White Alyssum

(Reprinted with permission from Replacement Children: The Unconscious Script by Rita Battat and Abigail Brenner, MD)

“I was born into a family with two older siblings, John and Hillary, on March 17, 1965 on the outskirts of Sheffield, England. My “baby” sister, as I always called her, Alison Jane, was born on February 9, 1964.  From the beginning she had problems retaining her food and with projectile vomiting. She was hospitalized at the age of eleven  weeks old and diagnosed with a heart defect. Both parents were with her when she died on the evening of May 11.

I was conceived shortly after Alison’s death. My mother told me that she had always wanted three children. My father later remarked that my mother was extremely
anxious while she was pregnant and after my birth. She would check often to make sure that I was breathing while I slept.

I remember my mother speaking to me about Alison when I was very young. She once told me she had planted flowers in her garden and for years I thought they were
called “White Alison”. They were, in fact, White Alyssum.

White Alyssum
White Alyssum

My mother kept a photo of Alison which was delicately placed in the Bible in her bedside drawer. When I was about six or seven I would go often to look at the photo. I would say to Alison, as I looked at her image, that I was sorry to have taken her place and hoped that she would forgive me. If I heard footsteps I would rush out of the bedroom as if it was forbidden.

My mother spoke to me of Alison’s funeral and would take me to the Peace Garden, where Alison’s ashes were laid among the beautiful scented roses. My siblings do not remember ever being taken there.

 I am not sure I had to fill in for Alison but I felt I had to be alive, keeping
my mother’s head above water and keeping her happy. I always tried to please
her. Teachers reported that I worried too much, got upset easily, and
always tried very hard. I feel that my mother’s anxiety influenced my life. I had a little
confidence in myself, was always a worrier and afraid not to give my best. Often,
I had feelings of guilt.

My mother said that she was never able to cry for Alison. Years later, when I
was already married and living in France, my brother-in-law committed suicide.
My father said my mother had screamed with pain. I think that on that day she
also cried for Alison.

It was from that day that all my childhood thoughts and memories of Alison, my
“baby” sister, came flooding back. I could not even mention her name without
feeling as though I was being strangled. I became anxious and was unable to
sleep. I had blocked her out of my life for so many years but, unconsciously she
was within me—a part of me.

I felt that our paths came together and I could not let her or our mother down.
I had to live “our” life. I had been given the chance to live; she hadn’t.
Along with this came guilt and depression. My role in life seems to have been to
help my mother get through her bereavement.

I can now accept that Alison is a part of my story, but that we are two separate
beings. She is besides me—but I feel I can let her go and be me. I can now
listen to my own emotional needs. I felt I had given birth to Alison during a dream
I had. It was after that dream that I was able to let her go.”

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