Losing my mum

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Fay talks about coping with grief

My mum died in early December 2017. She had been ill for a while, but the finality of someone dying is still shocking, even if it is expected. Even now, the realisation that she isn’t coming back will hit me, suddenly, out of nowhere, and physically take my breath away.

I think it is easy to underestimate the physical signs of grief and its lasting impact; I have had people imply that I should be over mum’s death by now. I don’t think that is how grief works – a loss is something you adapt to and eventually start becoming used to, not something you ever get over. My dad died in 2003, before I was an adult, so it is harder to relate him to my life now, but there are still songs, smells and memories which can make me laugh or cry in an instant.

After a loved one dies

When mum died, there was almost a sense of relief; that the thing we were all dreading had finally happened, that she was free, and so were we. When she died, her cancer – which had ruled our lives for so long – went too, and the guilt at the relief is enormous. By the same token, life switches in an instant – the routine of hospital appointments, and smiling nurses and hospice carers disappear too, and that can feel very lonely.

My sister and I were then faced with funeral planning, paperwork and sorting. I had never been to the tip or to charity shops so much in my life! I have learnt that it is important to ask for help, and to not put too much pressure on yourself. If you want to sleep, sleep. If you want to have a mad rush of productivity and organisation, do that. For me, keeping busy was important, but I also tried to take time to myself to feel mum’s loss.

Lasting effects of bereavement

I am very organised, and I like finding solutions and fixing things. When we knew mum’s illness was terminal, having to accept there was nothing else we could do was very hard. I definitely see the effect that both of my parents’ deaths has had on me every day – despite being a very positive person, I find it very difficult not to catastrophise, or not to panic if someone doesn’t answer their phone.

I have realised that life is short and to only keep people I really care about – and who care about me – close to me. I have been very lucky that I have amazing friends who are like family to me, who made sure I was looking after myself and who are always on the other end of the phone. I am also lucky that my team at work have been amazing – they were very understanding and supportive when mum died, and still understand now when some things are difficult for me.

Helping someone who is grieving

If you know someone who is grieving, I would suggest taking them meals, not flowers; remembering birthdays and anniversaries that may be difficult for them; and giving them opportunities to talk about their loved one.

Grief can make you feel very alone, especially the more time that passes after the event, as it seems such a long time ago to other people. All the initial phone calls and check-ins fade away. Thinking about death may not help everyone, but it is a part of life, unfortunately, and accepting it and trying to normalise death has helped me.

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