Lessons in grief

Today marks two years since my mother died and I am still heartbroken. She was my friend as much as my mother and her absence has been felt so much over the last two years. I have been keenly aware that she is missing in my life, especially on a Sunday evening when we would have enjoyed a long and rambling Skype chat.

I have learned a lot about grief in these past (nearly) 15 years. Mostly, I’ve learned how to cope with it; how to live with it. I’ve learned that you can move forward, but that doesn’t mean you leave the grief behind. I have also learned a lot more about the difference in grief. Several years ago, I shared that my dear friend, Joe, had died two years before my husband died. And I realised how very different the grief of losing a friend was from the grief of losing a partner.

On the occasions when I found myself thinking about the inevitability of losing my parents, I often found myself upset at the idea. Not just because the thought of losing my parents is so painful, but because I found myself almost anticipating the same levels of grief and heartache I experienced when I lost Paul. That raw, painful, and unbearable grief that destroyed me once was something I dreaded having to face again. But I knew I would be faced with it one day. After all, the “normal” way is for our parents to go before us.

And then it happened: I experienced the death of a parent. The death of my mother, to be exact. And it hurt. It still hurts. But it doesn’t hurt the same.

The grief I feel for Mum isn’t the whole life-encompassing debilitating pain that I felt when my husband died; it was softer from the very beginning, and it softened at a faster pace. I suppose that’s the nature of the relationships as much as anything else.

I always “knew” I would lose my mother whilst I still had a lot of living to do. It’s the nature of parent/child relationships and most people experience it. That “shared experience” helped the grief as well. When my husband died, people avoided me and avoided the topic of my marital status at all costs; no one wanted to face the idea of “young death” and as a young widow, I was a reminder of the fragility of life. But when Mum died, people consoled me and shared stories of their own loss; mentioning Mum wasn’t cause for others to run, but rather for them to connect with me over a shared experience.

Casting shadows with Mum at Hanson Ponds

There is also a difference in the day-to-day realisation of my loss. When I lost Paul, I knew he was gone. Every moment of every day, I knew he was gone; I felt his absence. The only time I ever forget is when he joins me in my dreams and for a moment, halfway in between sleep and wake, I can feel him there with me…

With Mum, I know she’s gone but I sometimes forget. Because she wasn’t a physical part of my day-to-day life, sharing hours of each day, it’s easier to forget, because I was never expecting her to be at the dinner table each evening or sipping coffee with me each morning. And in a way, it means that there is an ongoing cycle of forgetting and then remembering that she is gone.

In the early days, weeks, and months after Paul died, I regularly thought I had to tell Paul something; to share something with him. But I had an immediate understanding that I couldn’t do that. Because I knew he was gone; the grief was too strong for me to forget that. And whilst I still wish I could share something with him (and I do speak to him) I never find myself looking forward to sharing with him.

With Mum, I find myself thinking about something I want to tell her, and I start looking forward to our Sunday Skype call. It might take several moments – or even several hours – before it dawns on me that I can’t do that. I can’t send her an email or a Facebook message; I can’t write her a letter; I can’t see her smiling face on a video call; I can’t look forward to our next hug or our next visit. And when I forget that it hurts a little bit more when I finally remember that she’s gone.

It’s funny, this grief business. It morphs and changes and hides and becomes a part of your life in ways I never expected. But it’s different for each kind of loss. The grief I feel for my friends and my uncle is different from the grief I feel for my husband. And the grief I feel for Paul is different than the grief I feel for Mum.

I miss Mum in a different way than I miss Paul. That’s not to say I don’t feel the pain of her absence. It hurts, sometimes more than others. But it’s a different kind of hurt and it’s a hurt that other people understand (even if we experience grief differently). And that, I suppose, makes the grief easier.

Two years is a long time without weekly Skype chats or silly Facebook posts. Two years is a long time without sharing recipes or planning adventures. Two years is a long time without Mum… and as I have a lot of years left on this Earth, I suppose I’ll have to learn how to live with this grief.

I miss you, Mum. And I love you forever and ever!

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