The worst was over and it was time to rest.
To rest at last – the relief of it. The thought of going home to my bed in my house without sleeping in restless anticipation was almost too much to bare. We tore apart so quickly. Mum passed and we were severed too – splitting up to spend our day in different ways: with family, alone, walking, thinking, sleeping. We had all been tied to her side for weeks and now we were drifting. Our sun had set.
I went back to my house and slept for hours. Then I got a train back to Manchester.
Losing my mum was like losing the lynchpin to my existence. My mum was my go to – my first-to-dial, my voice, my confidence. Losing her was like starting again from day one. I wasn’t really sure who I was.
I was exhausted. For ten weeks I’d been by her side, cooking, trying to help, playing Pokemon, crying my way through stilted conversations. I would walk out of work at lunch and call her because I was so desperate for her to come back. Sometimes, even now, I’ll go on my phone and stare at her number before picking someone else to call. In the back of my mind, I’d like to believe that she’s still an option.
Nobody really prepares you for grief. Especially when you’re in a situation that moves so quickly. I’ve always struggled with anxiety and I was seriously concerned that grieving for my mum would send me into a pit of despair that I wouldn’t be able to pull myself out of. When I had struggled with it in the past, it was my mum who helped me get back on top of things again. I wasn’t sure who would pull me up.
It wasn’t quite like that. Grieving has been a complex and strange and beautiful (at times) journey that I feel is important to share in one shape or form.
I’ve learnt a few key things: like how it’s vital that we talk to each other about grief; that we speak about those we’ve lost regularly and confidently; that we learn to prioritise our own health and wellbeing when in times of grief.
Grief is crying at the most random of times, about the most random of things. It’s welling up at: M&S food section, toasted teacakes, coffee shops, Sundays, photographs, roasted chestnuts, Manchester. It’s laughing about it afterwards because you feel a bit silly.
It’s the guilt and the burden of seeing everyone else lose someone – of wanting to support them – of wishing you were able to offer them comfort.
It’s laughing really late at night at the thought of someone looking down on your day and thinking you’re ridiculous.
It’s buying loads of plants and plotting them across a grave like you’re on an espionage mission.
It’s a long, long list of questions and fumbling to invent answers.
It’s smiling quite a lot, and quite unexpectedly.
I’ve coped with grief in a number of ways. I’ve made it a priority to be very open about my experience, to share my journey with others and to hope that somewhere along the way they’ve thought, ‘me too’. I’ve read some incredible books – namely Wild by Cheryl Strayed – which I read shortly after my Mum passed away.
I had no idea what that book would be about, and actually picked it because I like Reese Witherspoon – but it turned out to be about a woman in her early twenties, who loses her mum to cancer – and then goes on a very big walk to sort her head out. Reading it got me thinking about ways that I could deal with it myself. I considered going on a very big walk of my own – and I suppose, to an extent – I have been on a journey.
In the short term, work was my saviour. I’d throw myself into my job, enjoy myself and focus on getting it done. It offered structure, safety, and the most supportive team you’ve ever met in your life.
I also started grief counselling, which I can’t recommend enough. My counsellor was quite a character (as my friends know) – but in the long term I can see the value in some of the things that she taught me. I learnt, most importantly, that focusing on my health and wellbeing gave me the capacity to keep going. I found meditation especially useful – and over the months it even prevented my panic attacks.
I learnt to recognise when my behaviour was destructive, when my anger and bitterness was stemming from grief and not the situation at hand, how to identify when I was about to fall into a difficult period.
This mourning period has equipped me with skills that have made me a better me.
That doesn’t mean that it’s any easier. Every time I achieve anything my pride is quickly overwhelmed with sadness as I realise it’s yet another step in my life that my mum won’t see. I miss having a home. I miss chatting on the phone for hours every day. I miss her at work. I could really do with ten minutes of her time, just to chat through some stuff. In equal measure, life feels long and short.
My mum – as pretty much everyone knows – was an incredibly generous lady. She gave a lot and asked for little. So in her spirit, I’m going to put together a number of blog posts that I think will hopefully help others too.
I’m going to cover the last couple of years. The things I’ve learnt along the way and the ways that I’ve kept my mum’s memory alive. I’ve read a lot of articles and books and I’d like to share those too. Fingers crossed that it’ll make a difference to you all.
If you do read anything and find that you want to have a further chat, I’m always up for a coffee – and while I highly recommend speaking to a counsellor who is trained in dealing with grief – I’m happy to listen and point you in the right direction.