I dreamed about my mum last night. We were sat around the kitchen table – me, mum and my sister – and she had already died, but she was somehow back in our kitchen. Her death was like an elephant in the room… none of us wanted to refer to it or admit it was true. There were so many things unfinished; we didn’t want to admit that some would never be done.
But the main sense I had in the dream was one of love. Mum was there to take care of us, to look out for us. We didn’t mention her death because it would have been too painful for all of us, particularly her daughters.
Now, the next morning, I still have that deep feeling of love. Not spiritual or religious – nothing like that. Just profound love and appreciation for the little reminders of my mothers’ love I keep seeing all around.
The family photos dotted around the house. The wedding invitations that we worked on together. The vegetable lasagne that Mum’s friend brought round because she loved our mum – and by extension, loves us. Our faithful dog that’s been a part of our family for 14 years. The way I always feel a pang of guilt when I bite my nails or sniff (Mum hated that). Our ultra-modern Scandi Christmas tree that we still haven’t taken down because Mum loved it so much. The necklace I wear every day that was a gift from my parents’ last holiday together.
I could go on… I’m realising more and more that (cliche alert) the ones we love never truly leave us; they live on through the love they brought into our lives.
Any type of struggle or shitty time in life is going to put things into perspective. And for me, one of the things I’ve wised up about most is people.
My grief-tinted-glasses have revealed some pretty amazing results. Some people have been amazingly kind. Others have been painfully disappointing. Here’s a fun little summary of seven of types of people I’ve come across so far…
- The cheerful averter. These people are like rays of sunshine, coming into the house and chattering away about nothing in particular; knowing that often, the thing I need the most is to just be distracted from the painful reality of my mum’s death. Very conducive to keeping the Wall intact (see previous post).
- The awkward ignorer. Similar tactic, but VERY different execution. These people skirt infuriatingly around the bleeding obvious – that my Mum has passed away – and somehow their mundane chit-chat has the exact opposite effect on the Wall.
- The over-sympathiser. Some people treat me like I’m the one dying. Hushed tones, gushing compassion and morbid reflections. I know they mean well, but it’s really not making me feel any better.
- The weeper. Certain people come to offer their condolences and we end up spending more of the visit comforting them, than vice versa. It’s easy to forget that my sister and I aren’t the only ones grieving. But couldn’t they have postponed the visit until their tears were under control?
- The feeder. One of my personal favourites. Somewhere between #1 and #2, this group may feel unable or unwilling to dredge up emotional platitudes, so instead channels its energy into another form of therapy – food! A highly appreciated silver lining to all this is the amount of delicious treats that tend to be showered on the bereaved family.
- The reminiscer. A sweeping generalisation, but I think most reminiscers have been through similar bereavements themselves. They know that while nothing can bring our mum back, one of the nicest things to do is to relive happier times that will keep her memory alive. This group isn’t afraid to talk about the dead.
- The professional. Some people are used to dealing with death at arm’s length (nurses, funeral directors, registrars, ministers, etc…). This is always useful, and actually comforting. I’m desperate to get the ‘life admin’ (or death admin I suppose) out of the way as smoothly and quickly as possible, so we can move on to properly grieving my mum.
I probably come across as a bit of a cynical cow. I know that 99% of people mean well – and it’s not their fault that death is such a hard issue to handle. But it’s actually fascinating to observe… have you come across any others?
There can’t be many places in the world where feelings can be so mixed as a Registry Office. Births, deaths and marriages – well isn’t that just the whole spectrum of life for you right there.
The Registry Office in Nevill Hall Hospital has seen it all many times over, including from our own family. Both my sister and I were born and had our births registered here. Death-wise, my father, grandmother, and now mother’s deaths were registered in the same little office. (Incidentally, the photo I chose for this post – with its host of golden daffodils – was actually taken by my Mum two years ago when she came to the hospital to register Dad’s death.)
On the bright side, few hospitals in Britain can be in such a beautiful setting. And, having requested a bilingual death certificate (English and Welsh), we were met by the very same Welsh-speaking deputy registrar as my mother had visited two years ago. He remembered her well, and also happened to know my maternal grandfather (Wales is a small place).
The hour we spent with the two registrars should have been exceedingly depressing. Ffion and I had come loaded with birth, marriage and death certificates; passports, driving licences and blue badges; and faced endless administrative questions to trawl through all the niggly details. But it wasn’t depressing. Thanks to the warmth, compassion and humour shown by the two wonderful registrars, we actually had quite a pleasant meeting. We reminisced about my parents, we exchanged stories about community matters, and we generally had a smile and a giggle.
I’m thankful that my family lives in a small town where everyone knows each other, and has each other’s backs. It’s the small things. Every cloud…
So, less than a week ago our mum died. It wasn’t unexpected – she’d been battling bowel cancer for more than three years, and had breast cancer a few years before that. It wasn’t horrific – she was at home, surrounded by family, flowers and love.
But it was shocking. After spending Christmas happy and healthy (more or less), Mum started to deteriorate rapidly. It’s been a tough and scary few months for my sister Ffion and me, as we watched our mum decline. Every week brought a new low as we saw her energy levels drop, her appetite disappear and her mind begin to wander.
That’s why Ffion and I have recently become experts at building ‘The Wall’. It’s fairly self-explanatory. Whenever we feel the bottom lip begin to tremble, a sharp reminder to ourselves or one another brings things back on track. It sounds harsh. It totally is. But breaking down in floods of tears and curling up in a ball to hide away from the world isn’t really an option. Particularly last week, when our mother was on her deathbed in the next room, and every second with her was precious.
The Wall is still well and truly up now that she’s gone. With a funeral to plan and a will to sort out, letting The Wall fall still isn’t on the cards any time soon. That comes with a certain level of guilt – I haven’t actually cried today, and I’m not sure I shed any serious tears yesterday, come to think of it. But hey ho. There’ll be plenty of time for sadness after the funeral… for now, it’s time to get down to business.