Glastonbury Tor - one of mums favorite places

Glastonbury Tor – one of my mum’s favorite places

I know, it’s been aaaaages since the last post. Well don’t worry, the blog is back.

Back when I was posting back in May, I was thinking about doing a few less posts. I like sharing with you what we’ve been up to here Down Under, and having something I can look back at myself, but it does take up a fair amount of time. So I’ve decided to try and roll everything into one update a month, starting again for September. Before that though here’s a news update.

There’s no easy way to say or write this, for those of you who don’t know, but on August 2nd my mum died suddenly and unexpectedly at age 65.

Since mum died I’ve found that a lot of people don’t know what to say. Either they feel awkward about talking about it, don’t want to make you upset or sometimes accidentally say things which aren’t helpful (which I forgive them for). Really it’s good for them to not really understand, as it means they haven’t lost someone really close to them themselves.

I’ve reflected on the fact that although death and dying are a massive part of culture in films, TV dramas, computer games, books and the like; as a society we don’t seem to know how to deal with it very well. In films etc people die so often that it’s taken for granted and even glamorised; but they don’t often look at how death impacts the people left behind. It happens to everyone, and yet talking or teaching people about it is seen as almost morbid. Sure we all know people die, but when it happens to someone really close to you, it really brings it home and makes you think about life and what it means.

Because of all that, I thought I’d try and break down some of the taboo, and write a bit about what happened and my thoughts here.

My mum was called Maggi. Family was important to her, and she devoted a lot of her life to being a good mum and housewife, bringing up my brother and I. Mum liked cooking, going for walks in the countryside, bird watching and the Grand Prix. She was passionate about what she believed in – probably being even more opinionated than me! Also, if you think I talk a lot, you should have met my mum! 😉 Even though our conversations were often quite one sided, I really miss talking to her and telling her what I’ve been up to – even if she often thought it was dangerous or silly!

Mum, Owen and I (1986)

In terms of what happened, I had been back in the UK for work for 3 weeks in May/June, another 3 weeks on holiday, then some more work and then spent some time with my mum in hospital in July. She had been ill with an aggressive type of cancer for a couple of years on and off, and had had another operation to try and help with her symptoms. She had complications and never made it back home. I had been back in Australia for about three weeks when she went downhill really quickly, and it was less than an hour between the hospital warning us she wasn’t in a good way and her dying. I know even if I had been in the UK I wouldn’t have made it to the hospital in time, but it doesn’t change the fact that I wish I was there, and that its hard knowing I was so far away.

So I went back over at the start of August, and spent about 2.5 weeks in the UK again with my brother and family, sorting out paperwork, funeral arrangements, probate stuff and sorting out her flat. Because we both live overseas, it was a really intense period of trying to get everything sorted whilst we were there. My work knew mum was ill, so they were really good about it which helped. Some companies we dealt with were really good and helpful, and others were useless!  I called a couple of airlines when I was pretty upset still to see if they did special open or discounted bereavement fares, explained my circumstances, and at the end of the call one of them actually told me to “have a nice day”!

It was a massive shock when mum died. Although she’d been ill I wasn’t prepared for it happening so suddenly. I’d spoken to the specialists in July to try and get a prognosis, and they’d told me they’d see her at a follow up appointment in 6 weeks and see from there. I don’t blame them for getting it wrong, and was probably over optimistic about her outlook, but it was still a huge shock. Of course its good that she isn’t in pain and suffering any more, but it’s still sad that she isn’t here.

Some of the euphemisms about death annoy me. I know saying ‘died’ is quite direct and people like to soften it, but its not always helpful, especially from medical professionals. I was quite surprised that the hospital never said to me that she had ‘died’. Passed away isn’t so bad, but ‘passed’ just makes it sound like she was doing a test. ‘Loss’ I understand, although whenever I get something saying ‘sorry for the loss of…’ it just makes me think that I didn’t literally loose her at the shopping center or something. And ‘late’ just sounds like she wasn’t on time.

Mum and I in Lyme Regis

Mum and I in Lyme Regis

I’m not a religious person at all. If I had to pick a belief system I’d go with Buddhism, but I don’t believe in reincarnation. I think being religious must help a lot when someone dies. For me, she is gone. She isn’t here any more. She hasn’t gone to heaven, or anywhere in particular, and that’s quite hard to get my head around. It’s made me think about about life, what it is, what it’s all for (42) and what I should be doing. I haven’t really got very far yet with any answers on that unfortunately. If I work it out i’ll be sure to let you all know!

It’s quite an adjustment when someone you were so close to has gone. I think people assume after a few weeks, or a couple of months you’ll be ‘OK’, but I think getting used to it actually takes quite a long time. As well as the day to say stuff with keeping in touch, I’ll miss her birthday. I won’t need to buy her Christmas presents, and she won’t be giving me any. If we eventually get around to having some kids, she’ll never meet them. You get the idea…I think about mum every day and I’m sure that I will for a long time. OK the pain and loss will get less, which is good, but she’ll still be gone.

For me, and I know for other people who’ve been through similar, I don’t generally get upset talking to people about it. For me, the harder thing is when I’m alone and thinking about stuff, or if I see or hear something that reminds me about my mum and that she isn’t here any more. I’m lucky to have lots of good, supportive friends both here and in the UK. It’s been really helpful having people to speak to, email or just hang out with. At the funeral we got to see a lot of people we’ve not seen for years too, which was nice – although a shame about the circumstances obviously. It was good hearing everyone’s different stories and memories of mum.

This post wasn’t meant to be particularly sad, or make you sad. I hope maybe it will help people. If you’ve been through something similar, maybe you’ll identify with some of the things (although it’s different for everyone). And if you’ve been lucky enough not to have someone close to you die, maybe you’ll know its OK to say something nice to someone else going through it next time, or you’ll be a bit more prepared for what it’s like when it does happen.

You’re more than welcome to send me an email if you like or leave a comment on the blog (that’d be better than a FB comment!) It won’t make me sad, and I won’t judge you!

Until next time…

Mum and I at my PhD graduation

Mum and I at my PhD graduation

4 Comments

  1. Hi Elly,

    I think this is a brave and insightful post. You’re so right about being constantly exposed to death in the news or films (even Disney are always at it) but that it seems to be a taboo to talk about it’s impact on those left behind x

  2. Such a brave and honest post.
    It can be really difficult to know what to say to those left behind without throwing cliches out there. You are right, we see death so much in the media but we very rarely see or deal with the ‘aftermath’ and the ones left behind.
    I guess we don’t have to ‘say’ anything, as long as we support each other the best way we can.
    You know where we are! Xxxx

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