This blog comes from Laura, a young woman who lost her mum after a long illness, and shares her thoughts about anticipating grief, and how it feels when it finally hits.
One of the hardest things I found when my mum died, was the feeling: ‘I should have been prepared for this’. After years of illness, the doctors had warned us that she would likely die in a few months, so – in some ways – my life had been building up to that moment.
So why did I feel so rotten afterwards? Other family members seemed to have already grieved for my mum while she was ill, a process known as anticipatory grief. While they were understandably upset when it happened, they seemed to have already come to terms with the situation in a way that I had not and could not.
You’re mourning the loss of what you thought your life was going to be
The expectation to be fine
I had lost my mum, I had no other siblings and I felt like people expected to me to be OK just because “it had been a long time coming” or “she’s not in pain anymore”.
I particularly found I was rose-tinting things in my memories, imagining the trips we could have taken and the meals we would have eaten. This was perhaps the hardest thing to get my head around; we had already stopped doing those things a while ago so how could I miss something I didn’t have in the first place?
Losing the possibility
The answer came to me in an episode of the US sitcom about a radio psychiatrist, Frasier. “You are in mourning,” he tells a caller. “But you’re not mourning the loss of your partner, you’re mourning the loss of what you thought your life was going to be.”
What I was mourning was the loss of possibility. While my mum was alive, there was always the possibility she would get better and things would go back to normal. Now she was dead, that opportunity had been taken away.
No longer could I hope she’d help me pick out a wedding dress, hope she’d meet my future children…. I may have known that before, but deep down I was always hoping there would be a chance things would change, a hope I didn’t even realise I was holding onto.
My new reality
I still find things hard sometimes (and have started a seeing a real-life therapist as opposed to listening to the advice of a sitcom one), but that line has been one of the best bits of advice I’ve heard.
I’ve learned to stop comparing myself to others, and stop feeling that I need to hurry up my grieving just because I knew it would happen. Losing a parent is one of the worst things to go through and I’m allowed to grieve for that in my own time, regardless of how much notice I may have had.
If you’ve been affected by Laura’s story, you might find it helpful to join one of our meet up groups, and get to know other young people who have been bereaved. You can find your local meet up here. Together, we’re talking through the taboo.