It is now an unbelievable six years since I lost my mum. For anyone who knows me well, she was the rock of my life, my mum, my best friend and really the beginning and end of my world. Losing her was indeed the hardest thing I have encountered during my life and anything challenging since I lost her has become, in some respects, more minor since dealing with that, but in others, doubly challenging as I lost the one person in whom I could trust without judgement, bias or prejudice.
I have learnt many things though. I have changed in many more ways than I thought possible and all of them for the better. Here's what I learnt:
- Everything is relative: Once you have gone through something as devastating as the loss of someone close to you and learnt you can survive, you will feel empowered to deal with many other of life's challenges. Breakups can always be put into perspective, tough days never feel like the tough days of shocking, sudden loss. Emotional pain somehow doesn't feel as painful when you remember the pain of bereavement. Whenever I'm going through anything now, I remember that the one thing I would never survive, I did, and not only survived, but came out stronger for it.
- Make sure the people in your life know you love them: I can't imagine what it would be like to have lost mum and she not realise she was the light of my life. I never got to say goodbye, but she was in no doubt that I adored her. I always told her I loved her, I wrote her 'love letters' to say thank you. I still find these now, as we clear out the house, readying my father to move to a smaller home. However you communicate, do it at any chance you can.
- We are stronger than we think: In the midst of things it's hard to see the light but while dark things are happening beautiful things are also going on. I never thought I could pull through that loss in one piece but I did and never imagined I had that resilience deep inside.
- It's ok that you're sad. If people don't know how to deal with the fact you're sad, that's ok. Continue to honour your emotions, whether that means crying in public, retreating to your safe house, taking time off work when you need it, anything, as we all use different tools to manage things.
- Make the most of the special people we have in our lives - every single day. I can't imagine how it must feel to have regrets about not having made the most of someone in their lifetime, or not truly shown your appreciation, love or gratitude. Many people do, and I can only imagine this as a life sentence.
- Nobody can ever understand if they've not been through it - be compassionate of that. In turn, I am grateful of the compassion grief has taught me. I too never knew what to say or do in that dreadful moment of learning of someone's loss. I had no idea what they were going through. It was that simple.
- People will always say silly things: It's not their fault. I had awful things like "that's the cycle of life" to "that sucks" and none of them were said with any bad intention, but they felt like the worst and most facile things to hear in the wake of my devastation. There is never a good thing to say to someone who's suffered a loss. Sometimes a simple, "I'm sorry" or a hug is the best thing anyone can do for you.
- You really find the people who are the good souls in your life. One friend was angry with me for shutting myself away and fell out with me for it. We were clearly not meant to be friends. Luckily, I had many more who I can't thank enough for just being there for me.
- Life doesn't go to a plan and we must accept there will always be things unexpected: Mum wasn't on her death bed or diagnosed with a terminal illness. Five days after I waved her off at Dubai airport heading back to Heathrow, I was preparing to fly home for her funeral. What this tragedy taught me is that there will always be things beyond our control which scupper plans, which scupper life. It changed me so much that I have changed from a person who loved nothing more than having a raft of scheduled plans, to in fact preferring life to be a little looser, a little less rigid. In honesty, too many plans now panic me.
- Life can be cruel and death is life's only certainty. Be grateful for at least one positive thing in your life and enjoy it - every - single - day. It's cliche, but gratitude is a vital practice of everyday life. Every night, I pray and thank God, the Universe, my guardian angels, for every single thing in my life; the good, the bad, the challenging, the people, the opportunities, the roof over my head, the car which takes me to work all over town, all the way down to the food on my plate. I truly appreciate everything, every day, and I think that changed my whole outlook on life.