The Blog

Finding My Way After Losing My Mum

I never knew pain until I went to see my mum and she wasn't there. Grief is something intangible. It has no parameters, no manual, no plan. It crashed into my life and physically took my breath away; weighing me down with such force and suffocating me with its intensity.
Yuichiro Chino via Getty Images

I always thought my mum would be by my side forever. My brain acknowledged dying as one of the few certainties in life, but my heart refused to accept it.

Plagued with ill health for more than ten years, her medical chart read like a cocktail of some of the most intolerable afflictions possible. Yet there was something about the cancer diagnosis six months ago that shook us to the core.

We were at the latter stages of planning for a kidney transplant; sought to overcome the renal failure caused by medication taken to combat auto-immune hepatitis, when the most feared disease was discovered in both her lungs.

What we had hoped would be the end to her troubles transpired to be just the beginning of them.

A rigorous chemotherapy regime began almost immediately; with expectations of a full cure for the Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma which was coursing through her blood and into her lungs, chest wall and windpipe.

While it ebbed away at her physically at every cycle, she remained stoic and upbeat. She lost her appetite, her mobility and sadly at times her dignity, but her positive outlook kept us afloat during some of the bleakest moments.

The last hospital stay began like every other. She had contracted an infection and, in isolation, was treated accordingly. Except this time the infection was pneumonia and as her breathing steadily worsened so did the prognosis. We knew the end was in sight. As we prayed for a miracle, we made plans for her funeral.

My mum left this world exactly one month ago on 18th August 2016, with my dad, my sister and myself by her side. As I made my way home to take a shower, refuel and spread the news, I know I looked the same on the outside, but something inside me had altered forever.

I wasn't a child when my mum died, which is a tragedy I cannot begin to comprehend, yet she was taken too soon; at a time when years of retirement lay ahead of her, when she should have borne witness to her grandchildren growing up, when her own daughters continued to long for her guidance and her husband wished for her presence and companionship. At 33 and with three young children of my own, I feel robbed of what could have been.

I never knew pain until I went to see my mum and she wasn't there. Grief is something intangible. It has no parameters, no manual, no plan. It crashed into my life and physically took my breath away; weighing me down with such force and suffocating me with its intensity. Then it will creep back; hanging delicately in the air, but cruelly allowing me time to almost forget the fate which has befallen us. Glimpses of the familiar will seep back in; the children will squabble, I'll find myself immersed in my work, I laugh at something banal on the television. But denial only takes me so far; life will never be the same again.

I'm told there are seven stages to grief and certainly my healing is in its infancy, but what I have realised is that grief is not linear. It doesn't start strong and taper off with time, but rather appears in waves. It might be a birthday, a song or an innocuous comment, but it has a habit of catching you unawares and colouring everything with a tinge of grey.

The fragility of life also comes into sharp focus. Not only have I found myself playing her final few days over and again in my mind, but also I've started questioning when and how I might die. My family. The order. Death used to be the biggest taboo, now it permeates most of my thoughts.

This is when friends come into their own. They have fed and watered us, offered a shoulder and an ear and caught us when we've thought we might just fall. As a family we have rallied; pulling tighter still on the bond that holds us together so as to nurture the very thing that has been threatened.

People want to help. Any task, big or small, that will ease the burden - if only temporarily - is suggested. They make contact in their droves; reminding us that their presence is a constant and their support unfaltering. It is a comfort that cannot be denied but I am unable to explain why, when my mind is constantly whirring with thoughts, I have nothing to say when they ask how I am. The simplest question with the most complex of answers.

In order to wade through the fog, I have to believe that this was our fate; that my mum was gifted to us for 70 years and that her profound legacy will endure. If she shaped me so much when she was here, surely she will continue to shape me in her death and the experience will guide me and teach me to become a better person in the world that I've been left with.

I do look for her. Is she the flowers that bloomed so brightly in my kitchen? Is she keeping me awake at night so we can share some quiet time? Does she hear me when I speak to her? If she is in heaven, like my children think, perched on a cloud and watching over us, does she see me when I shower? Is she in my thoughts at the very moment that I'm not thinking about her? If she's gone in its truest sense, at least she can't see our pain, but believing that she is with us still, somehow, does make that pain more bearable.

Albeit that I'm drowning in well-intended but misplaced cliches, some are nonetheless true. Life is short. My mum would want me to be happy. Time is a healer. And for now, I'm taking things day by day.