Someone close to me and my family is currently going through a tough time with a family member who is very ill.
They reached out to see if I had any advice as to how to help handle the pain, the confusion, the anxiety and, inevitably I suppose, the grief that comes with loss.
And to be honest, I didn’t even know what to say until I started writing…
My Mum Lorna died in August of 2011. She was 54 years old and she had Lung Cancer. She smoked from a very young age, like most smokers, but her specific cancer was, ironically, the kind of lung cancer that non-smokers also get.
So, when my family and I got the news about Mum’s illness, I was living a life I loved in Barcelona. I was about to move jobs and got a really exciting offer to make video content for high-end apartments across the Med. Sounded too good be true. And life had a not-so-nice way of telling me just that.
She was given 3-5 months to live and we managed to see her through 10 relatively pain-free months. We felt very lucky to have gotten that much time, and indeed the foresight, that she was ill. For some people, they get a call on the way home from work to say someone has been killed in a car accident. We got to say goodbye and were all with Mum when she passed away, quietly and peacefully, with the help of the amazing hospice in Raheny, who we are forever indebted to.
You see, that all panned out quite a lot ‘better off’ than some people’s stories. I can’t say that if someone gets similar news that their outcome will be as such. Look, it was far from easy, still.
I moved home to Ireland and had to learn to be a child again in my own parents house, essentially. I had to learn, at the same time, that being the child was only required sometimes. Other times, I had to reverse roles, as Mum’s primary carer, and take care of her to make sure she was clean, comfortable and felt beautiful…despite her little body getting weaker and weaker. Being the adult and child meant I felt angry, upset, pissed off, filled with rage. But my heart felt full and at peace, as in other ways my whole family pulled together in a way I cannot describe. We all had one goal and one focus.
It was far from a Disney movie, but what I learned was this- you cannot do everything and be everything. If you try and fix the whole situation, you will end up broken, tired and of no use to yourself or anyone else. I walked or ran twice a day for at least 45 minutes to clear my head and I took a job twice a week in a family friend’s cafe in town. They were so kind and understanding about my timetable and knew that sometimes, at the last minute, I had to cancel my work at short notice.
My advice is to allow your head and your heart to feel whatever it is they are going to feel, but don’t let anything stick too hard. Be kind to yourself and allow others in. The hospice team are incredible, as are ARC, who offer free support and talks with the likes of nurses and mental health professionals who can offer a supportive ear when you need it most. It’s not for everyone. One chat with one of the nurses was enough for me, but other people I know found regular chats with their support network also helped them hugely.
I found that things that bothered everyone else around me (outside my family) felt so, so trivial, but actually, for other people, I had to remember they were, still, ‘big deals’. The small fights with boyfriends, the stressful boss, the annoying sister…all of these things seemed so bloody trivial and, I suppose, you kind of switch off a little in social situations to allow yourself ignore what you view as petty, which is so unfair and so harsh to everyone else around you. Then the thoughts get ahead of you and suddenly you’re sitting there surrounded by loved ones and friends and you feel like you are all alone. That nobody else feels this way.
Well, they do. I did. And I hope that by sharing a little part of my story, that other people don’t feel like what they are going through or what they went through is the end of the world.
One of my lasting memories of Mum is her sitting by the windowsill she always sat near when she was drinking her tea and she turned to me and she was crying, which, despite her illness, she rarely did, or at least in front of us. She said she was upset because she was going to miss out on our (my brothers and my) future, on us having kids or getting married etc…
And she was totally and uncontrollably right. That was not the nicest thing to hear, nor the nicest thing to let sink in.
Does it get easier? Yes.
Do you forget things? Maybe a little.
Do you remember the great things? Absolutely. (Don’t throw away anything unless you want to and feel ready to).
Do you forget they are gone? All the time. Let me explain- I hear a song, see a film or read a book or eat something or meet someone and think ‘Mum would love that or them’. Then I remember she’s gone and get upset for a few minutes.
That’s difficult to process if you havn’t lost someone close, and maybe it’s just me who feels like that.
But, it’s also a nice little jolt which allows me to remember her, in the midst of a stupidly busy schedule. It gives me a little jolt.
It’s like her little phone call to say hi from wherever she is.