It breaks my heart knowing that if you are reading, or coming back to this post you have already lost someone you love and are going through the motions of grief. You may be about to lose someone you love and nothing I write will make you feel any better, I can't take away the pain that is boring a hole through your body, but I can let you know my experience and there may be a small amount of comfort found. Please please be wary reading this post if you are in a fragile place.
My mum died at 9.30am on Mothering Sunday, 11th March 2018 surrounded by her family. The death was expected, I received a phone call from my dad on Tuesday 27th Feb telling me they had found tumours on her brain and it was going to happen quickly, a few weeks at best. It was a shock as she underwent major surgery in January to remove the cancer and a few weeks later got the all clear, she had to stay in hospital but just needed to build her strength up. We text about what we would do when she got out. That Thursday mum was released, my sister battled all the snow and drove down to Stamford, we followed shortly after on Saturday morning, 3rd March.
Nothing prepares you for that phone call. You see it happen on TV, you watch people receive the news and breakdown, smash walls, wail angrily. That didn't happen to me. I had just finished writing and uploaded this blog post (it still pains me to read the second to last paragraph) my phone was on charge as it had died whilst I was editing photographs, Michael came through to me with Dad on the phone. I knew this was it.
The last time Dad called me crying and unable to speak my nana (his mum) had died only a month earlier. My heart sank so quickly I was instantly hot and instantly nauseated. He couldn't get words out. I just kept saying "what?, is it Mum?, what? Dad you need to talk!". A brief explanation of what the doctors had found, and that I needed to come now. There was slight relief that she wasn't dead and that I could still see her. She was still in Addenbrooks, Cambridge and not at home yet and it was up to me if I went to Cambridge or Stamford as they didn't know when they would let her out. I just said OK, said I loved him, asked if my sister knew and then hung up. Looked at Michael, who was crying and then I just remember being on the floor crying and saying "no". Over and over again.
I felt that after receiving that phone call and even though mum was still alive, I started grieving. I cried for about 3 days straight. I can't find it within me to re-read any texts I sent to her in that time yet but I know I just spammed her with I love yous. I had so many things I wanted to say to her as I knew there was now a finite amount of time that I would be able to, but all that came out was that I loved her so much. She text me some of her favourite songs, her favourite whinnie the pooh quotes, we swore about how shit it was and she told me to stop crying, "crying doesn't solve anything". Something she had said to me more times than I would like to admit throughout my life. I just couldn't get my head around the fact that the lady I was talking to and having jokes with, would be dead soon. She was the mum I had always known and I kept hoping the doctors had made a terrible mistake.
Just as I find writing about my life quite natural, I also took to the internet to read about other people who had been through what I was about to endure. Whilst I found a few helpful blogs to explain what to expect, one of the best things I found about dealing with others, was called The Spiral and it is something that I think can apply to all family or friend crises. I shall quote Kate (a lady diagnosed with terminal cancer)
Take a moment to think about where you sit in our world. In the centre of the spiral is me, the person who is dying. In the next circle out is our little foursome of a family. Sort of in the same bracket, but sort of not, are our parents, brothers and sisters. Outside that, a handful of our dearest friends, godparents to our children, best men and women. Outside that – and this is a big, blurry, happy set of categories – are others whom I love, but who are one degree removed. Colleagues. Old friends from work, university or school. Aunts and uncles. Outside that comes people I know but I’m not properly in touch with: former housemates; friends’ other halves; my husband’s colleagues; an old boss; ex-boyfriends; school-gate mums. And so on, until you get to the world at large.
Where you sit in the spiral defines how you behave. The rule is simple: you provide support to those closer to the centre than you. And you expect support from those further out than you. So, to put it bluntly, you can only emotionally dump on people in circles further out than your own.
I thought this was very helpful, be mindful of who you are dumping on and push out of your spiral for support. You will notice some family members will not do this, perhaps give them a gentle reminder that it is not about them. I think the same applies to afterwards, to grief. Whilst I will talk to my sister about how I am feeling, I know she is feeling shitty too, as is my dad so they don't need to hear how sad I am. I push out of my spiral to Michael and my friends.
The 'pangs' (as they shall be known) started quite soon after The Phonecall, they were waves of the most excruciating sadness that physically took my breath away and reduced me to tears. The kind of tears that were very wet, wouldn't stop and resulted in bunged nose, headaches and puffy eyes each time. Kim K style crying. The pangs were worse at night as I realised as soon as I fell asleep I was one day closer to not having my mum any more.
The worse pang I had where I had to hold it together was when we had the most depressing yet lovely Sunday lunch. It was the Sunday after I got down south and all our family drove across. Mum requested roast beef, and Nana's trifle. I was sat in the dog bed (there weren't enough seats for all 15 of us) with my lunch on my lap and it just hit me that this was it. The last time we were all together, and the next time would be without her at mums funeral.
The day of the death, mothering Sunday, was actually quite calm. Leading up to the funeral was quite busy, there is a lot to sort out when someone dies. It wasn't until after the funeral and I got back up to Leeds that I think the actual grieving started.
I don't believe this '5 stages of grief' theory is actually true. I dance from acceptance to anger to denial in a day. Instead I would get pangs of grief that would wash over me then subside. I would hear a song, find a letter, see something mum bought me and a little thought would say "oh that reminds you of mum" and then a pang would come. When she first died the pangs were almost daily, I would cry several times a day. Often out of the blue (or so it would look). I cried in Tesco because the biscuits I put in my basket had mum's birthday as the best before date, our new sofa arrived and I took a picture to text mum then had to remind myself she had died. You go through days thinking about it constantly, to not thinking about it at all.
I have found that to begin with everyone musters up around you "please text me if you need anything" "I am here if you need to talk". Flowers arrive, cards arrive, people drop round with some treats. Jump forward just 2 months and these all stop and you realise that it was your mum, not theirs, they have gone back to living their life and you are the one who has to deal with it and that can feel quite lonely. There is obviously no malice intended from your friends etc, you don't want them to be holding a vigil every night, but it does remind you that the only person who knows your grief is you.
Grieving is very lonely, whilst I will tell Michael how I am feeling and he has been nothing but supportive, especially on the days I physically will not leave my bed, he is not in my head thinking the things I am thinking. No one is. You feel all the emotions but the overwhelming one for me is longing. It is the longing to see my mum again but knowing I never will that is kicking me at the moment. There is a massive hole that cannot be filled and I hope in time it will shrink but for now it feels vast.
Is this blog post all doom and gloom? Why yes my friend it is. But what I can say is that 4 months in is slightly less shitty than one month in, and a whole lot better than the day I got The Phonecall. In all honesty I am surprised I am managing to get my jumbled thoughts out in to words, because you feel so many things, but also question what you're feeling. Is this it? Is this grief? Am I sad enough? Have I been happy today? Am I doing it right? No one can tell you how to grieve, you just sort of do it, I imagine similarly to motherhood.
My mums death is still so very raw, I see her laying in her literal death bed every night before I go to sleep. I have woken up crying, and been emotionally winded on waking after dreaming about her still being alive but, I have laughed at Taskmaster, I have had fun with my friends, real, honest laughter, not pretending to be happy but actual happiness.
After the After
I think the only word that can sum up how I feel about moving forward is dread. I am dreading my sisters birthday in August, I am dreading mums birthday in November and don't even talk to me about Christmas. How do you even have a Christmas when the matriarch you had your entire life is no longer with you? If I let my brain go there right now then I don't think I would be a functioning adult, I am not sure that is healthy, I am not sure if I would advise it but that's how I am coping at the moment and I think I am doing OK.
From what people have kindly told me it does get better. You don't get over it, you get used to it. You accept it. There will always be hard times, there will always be Mo Town playing to remind you. There will always be Christmas. I think it will be about how I choose to incorporate my grief in to these situations that will make these occasions enjoyable again.
Be gentle with yourself.
**Sorry for any spelling and grammatical errors I couldn't bring myself to read back through this today, I will soon.
If you feel you need to talk to someone please do, it is so important. Whilst I am an instagram message away this is the first time I have lost someone close to me, I am not qualified or even probably mentally stable enough to offer good advice.
Cruse Bereavement Care
Phone: 0844 477 9400 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm)
Your Local GP
Phone: 0808 808 00 00 (9am-8pm, Monday to Friday).