year old English and Drama 1st year Uni student studying in London. I enjoy acting and writing. I have written articles for the grief charity Winston’s Wish and aim to be a grief guide for the Apart of me charity. I use my own experience of the loss of my mum at a young age to empathise with others. I want to pursue writing articles and pieces of work that connects with those also affected by trauma and grief. The aim is to explore emotions and help others by making them feel less alone.

What Life is Like When You've Experienced Trauma or Loss as a Child

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The thing about losing your mum when you are a child, like I did when I was 11, is there is an assumption that because it happened when I was a child,  I am over it. I am now 20 years old and I have grown up since the age of 11, without her. I’ve been doing it for nearly 9 years. So surely I have mastered grieving and being without her?

The truth is, this is not the case. I ache for my mum as much as I did at 11, and if not even more so. I had a revelation during the 2021 Covid Lockdown, which forced me to sit and be alone and think. The revelation was that my mum didn’t just die when I was 11 years old; she is dead for the rest of my life. I have to go through the rest of my life without her guidance. This forced me into a reality I had not been able to fathom before. Child me couldn’t possibly understand the gravitas of my mum’s death.

Turning 20 has forced into light the idea that I have lived through not only a big part of my childhood without my mum, but now my teenage years. I am truly an adult now. I have to continue adulting without being able to connect, get to know, love and share my life with my mum. As a child, I could never know her as who she was. Of course, she was my mother, but I was too young to know her as Amber Banks (that was her name). Who had her own life, her own story that only she truly knew. I can’t ask her about her childhood. I can’t ask her about life before she met my Dad. There is a whole picture of her that I will never know because it was snatched away when I was young. There is a whole person I can’t ever know. This a constant pain that strikes me at different moments in my life. 

Going to University being one of those moments. Meeting new people, having to retell them that my mum passed away when I was little. The pangs of pain of seeing my friends chat to their mum on the phone about what they’ve been up to at Uni, asking a question about cooking or cleaning, or simply chatting about nothing in particular. I ache for that. I want that maternal love only your own mum can give you. To know I will never have it ever again is a concept so huge that my own brain cannot even begin to grasp it.

However awfully sad it is to lose your mother, I can’t help but think that it has shaped my own make-up as a human being. Of course, it can make you feel truly isolated from your friends and family, as you feel that you have a real unique experience and set of emotions that come with it. But I do think it has given me the ability to empathise. Empathy, I didn’t realise, is not something that everyone possesses. I think when you go through any sort of trauma or life-altering experience in your life, it gives you an ability to connect with others and place yourself in others' shoes on a new level. I love helping others, I feel a need to use my own experiences to emotionally support my friends and family. When I came to University, when meeting others who had either also lost parents, or been through traumatic experiences in their childhood, it really made me feel less distant and isolated. I felt like a wire had suddenly connected between my brain and theirs. This empathy grew and grew. I believe that empathy is a real gift. Instead of thinking of others’ problems as less or more than my own, I take in what they say and try and help as best I can. This can be a blessing and a curse. I know that I have absorbed these problems and taken them in without realizing it like a sponge. I think it is important to realise this and take time for yourself  to process your own emotions as well.

Overall, my mum is someone who I know is always with me. I know not physically, but I am half of her, she will always be my mum. I like to think that when I talk to my friends or family, she is guiding me in how to support them. I can’t say that grief necessarily gets easier, but I think you learn to live with it. It is more like waves that hit at high intensity some days and then sometimes not at all. The big waves can be caused by something as simple as someone chatting about their mum or ringing them, to remembering her being ill in hospital. These are a part of my make-up and will always affect me whether I like it or not. But something I will always advocate for is talking; talking about my mum to my friends, whether as casually as mentioning I’m wearing her jewellery, or bringing her up as a person and telling people what she was like. I will never let her memory be lost. As I said before, she is half of me. So she will always live with me whilst I live my life.

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