I wanted to pen something as I am learning to steer my course through what I suspected to be one of the toughest things in my life, but this journey isn’t the one I anticipated. Or to be more precise, it is not the one I think Hollywood had lead me to expect.
Yes, losing my mum is rotten, and yes leukemia is a snide bastard and yes watching someone you love going through chemo is like watching someone attempt to fix your precious watch with a sledge hammer; but my world did not implode on itself when my mum died in my arms.
So I thought maybe someone might want to hear that the one thing we can all hope to have to experience, might possibly not be just horrific and horrific only.
Grief is a funny wavy old bugger, but the crumpled on the floor image of harrowing horror has yet to occur. What knocks me sideways is surprising; someone telling me the defining pride of being a grandparent; the bud of a beautiful new flower my mum would know the name of; simply being able to share with her that all things considered, I think I am doing bloody well. It’s a big considered, but none the less.
It has made me realise how, in a way, I think I based my expectations of grief somewhere between a thousand films of wailing, harrowing shoddy actors and a deep societal comprehension of death being bleaker than bleak and utterly joyless. When actually I am not sure I buy that. I think death is amazing - as amazing as life. Death really is the final whistle on this game - and who doesn’t want to know the score? I certainly wouldn’t want to play if I knew I was going to have to be running up and down the pitch for the rest of eternity.
However, I have also realised that the classic image of the bereaved child (and we are all kids when it comes to the death of our parents) was also quite helpful - as that is what I had set as a bench mark for what I thought it would all be like. Finding out I am coping better than that has been a bit of a surprise. So when the electric jolt of thinking “I’ll just give mum a bell… oh.” slaps my face, I allow myself a bit of space.
Lesson 1: Bereavement: over promise and under achieve.
If there is a universal intrinsic value in going through the hard times, it is that the empathy they facilitate is as precious as the air I sometimes find myself gasping for.
Without going through a situation yourself you are not always able to provide counsel, let alone squeak open a rusty old gate of grief to enable someone you care about to exhale near you.
Most people want to talk. When you’ve been there and done that, I think if you learn to walk carefully and are aware of the path you tip toe, you can be the most precious listener a friend could wish for.
Thank you to all the folk of Twitter who have shared and trellised me through these past few months. For reasons that are glaringly obvious, it has been with you, my imaginary friends and fine pen pals, I have learnt to walk again. Where I can be anonymous and fall over and you don’t mind. And when you do hold a grudge, that is generally signaled by an “unfollow” - and who cares where that lot slope off to?
No special names are needed but those who have held out your 140 characters (both in and out of public view) have been nothing short of my float when I have started to drift. I honestly cannot thank you enough for the snorkels you are. You astound me. Genuinely.
Lesson 2: Learn. To Listen.
The Gene Ambassador:
Frightening as it initially sounded, I realised with great honour that I am my mum’s representative now.
People meet her through the things she taught me, the beauty she remembered to search for, the laughter she bowled into a room with. But not only the assets, also the things I would have been sharp to critisise in myself until now, her fabulously off topic ramblings, my occasional ginge tendencies, my shape, my fabulous capacity not to finish a task as well as I started it; they are no longer things I scorn in myself as inevitable failings, but cherish them as carrying my mum with me. And therefore my efforts to improve myself become a genetic path upon which we are growing together still. The idea my worst personality trait could hark back to an ancestor from the 16th century (or similar) floors me. It’s incredible. I am learning stuff for this long, long line of people. It’s amazing. (Yeah, yeah, get the incense out - I mean it - IT”S AMAZING!)
Lesson 3: Your roots keep growing.
It never ceases to amaze me that gratitude is my shovel on my darkest of days. It usually amazes me as I seem to have the most amazing capacity to forget this treasure on a near daily basis.
I am so grateful I got the chance to say goodbye to my mum, I am so grateful that I live a lifestyle where I was able to put my life on hold to be her carer, I am so grateful I live in a country where we have a health care system where mum was able to be looked after.
I am so grateful to have the breath taking, jaw dropping, phenomenal realisation that I am lucky enough to have known, loved and been loved by my parents That’s not something to be taken lightly. In the truest of senses - it is awesome.
And when all of that hits empty and I am just left with the tinny echo of the fact that I just plain miss her, I get myself grateful that she is not suffering any more. And in that there is absolute peace.
Lesson 4: Remember it’s amazing. Absolutely amazing.
Just Give it Some:
I used to hear people trot out the old “Time is the best healer” monologue at various inappropriate occasions of grief and listened with astonishment that ranged from thinking it sounded trite and insensitive to down right dismissive and rude.
I was wrong.
I was wrong because I was hearing it with the wrong ears. I thought people meant forget and move on. You’ll get over it. Dust yourself off. But actually time is the most wonderful tonic in that it allows you to create new, fresh, happy memories that are not utterly entwined in the person you have lost.
As I find laughter and smiles in the usual places (as well as some I was not expecting - doing to first bit of gardening on my mum’s grave and doing a few horror film hands reaching up from the soil… ahhh, maybe you had to be there…), the stomach punch “the last time we…” becomes less frequent. So that with time, I get grateful for those memories as opposed to them poisoning the new ones like an oil spill.
Lesson 5: One day at a precious time.
If my life philosophy is to be summarised at all, it is in the essence of learning and creating value from every possible situation.
And by whatever god you chose to call upon in times like these, death has a hell of a lot of life to teach me.