It's been seven hours and fifteen days......
I spent several days deeply grieving upon hearing of the passing of Sinéad O’Connor. I became familiar with her last year when her son passed. She was brought into my space through the online grieving community which has been an invaluable support to me. At the time I read a bit about her, but not nearly enough as my own grief was still too raw for my reading comprehension to even register on a kindergarten assessment test. Nevertheless, I grieved with her then, as a mother, the same age as her, knowing how incredibly painful a traumatized life can be, knowing her child suffered greatly as did she, I grieved.
With her sudden passing I wondered at the articles immediately being written, my own mind turning into complete chaos. Is anyone able to write anything coherent or meaningful so soon? It didn't seem so.
Like slipping beads on a string I would catch a sentence or two, and try to make sense of what I was experiencing only to find the rest of my thoughts like beads fallen and scattered in every direction. My insides fumbled with feelings as fear crept in. I’m falling into that space, where I can't find which way is up.... to the air...... to the light.
Grieving without the one person who deeply understands my heart, who witnessed me, honored my experience and was there to hold and comfort me is what I have been learning to do. It’s still beyond excruciating. Encountering another grief without him magnifies the intensity of how much I miss my beloved.
What is happening? Why didn’t I know more about her? Why is this hurting more the more I learn? Why am I so angry? So disillusioned? So betrayed?
Anyone near my age is probably at least familiar with Sinéad’s beautiful eyes, releasing a tear as her angelic voice sings the song that brought her fame. The song she would state as a mature woman belonged to her, the one she made famous, even though she was denied the rights to it.
She was right.
It belongs to her. The world knows it.
She was right about a lot of things.
The original writer, an abusive eccentric, famous and wealthy, denied her rights to that song, and his greedy estate continued to withhold what would have been the honorable thing to do. It’s done all the time, singers singing songwriters songs, making them famous. It was an abusive narcissistic power move, which continues to not be called out. It’s gross and it’s grievous.
Why didn’t I know more about her or her other work? She was an incredibly talented and prolific artist.
Because she spoke the truth.
She challenged abusers and oppressors. She would not conform or be groomed by men to use her talent and body to make them money. And so, she was slowly, but very intentionally silenced.
She understood having a voice and a platform came with responsibility and power. Undeniably, human compassion and love compelled her to use that voice. Whether she is singing an Irish folk song like an angel, or screaming a healing song/story of her life, she is releasing love from her depths. And when she sang Bob Marley’s War on SNL and ripped up the Pope’s picture, exhorting everyone to fight the real enemy, she was using her voice and platform responsibly. She was hoping every voice that had a platform would do the same, every entity would save the children. The betrayal she was met with instead still astounds me. It knocked me to my knees and made me wonder even now. A decade later, victims of Catholic Church abuse were recognized and the beginning of a change was happening. But Sinéad who suffered great anguish, phobias and was labeled mentally ill received no apologies or support. Though she did not regret her choice, she was made to suffer for it.
Sinéad appeared at a Bob Dylan celebration concert shortly after she rocked the world on SNL. Introduced as a courageous woman of integrity by Kris Kristofferson, she approached the mic looking her beautiful composed dignified self. To watch her face as she is booed in betrayal by a stadium of supposed humanity, is to see Christ crucified. There’s a nauseating evil that is evident when entertainment and comfort are chosen over advocacy and protection of children. Thousands of people were willing to do what they did to her, that beautiful young woman standing alone in front of them.
She saw them. She heard them. She stepped aside and gathered herself. And then she changed what she had planned to sing, and instead responded to them. She sang War again. It was both the most incredible public thing I’ve witnessed of her and the most heartbreaking. All because she had used her voice to bring awareness to religious abuse and pointed to the person who held the most power to change that.
A few years later, at a particular venue, she was given the choice to open with or without the US National Anthem. Not only was it simply not something she normally sang at an opening of her concert, but there was a war going on that she was not in agreement with. So Sinéad chose not to. Newspapers and Radio hosts lost it, and her music was labeled unpatriotic and stopped being played over American airwaves.
So that’s why I hadn’t heard her. Once again, she was misrepresented and silenced.
I feel angry, the kind of physical frustration one feels when something incredibly meaningful and valuable has been stolen by someone who has no idea of its worth. When I learned this part of her story, I began to be able to pick up some of that mess of beads on the floor of my heart.
Powerful people in powerful places either listen and protect, or hear and oppress. They’ll use whatever tactics possible to stop their abuse from being exposed. Smokescreens, distractions, pointing fingers at advocates, slander and even claiming they are the protectors are all their favorite tools. American Evangelicalism and Fundamentalists are repeating exactly what Sinéad brought attention to in regards to religious abuse and the harms of political theocracy. The voices that are speaking out are again trying to be silenced.
The time overlap makes the saying “ History repeats itself” seem ridiculous. While yesterday is technically history, the idea that history repeats itself is linked to ignorance, lack of education or detachment due to passage of time or geographic separation. This isn’t history repeating itself, it is just a continuation of abusive structures and individuals manipulating, coercing, covering up and denying abuse.
Is this why the world lost such a beautiful voice far too soon?
The exhaustion is real. Trauma survivors having to be the voice to bring awareness and change while dealing with their own well being is like asking a burn victim to paint the hospital because they're going to have to live there awhile. Imagine the hospital CEO and staff then inviting the community to see the progress and then having nothing but criticism to offer the suffering individual set with the task. Sound callous? Ridiculous? Insane?
Sinéad is often written about as “having mental illness” and she even uses that term, perhaps because that is the language we use around feeling anything other than a steady, even keel, work capable amount of emotion. She felt it was important to honestly share to hopefully get rid of the stigma around the subject. It’s often cited that she received a bi-polar diagnosis. What is then failed to be mentioned is that she received second and third diagnoses that stated she was not bi-polar. Had this happened to almost anyone, being misdiagnosed , then repeatedly being referred to by the misdiagnoses, who wouldn’t feel “crazy”.
But what is ”crazy”?
Feeling appropriate frustration at the evils of society?
Feeling appropriate grief over betrayal?
Feeling appropriate confusion over a parent physically and psychologically harming their child?
Feeling appropriate confusion and anger over a religious system abusing their followers?
Feeling appropriate outrage at pedophiles being protected and not their victims? Speaking out about these things?
Not allowing those in power to direct your appearance so that they can profit from you?
Using your voice when you have a platform to demand accountability from those who could stop child abuse?
Using your voice to bring truth and beauty, healing and love to those who are listening despite all?
Continuing to search for a spiritual path in each stage of maturity?
There is so much appropriate human emotion and action Sinéad embodied running the full spectrum as an artist and advocate, as a survivor and a sufferer. When we categorize the person victimized as mentally ill, I believe we are being culturally dishonest, it is yet another way of silencing the voice of those who need protection, support and understanding. They’re mentally ill, crazy, need to be medicated, not to be taken seriously, or listened to all carry the same message.
Silence the vulnerable.
In more recent years, Sinéad found herself suffering with endometriosis. It is common for survivors of physical and/or sexual abuse to have a delay in realizing their body needs to be cared for. Sinéad underwent an emergency hysterectomy which she describes as traumatic and in which the doctor decided to remove her ovaries for no other reason than he was there, so why not?
She was sent home with a mild pain reliever and never offered hormone therapy. Hormone therapy is an absolute necessity following this type of surgery. For all women who are living in the perimenopausal and menopausal period of their lives symptoms present themselves on a spectrum of gradual to rapid. For hysterectomy patients they present drastically and immediately.
Hot flashes and night sweats
Drastic mood swings of anxiety, depression, rage and anger
Fatigue, sleep disruption
Feeling of loss of control
Unable to process stress and emotions, overemotional
Loss of memory
Lack of confidence and concentration
Sore gums, dry mouth, mouth sores
Susceptibility to bladder infections and incontinence
Higher risk of heart disease
Stiff neck, frozen shoulder
It took years before she received the medical help she needed to address these side effects; it seems being labeled as mentally ill can be quite harmful when medical issues present themselves as dramatic mood swings. She is not the first, nor the last patient to suffer incredibly due to lack of proper care following a hysterectomy, yet it astounds me that this would have happened at this point in history. Currently in the UK, Carolyn Harris MP is working to bring awareness to women’s health and the lack of understanding or awareness around the necessity of hormone therapy. It is a travesty to think of how much is lost simply for lack of knowledge and accessible care.
I’ve been listening to Sinéad’s voice. Listening to old interviews, recent podcasts and have just started her book Rememberings. I watched her recent documentary Nothing Compares. It’s excellent, artful and a bit of a Modern History lesson. Her voice is calm, she’s humorous and honest, sure of herself in the most admirable of ways. She isn’t ever apologetic for her choice to use her platform for much needed change, conveying a peace around her decision as a young adult on through middle age. Her music is incredibly diverse and truly meaningful.
I think I’ve finally strung together my thoughts. I identify with the ways she was treated. It was unfair to be called rebellious, when she was a child expressing need for care. The acts of shaving her head and tearing the photo were not crazy, they were quite sane responses to abuses of power. Losing trust in people in response to how she was treated was a reasonable way of maintaining inner safety and sanity. Continuing to create and seek connection and beauty despite all she had endured was quite honestly a miracle.
Sinéad is a heroine who deserves to not only be remembered with the greatest honor, but who also remains forever an inspiration to those who are willing to engage in the depths of this human experience with honesty and compassion.