The First Days of Grief
Mum died on Friday.
She had a ‘good death’. Those in palliative medicine define a ‘good death’ as one where the dying person is symptom free, in the place they want to be, with the people they want to be with. Mum died symptom free, in our lounge, with Dad by her side.
Saying ‘Mum died’ might seem blunt to some, but that’s what happened. Mum worked in palliative medicine all of her life and as a family we’ve always spoken about death and end of life care openly and honestly, so it seems only appropriate that we continue that when discussing Mum’s death. It’s been a few days since she died now, and everything’s a bit weird. Time seems to have become somewhat fluid and lost any sense of meaning. Hours can fly by and minutes can get stuck. It’s very strange.
You would think that after three years of cancer, and 20 months of terminal cancer, you might be somewhat prepared for the dying stage – but I don’t think anything prepares you for your Mum’s death.
When I got the call, I knew that Mum had died before Dad told me – why else would he be ringing me at 12:45 on a Friday? Everyone I then called for the rest of the day knew, too. Mum deteriorated rapidly in the two weeks before she died, so though hearing of her death still came as a shock to people, it wasn’t completely unexpected.
The rest of the day passed by in a blur of hugs, visitors, many cups of tea, phone calls, visits to people and cake. I am learning that tea and food, often in the form of cake or stew, are essentials in the ‘visiting a bereaved person’ tool kit… no complaints from our end!
Over the weekend, life was on pause. The distinction between day and night disappeared and I kept finding myself forgetting how to do basic things that I’ve known how to do since I was a toddler. I wasn’t really upset or sad, just didn’t really feel like doing much. Talking and other noises sounded very loud and I found myself being drawn to my room where I could control the sound and light levels.
It seemed strange that people were being so nice to me, and to us. The offers of help, and ‘if I can do anything let me know’ came in thick and fast, we have an amazing bunch of family and friends around us. I didn’t feel like anything had changed, though, it felt like Mum was just at work, or in hospital or something, and like she’d come back at any point.
On Monday it hit me. I woke up feeling a little fragile, but was doing okay. I went to talk to someone in my college who’s been brilliant since Mum got diagnosed, she gave me a hug, I sat in her chair and began to talk to her, and I just broke. I cried for about forty minutes. My college administrator sat next to me with a hand on my knee, moving my hair from my face like my Mum used to, and I just cried. I stayed in her office for a further hour just sitting, staring, and sometimes talking before heading to the GP who’s another person who has been outstanding and gone above and beyond more times than I can count throughout Mum’s illness. The GP had rung me on Friday afternoon and arranged to see me on Monday. I ended up crying on her, too, she’s another one who gives brilliant hugs. She gave me the time I needed, and took the time to understand what was going on and how I was doing, focussing on the basics like eating and sleeping, with a plan to see her again on Friday.
Today I’m just tired. I’ve replied to some messages, watched TV, done a few jobs, and stayed under my blanket. I’m not particularly upset or sad today, just really, really tired.
It’s going to be a while before we develop a new normal as a family of four. My Mum was incredible and developing a life without her is going to be strange. I’m learning that there is no grief rule book, no pattern that everybody follows. Everybody is hit differently, and copes in a different way – and that’s okay.
I’ve been blogging about terminal cancer for a few months now, and that journey has now ended. My journey hasn’t ended, though, and neither has my family’s. I plan to continue to write about how things go, and how everything plays out, because I think it’s important. I will not be the only one to have ever gone through this, or who will ever go through this, and I think it’s important to be able to talk about it and write about it openly and honestly.
Mum was amazing. She achieved so much and touched so many people over her 53 years. I’ve written more about her on the donation page she requested we set up in her memory. The next days, weeks, months, and years are going to be tough. But we’re incredibly lucky to have a brilliant bunch of family, friends, and other supports around us, who will help us through.
I’m Naomi, a 21 year old from Yorkshire, currently at University in York studying Psychology in Education. I’m a Team v senior mentor for the North this year, having been a Team v mentor last year and a leader for Leeds the year before. I’ve done some work with the Boston Spa Neighbourhood Plan and continue to work with Young Minds, Shout Out Leeds and Scouts! I’m also the Disability and Access rep. for my college, colleges volunteering liaison for my students’ union, and have two part time jobs, one as a student ambassador and one as a nanny. I’m always up for a laugh and say yes to almost anything. I’m permanently busy and spend a large proportion of my life running on not-enough-sleep, but I love every minute of it. Anyway, this is me, one girl, from a small village, stumbling my way through life.Naomi.