My mum died four years ago on the 19th April 2013 at 6.10am. She died in her own home in a hospital bed downstairs right by the patio doors that looked out onto the garden and the daffodils she loved. My dad, my sister and myself were all there.
She had been diagnosed with Cancer in September 2012 and despite a run of chemo there wasn’t anything they could do to cure her or prolong her life further. We had been on holiday in the August and she had taken her grandchildren on a caravan holiday that August too and apart from noticing she was had lost weight she was her normal happy, active self. Even now its hard to believe she got sick and died so quickly afterwards.
She was one of the healthy people I knew, annoyingly so if I am honest. At a buffet restaurant or at a hotel she genuinely loved all the healthy options. She loved taking part in loads of different sports and exercise activities and the discipline of having healthy routines and living a lifestyle came naturally to her. She would do a set of stretches morning and night. After my Strokes I lived with my parents and when I finally went back to living on my own I would still spend many weekends there. I would always joke with her about that it didn’t matter what she had done that day or how late it was, whether a new years eve at 230a.m or a work night, she would do those bloody stretches. I always wish had been born with those traits. I Know she wished I could have been that disciplined once I started living independently again. She definitely believed that it would help to soothe some of my chronic pain I suffered as a lasting result of my strokes. She was right of course, her and my dads disciplined approach to my rehab after my strokes is ABSOLUTELY the reason I exceeded all my doctors expectations of recovery and continue to everyday since. I look back at her lifestyle choices and realise there is a lot to gain from following her lead. Yet her being so healthy made her illness and passing come as such a shock.
Like with any mother daughter relationship we had ups and downs, fights and fun. It has to be said one of the very best things to come out of my near death life changing illness, was my relationship with my mum, for me it helps to make all the suffering worth it. Before my strokes she had always been there for me, supporting me through all my good and bad choices, through the agonising journey of seeking my endometriosis diagnosis in my early twenties, through my list of crappy relationships. She was a good, kind and reliable mum. But After my stroke she became my dearest and best friend.
Ironic really, as in 2012 we were starting to settle and enjoy life together. I had sent the recent year working with a stroke therapist learning CBT and how to cope with my changed cognitive state and heighten behavior, I had met Stuart and life for the first time since my stroke was actually looking up. My mum was enjoying work, life in general and was finally able to think about her mum. Who had been her dearest friend until she passed away of cancer at the while same time I was in the high dependency in 2004. Which naturally left my mum with a giant hole in her heart and her life, one that she never really recovered from. However by 2012 she was finally starting to enjoying life despite her grief rather than just pretending she was.
So this all made her death an even harder blow for me. We had plans, for the future, we had exciting holidays planned, one was even booked.We wanted to do a USA road trip to celebrate my 40 birthday in six years time. Plus we had both been hoping at some point round the corner there would be a wedding, my wedding. There was, I just had to do it without her. We were in a good place the best we had been in for years, probably a decade. My sister and her family had moved back to England after ten years living in Scotland. So no more twelve-hour drives to visit them or scary turbulent plane rides, a little zip down the motorway and we were all together as a family, it was fab. We were relaxing into this new happy family life, when she died at sixty-two, still employed full-time as a lecturer, without getting to enjoy even one day of retirement or one penny of the money she had saved all her working life for to have fulfilled retirement and older years.
It felt so bloody unfair and still does. But I guess that is the feeling that comes with the death of any loved one that has not lived to a ripe old age or lived out their plans.
It has been the strangest experience carrying on life without her. In the last few weeks of her life I had ideas of how I expected to feel after her passing, how I expected my grief to manifest, how I expected other loved ones would react and to grieve. It turns out you don’t really know how you are going to feel about or cope with someones death until it actually happens.
I was worried I would melt into a mess and revert into not managing myself, I dreaded losing control and undoing all the hard work I put in after my stroke and the years after training myself to live a calm life. Most of all I just couldn’t see how I would get pass the unfairness of it, the raw agony of it. We had been through hell and high water as a family, each one of the four of us experiencing some life threatening illness at some point in my life. surely we deserve some times just enjoy family life and time together. I felt and still feel robbed.
I didn’t spiral into my dark place, I didn’t melt into a mush, I wasn’t unable to function. I was a massive surprise to myself.
She died on Friday and I was at work teaching on Monday. As I walked through the doors of work I realised I was a strong as her. I understood for the first time how she had coped with the emotional trauma in 2004, of her daughter having strokes and emergency heart surgery and losing her mum all at the same time. As I realised I was doing exactly what she had done.
The only thing I could do, I carried on, not allowing myself the indulgence of crumpling. Instead I was kind to myself, I was careful to be mindful in everything I did and said, for the sake of myself and my loved ones. As I knew deep down (and still do) that if I allowed myself to jump in to the dark gigantic negative hole in my heart that was, I would give up. Throw in the towel on this cruel relentless and painful life, ignoring anything positive, shattering all the hard work I had done to survive life after stroke. I knew I would lose the strength it takes to live with daily pain and physical limitations and therefore lose any chance of happiness. Walking through those work doors on that Monday after her death I knew I had become everything my mum and I had work so hard for me to achieve following my life changing illness. I knew I had carry on, but I knew I had to make time and give energy to looking after myself and consciously manage my grief. Something I continue to do to this day. I started by being very honest Stuart and my very closest of friends, seeking their support and not being completely silent about how I was feeling. My sister and I made sure we were always at the end of the phone to help each other and still do. We made sure we saw each other often and supported our dad regardless of how hard that was personally sometimes. These relationships have been strengthened by the support they showered me with since losing my mum.
Being strong, coping with her death, carrying on with my work, my relationships, building changed ones with my family without her there. Does not take away the pain of her loss, it does not take away the grief or the cloud of missing her that follows me every day that I have to push away more times that I like to admit.
I was and continue to be surprised by grief. For me its comes in waves that wash over you even when you least expect. Not on certain days like her birthday, mothers day or the day she died but on any day, as the missing her is with me everyday. Four years on the sadness of losing her in no less, a disappointing realisation as I always thought time is the best healer, but so far time has done sod all for me, maybe in more time this will be different.
Outwardly I am fine. Inwardly I am fine but like a swans feet under the water I work hard, not allowing myself to step in to the black hole she left behind. I read helpful literature, I draw on my CBT tool box and lesson learnt whist on a Louise Hay based course that I attended (lead by Mags O’Brien). All of which helps me focus and enjoy the good times and not let the fact she is not there take control of my mind or my mood too much.
So four years on my grief is the same. I miss her, she is in my thoughts everyday, some I allow, some are too painful so I push them away for self-preservation . I have coped much better than I could have ever expected, which makes me proud. I would give everything to be able to chat to her about all things that have happened as a result of her death. I would love to have her opinions on it all, instead of my own thoughts on what she would say, buts its ok that I can’t.
I have learned that grief is very personal, for me it’s much more of a private internal journey that a short time doesn’t fix. It is definitely a matter of “gone but not forgotten”, and in fact I probably carry my mum with me into all areas of your life, in a way you didn’t when they were alive. For example I know I can’t wash up now without thinking of her now, which wasn’t the case before. Grief is definitely the hardest challenge I have ever faced and we all know I have had more than my far share of challenges. But I have found ways of coping or carrying on.
In my next blog and second part of this one, I will discuss in more details the strategies and things I have used and continue to use, that have helped me. Helping me to deal with losing my mum, with my grief and managing changed relationships and as a result of this loss. Whilst also managing the day-to-day living with pain and fatigue.
The following two blogs I found interesting:
Relates to Prince Harry and dealing with his own grief.
The second discusses grief an creativity.
Details of courses run by Mags O’Brien can be found via her website: www.magslifetransformationspecialist.com