“Grief is the size of love” is probably among the truest truisms.
My mum died four years ago, after two years of suffering from ovarian cancer, aged 58.
Living with the knowledge that some one you love has an illness that statistically will kill them, but trying to be positive, enjoy each day, mentally prepare yourself for the worst and to continue with everything else in your life is, what I can only call a head fuck. It’s taken me these four years to really understand what effect this has had on me. I think some sort of numbness came over me and I became obsessed, subconsciously with finding some kind of meaning in everything.
Maybe some of this came from the conversation my mum and I had the day after tomorrow we were told her treatment wound stop and she would have about two weeks left to live.
By then we knew I had inherited the faulty brca gene which caused her ovarian cancer, giving me a 50% chance of developing the same disease and an 87% chance of breast cancer. As mother’s are prone to do, she blamed herself for my situation, but I told her, her illness has brought me the knowledge that would save my life, as I would take the opportunity given to me to have a mastectomy which would reduce my breast cancer risk to 4%. It was a beautiful conversation. I had the mastectomy and reconstruction 24 months later.
I never cried or felt sad, I felt certain that this was something that proved my mum had not died in vain: her diagnosis meant I would almost certainly avoid the same fate. I knew that would be what she wanted. At least her suffering was not in vain.
For the record, I remain thrilled with my mastectomy and reconstruction and have never had an ounce of regret. But, on reflection I do wonder if my lack of sadness or hesitation was a bit unusual.
Whilst my mum was in her final two days, at the hospice, I signed up to take part in a skydive. Again, this was a good experience and I raised a lot of money for the lovely hospice that took care of us all. Sitting around a bed waiting for someone to take their last breath is a difficult situation.
It is a strange limbo, that’s hard to describe and, I suppose is an intense ending to the experience of loving someone with a terminal illness – the mental confusion of waiting to grieve being in the periphery all the time. I was determined I was not leaving that hospice without having done something positive, in this case signing up for fundraising.
And so, I continued on a path of looking for meaning. I signed up for a post grad counselling course, I did a fire walk, me and my friend expanded our little charity activities into a bigger organisation. All of these things were fantastic. It’s also fair to say I never let myself stop for a minute.
Then there is the way I viewed myself. I was determined that I would look back on my life, secure I had lived it to the full, and with no regret about missed opportunities.
I dedicated myself to my legacy, as I saw it, to be regarded as an amazing friend. I never stopped to think how vulnerable that left me and, maybe inevitably this has meant I’ve found myself in an altogether different grief, for friendships I thought were real, but were not. The loss of one person in a family inevitably changes the dynamic of the rest of the family. Trying to find a new normal for everyone is hard.
My mum was also a person with a lot of close girlfriends and so I sought to find friendships which were like surrogate family relationships. This has led to poor judgement on my part, with my giving too much of myself to people and not seeing this was not reciprocal.
Grief, is a process that must be worked through, but for which the end can never be reached, and which inevitably changes all it touches. I have found it hard to understand how it has affected me until this time has passed.
In memory of my lovely mum.