It’s been 3 weeks since I lost my Mum. She died at 61 years old. She took all the available treatment, she went on the trials; with her type of cancer (pancreatic), the average patient usually lives 9 months. She lasted 2 years and one month, and she enjoyed every minute of that, despite the symptoms and side effects (constant and intense pain, chronic diarrhea, bone weakening leading to osteoporosis and spinal fractures due to the chemo).
Since my mother was first diagnosed, and we knew that she had a 95% chance of dying within 5 years, I felt like there was a shadow looming over my life. I thought of the expense of traveling to visit her more. To say “we weren’t close'” is an understatement. I felt resentful. And petrified. What if I would have to help her in the bathroom, or the shower? I couldn’t bear the thought of it.
I made the decision to let go of the long, dark, past, which was scary. It meant that I went to her, willingly, just sitting and watching, while someone I loved suffered and smiled, to try and hide it. I stopped going out when I was at home, I socialised much less. I watched a lot of TV shows I downloaded. I cried until I couldn’t physically cry anymore. I kicked the shit out of my bed to get my anger out. I’m a voracious reader, but I just didn’t have the mental energy to pick up a novel for quite some time. My brain just wasn’t working anymore.
Supporting Friends Who Are Grieving
There’s tonnes of books on grieving, and I’ve read a selection. “Everyone grieves differently” seems to be a common theme, and there are different stages, like: anger, sadness, rage, guilt, acceptance etc. It seems like grief is the one time where you are “allowed” to go a bit mad.
Sometimes, I felt like I needed to be alone. Other times, I wanted to be around people, and laugh at a silly joke and take a break from what was happening. I mainly didn’t/don’t want to verbalise what’s been happening and how I felt/feel as I don’t like to cry in public. But sometimes I like just knowing someone else was there beside me at the cinema, or at a yoga class. Being there, being available, knowing that I’ve got stuff going on and not disowning me, was enough.
Ask your friend what they want. Maybe they don’t know! They might be bursting to talk about it, but not want to bring you down. Or they might just want to be around you and listen to what’s happening in your life. That’s where I’m at at the minute; I’m meeting up with/Skyping good friends, and listening to the fun stuff they’re doing and having a good old belly laugh.
Beware of Giving Advice
One behaviour I would steer away from is advice (she says, after having given advice for paragraph after paragraph…). People would ask how I was, and I would say (honestly) “I’m sad”, and then… they must not know what to say or something, so they start to tell me to DO things, like exercise, or getting my nails done. I didn’t find that helpful, at all. Especially when my mum was in the final stages, as she was at home (where she wanted to be) and we were doing a lot of stuff for her.
Advice giving is also summed up really well in this blog and now graphic novel called Hyperbole and a Half. This chapter is about depression but I thought of it when hapless friends tried to find a “solution” to my sadness.
It is what it is. I mainly just wanted people to be “there”, and to listen. I don’t think I moaned about it a lot, but sometimes it felt good to be honest and not just say “I’m fine”, when I wasn’t feeling fine at all. I asked questions about how other people were too. I wanted to hear about them as a distraction from all the stuff that was going on. I cheered for their victories, and listened to their worries. “Oh, you don’t want to hear about that. That’s nothing compared to what’s happening with you” they would say, but I wanted to hear about “normal” trials and tribulations, like dinging the car or arguing with a partner; I craved it. I would have loved to have been moaning about a parking ticket or a phone company over charging me. That would have been f-ing bliss compared to the chest collasping dread I felt when my mum was running low on morphine.
Hope that gives you some sort of insight in to how one person dealt/deals with grief and loss.
Another thing I read was that grief is a lonely road. No matter who I was talking to about it, I felt alone. Your Uncle died? Not the same. Your mother died a few years ago? Well, that was a few years ago, and it was different because… Each person’s grief is unique. There are common themes, like anger, sadness, shock, but essentially, we are alone in our emotions. That’s OK. You don’t have to make your friend feel better. That’s not in your power. But you can just *be* there. And you can give him/her a big warm hug.
How to Prepare for Your Own Parents’ Death
Emotionally, nothing can prepare you for the death of a parent/loved one, and no amount of worrying in the present will take the sting out of future loss. Take it one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time, and second by second you will endure through those difficult moments.
Doing some things when they are (relatively) well will make the process easier. If they are able to “get their affairs in order”, i.e. write a will, collect house bills and bank statements, write instructions for someone else about house stuff (like turning on the boiler and reading the meters etc), maybe auction off some of the knick-knacks, try to “white box” the house a little, i.e. remove wallpaper, paint things cream, have the skirting boards painted, maybe have some solar panels put in (my region gives seniors a grant to do that for free), then that will make stuff easier for you, when “the time comes”.
My mother was able to do that in some ways, but not in others, as I wrote about here. I did what I could, and I was glad that I did, because when she died, there was so so much to do, and I had so little energy, that we would have been in a deep mess if I hadn’t spent the summer cleaning out the attic and the garage etc.
One thing I wish that I had done was go through the photos with her. After she died, we found a mountain of photos, uncategorised, from before she was married and we were a born, and I saw so many people I didn’t recognise. All I wanted to do was to ask her to tell me about who was in the photos, but she was already gone.