I lost my Mum to cancer in September 2013. I wish someone had warned me about the range of emotions and reactions I would go through in the subsequent days, months and years so I knew that what I was experiencing was perfectly normal. Information on grieving can be conflicting and confusing so I decided to detail my own experience.
There is no right or wrong way to mourn
Reactions to bereavement are as unique as a fingerprint. Response to death is usually dramatised as weeping and wailing in a melodramatic fashion. Emotions can be just as powerful without tears. Whether you spend days holding a vigil at a graveside or channel your grief into work, family or relationships; everyone deals with emotional trauma in different ways. Do not compare yourself to others. Do not judge yourself for feeling fragile years after the event.
Grief can have physical symptoms
In the year following my Mum’s death I experienced seemingly unrelated health issues. I had digestive problems – food would seem to lie in my stomach hours after I’d eaten and heartburn was common. I had constant flu-like symptoms: runny nose, sore head, aching limbs and lethargy that would send me to bed long before dark. I finally went to the GP convinced I had some mystery ailment but when I began to explain what I was experiencing he told me it was a normal side effect of grieving. I was given some medication for the digestive issues and advice on exercise and diet to give my immune system a well needed boost.
Knowing death is inevitable doesn’t make it easier
The only certainty of life: death. Until scientists discover the key to immortality (perish the thought) dying is the most inevitable fact of life. My Mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer in June 2012 at the age of 58, life expectancy was 10 months at best. We knew there was no cure, no happy ending. My realistic grasp of the situation was often criticised by friends, who accused me of grieving while my mother was still very much alive. I figured her death would be easier to handle if I gave myself a head start. Who was I kidding? I felt rooted to the spot whilst a lorry drove straight at me. I could shut my eyes but I would still feel the approaching threat. Mum’s passing was just as heart wrenching as if it had come out of the blue.
People say really stupid shit
Picture the scene… department store, quiet Monday morning. A clearly distressed individual buys a black tie, a black dress and a black coat. The counter assistant asks “going somewhere special?” a red-eyed glare was the only answer.
A month later I met a friend for coffee, still a little bit dazed but I picked up an odd vibe from her. Later that day I messaged to ask if anything was up. She replied “I was upset that you didn’t notice my weight loss. I lost six pounds since I last saw you.” Ah yes, the last time I saw you… that would have been Mum’s funeral. I was a little bit preoccupied. Another friend glibly compared losing a parent to her experience of losing luggage en route to a Caribbean cruise. We lost touch shortly after her comment.
Anniversaries can be anticlimactic
After a blur of Christmas, birthdays and Mother’s Day we had reached the anniversary of Mum’s death. I had taken time off work and my immediate family gathered on the day itself. It was oddly disappointing. No tears, no drama, no emotional release.
We put too much time and energy into that one day when in fact every day features some reminder of her. Whilst it can be important to honour traditions, sometimes it can be just as nice to share funny stories together any old Saturday morning.
It’s alright to ask for help
The loss of a loved one is undeniably grim. Sleep can be disturbed, the ability to concentrate can evaporate and moods vary from white-hot rage to complete numbness. Death is a largely taboo subject. Growing up I was told not to discuss such “depressing” topics at length for fear of upsetting or offending someone. For those who feel they have no one to talk to, speaking to your GP is a good place to start. They can offer a referral to counselling, prescribe medication if needed and advise on support groups in your local area. Nobody has to go through this alone.
If you or someone you know has been affected by the death of a loved one there are some excellent resources available online, I found the following sites useful: