Laurie wrote to Let’s Talk About Loss recently to share her story. Whether it’s been seven weeks or seven years since you lost a parent, grief is a complicated and confusing time. The aim of Let’s Talk About Loss is to share stories that might help others to understand and heal.
My beautiful mum died seven weeks ago. A short, sharp descent took her from her energetic self, to intensive care, in just over two weeks – acute heart failure triggered by treatment for melanoma.
In the end, despite the drips (fourteen I think), the tubes, the beeps, the overwhelming sense of helplessness – my mum’s death was calm and peaceful. The nursing staff were incredibly thoughtful; turning all machines to silent (to save us the trauma of alarms going off), leaving me to watch the numbers on my mum’s heart monitor get lower and lower, as I stroked the soft skin of her arm.
This isn’t the first time I have been with a family member as they breathe their last. Stood by her hospital bed, I remembered the tenderness, compassion and love my mum had radiated for her beloved little sister when she died five years earlier. I wanted her to be immersed in the same way, and she was.
Red kites in the distant hills
Several people have asked if it was a shock. Yes and no. She had been ill on and off over the past few years, and her early death had always been a very real fear. So in one way I knew it was on the cards, and of course death is the only real certainty in life. But context is everything. And yes, it was absolutely and utterly shocking. In the space of two weeks I went from researching birds in Africa, to sitting with my mum in the hospital, to planning her funeral. Planning the funeral of the person who would usually help me make sense of such a crazy situation.
“So what comes next? I am still feeling my way with grief”
My mum’s funeral already feels a bit of a blur. The crematorium looked out over hills above which red kites drifted throughout the ceremony. I gave a reading for her. As soon as I sat back down my body started shaking uncontrollably – something I observed with interest. Grief can be very physical too! I was stunned by the number of people that came from all over the country to say goodbye. We filled the chapel and spilled over into the waiting room. An amazing testament to her. I felt so much love and pride, knowing how many people she had reached out to, and how highly they thought of her. It was an exhausting day, but fascinating to meet people from all aspects of her life. I came away with new insights to her as a person.
So what comes next? I am still feeling my way with grief. What I have learned so far is not to underestimate how much energy emotions can consume. The confusion, forgetfulness and anxiety that can come from a brain in a whir of processing. I find the facts of my mum’s death surprisingly easy to discuss. They are real, tangible, they don’t change. Feelings however can be downright unpredictable! Keeping myself busy has been useful for me, but I have quickly learned the importance of recognising when it is time to stop and embrace my feelings. I am blessed with several friends who I can draw strength from, laugh with, cry with, sit in silence with. For some time I have been dedicating my yoga practice to two friends who share a similar pain, but for a little while at least, I will set my intentions closer to home.
“I can’t bear to talk about her in the past tense – the things she is won’t change”
My grief is often a gentle hum, always in the background, but unpredictably it can lurch forwards, often with little warning. There are the small things. Watching her name slipping down and down on my phone’s message screen. The thought of nothing ever being written again in her beautiful flowing handwriting. The smell of her perfume on the shawl I brought home with me. I can’t bear to talk about her in the past tense – the things she is won’t change. A caring, smart, supportive woman, with a great sense of humour. It is only her physical presence that is in the past. The hardest realisation for me is the time stretching forwards. The new adventures, the achievements, the stories that I won’t be able to share with her. Of course I will use her memory, encouraging me to laugh and love, just as she always has.
A novice at this grief thing
This week I had my first of firsts. My first birthday without my mum. It’s been years since I’ve seen her on my birthday – something like 280 miles separate our homes. But we would always chat, and there would always be that writing waiting in my post box. As a novice at this grief thing I wasn’t expecting such an emotional battering.
My mum has always been the one constant presence in my life. An emotional support, a sounding board, the best advice (even the bits I didn’t want to hear!). I have so much to thank her for. I laughed out loud recently at the thought of the conversation my teenage self would have with my 30 something self at the prospect of turning into her mother. For the younger iteration of me, it would have felt like one of the most dire things that could have happened. Older and (I think) a bit wiser, I realise how amazing it is to be crafted in the mould of such an inspirational woman.
“My mum lived before she died, and so will I”
Writing this blog, my mind has skipped about a lot – bits have been deleted, rewritten, deleted again, then shuffled around. I’m not sure what the message is here. Grief is a hugely personal thing. Your feelings for, and relationship with, the loved one you ache for are unique to you.
As hard as it is, I know this experience will make me stronger. I know how lucky I am to have had such an amazing woman for my mum. When things feel at their bleakest I remind myself that my mum lived before she died, and so will I.
Laurie’s story is so inspiring – reminding us all that although death is inevitable, we must live our lives to the full before that happens. If you’ve got a story to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.