Loss is painful, whatever age. Sandra shares her story of losing her mum at 56, and the pain she feels about not being able to talk about loss.
I’m not young, I’m 57, so maybe I don’t belong here, but I can’t find anywhere else where I can just say what I feel. It’s just coming up to a year now since my mum died. She was 96, so perhaps some would say ‘it was expected; she was old’ or ‘you must have known it was coming, no one lives forever’. The truth is, it really doesn’t matter how old you are or how old the person you have lost was. The effect is the same. It’s a shock and it hurts and it goes on hurting.
The searing pain of loss
I don’t have a family and looked after my mum from 1985, when my dad died. Her health had never been good and it meant lots of hospital visits and finding ways to help her cope with her breathlessness and other health problems as they gradually worsened over the years, but no one else was going to do it. Eventually she suffered a bleed on the brain as the result of being told it was safe to take paracetamol regularly for a torn ligament in the knee, whilst on warfarin, which it turned out it was not. She survived for about six more weeks and then it got too much for her.
She didn’t have a happy death. It was horrible in the hospital. She loved fresh air and the windows were fixed shut so she couldn’t get any. The nurses were nice but terribly over-stretched and the doctors, in contrast, uncommunicative and relentlessly pessimistic. I didn’t have faith that she would be properly cared for at night, so took to staying with her all night during the last week of her life, just to be able to make sure she got whatever help might be needed. This exhausted me however and on the day she died, I went to move the car at about 9.00 am and being so tired, decided to go home and rest for a while, expecting my brother to arrive to be with her around lunch-time. By then the day staff had come on duty and I had more faith in them to look after her better. However, around midday, I got a call to say she would not last long and I should get back. I got another call before I could leave to say it was too late and she was gone.
Living life to the full
Mum may have been 96 and poorly, but she was someone who always lived in the present and looked to the future, never one to live in the past or look backwards. She engaged with life and was still making plans for the future even at such a great age! She did suffer from the ravages of old age in a few recognisable ways. She would mislay things and then blame me when she couldn’t find them and say I must have moved them! Her friends called her a Peter Pan, because she always seemed so young, or ‘Smiler’, because she was always smiling.
I believe that age doesn’t really play any part in grief. It hurts unbearably whatever your own age may be or the age of the one you have lost. It’s the loss that nearly destroys you. You’ll never get used to it, but this is the new normal and you have to build anew without that person in your life. Feeling myself sinking into a pit of misery and despair that I was worried I might not be able to get out of in those early months after she died, I sought to find a way of saving myself. The house was at once painfully empty and yet full of images of her in each room and walking down the stairs or sitting in her favourite chair.
Dancing through the pain
I decided I needed be taken out of myself, needed some kind of relief from the all the misery I felt and decided to take up a new activity that would take me out of the house and make me think about other things. I looked at taking up some new hobby. Mum had always loved dancing and I had always wanted to learn. I had been learning when my dad died more than 30 years ago and stopped after that. It hadn’t felt right to go on, weighed down by the pain of that loss then, but this time I decided it was something I needed to do that Mum would have loved too.
I’ve met some lovely new people there and I forget my troubles for a while when I go and always come home with a smile on my face. I think that’s one of the best things you can do; get out and find something you really enjoy to take you out of yourself and amongst other people and give you an escape – if only for a few hours. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s better than staying in alone with your grief. Walks in the park help too!
One year on, I still cry as I write this and the pain is still there all the time, below the surface, but I am starting to feel like I have a life again and will somehow be able to cope with life without my lovely mum – until we meet again.
You can read more stories of loss on our blog – we hope they will help anyone feel less alone in their grief. If you have a story you would like to share, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org and we would love to share it.