Mummy’s death tore a hole in my life.
No-one tells you about the heartbreak when a parent dies. You hear about people having had a “good innings” or a merciful release or other polite words. Perhaps these are easier to say than that there is a huge yawning hole where one’s heart used to be.
Until Mummy died two months ago, I had thought that, although expected, it wasn’t really going to happen, that she would be alert and well until the end and that her death was going to be “manageable”. It wasn’t like that at all. Nothing prepared me for the precious hours just sitting with her body, holding her hand still moving just a little to the air mattress pump. No-one told me about the hallucinations at night when she is alongside in bed just how we used to open our Christmas stockings together over all these decades. The tearing guilt of not having told her often enough that I loved her or that I was proud of her. The guilt of not having cared enough, talked enough, visited enough or just been kind enough.
And, of course, even writing this sounds all wrong: its all me, me, me. Getting through the first few days was a haze of near-suicidal misery – there just didn’t seem to be any point in carrying on. The funeral was a blessing: all those arrangements, negotiations, plans and communications were an escape when ticking through a list was easier than coping with the chasm. Friends who weren’t embarrassed but just let you weep really helped. And some brought food too –a meal started putting each day back to some structure when shopping or cooking were just impossible.
Perhaps, nowadays, we don’t have much personal experience of death: ill and old ones are often in hospitals and homes and it may all seem a bit more distant. Until now, my closest experience was the death of my fiancé Simon when I was at university – and that is lost in a valium blur. I didn’t realise that death of someone you love, although not a lover, was going to be just as world-smashing. I am eternally grateful that my brothers and I had time with Mummy: four of us sat in vigils on her last night –partly trying to help her physical comfort but mainly just using word and touch to transmit care, safety and love. She rallied enough the next morning that two brothers felt they could take a breather. So just the third and I were there during those last minutes which we tried to fill with reassurances, comfort and love.
It is a struggle to mask bereavement with a “brave face” but, beneath, there is real physical pain, emptiness and despair. I’m not sure that we talk about all of this enough – and talking really helps.