Today’s post is something I wrote back in January, this year (but never posted). It didn’t feel like the right time to do it, although writing everything down at the time definitely helped…
Hi everyone, I hope this post finds you all well today.
Quite a heavy and long post today, so just to warn you in advance, it won’t be for everyone…
I have been thinking a lot about how to go about writing this. I touched on something on my #waybackweek post, which has featured very heavily in my life and has essentially made me the person I am now.
Today I am talking about something that touches each and every one of us at some point or another – bereavement.
While having my shower today (where I do most of my thinking) I had so many words and feelings flying around my head I felt would be important for me to convey to you. So I jumped out of the shower and started making notes…
I should start by saying that I feel the subject of death is not discussed nearly enough in day to day life. My intention in this post, is to reach out to anyone who needs it, to say everything will be ok and that every challenge you are set in life is just that, you were made to feel, love, hurt and survive it all.
So here is some of my story – I was born a middle child, between my older Sister, Alexandra and my wee Sister, Kristina. My sisters and I grew up with very blessed childhoods, with a loving Mum and Dad and we were lucky enough to grow up with our wonderful Maternal Grandparents.
All was going pretty well for us as a family until September 2008, when our Mum was diagnosed with a very rare and aggressive cancer, uterine leiomyosarcoma. It was something none of us had ever heard of before (if you google it, it makes for very difficult reading) and to be honest, it was the first time cancer had really hit us as a family. We knew very early on that Mum’s type of cancer was incurable. She was immediately placed on an aggressive palliative chemotherapy regime, which I still feel to this day stole so much of the time she had left, away from us all. She became so ill and weak and spent so much of her time unable to do much, as she would be kept in hospital for days and sometimes weeks at a time, at the Beatson Oncology Unit in Glasgow.
We did have some nice days out here and there with Mum, which was totally down to her sheer strength and determination and I was fortunate enough to spend the October half term of 2009 with her, along with my boys at a holiday park. That would be the last time we would have any time like that together and I treasure the memories from that mini holiday away dearly.
As the cancer progressed Mum was admitted to Ward 18 Gynaecology at the then, Stirling Royal Infirmary, where she stayed as an inpatient for over 2 months. Ward 18 was where Mum felt most comfortable and settled, the nurses there were lovely and treated Mum so well, I know a few of them (Kirsty and Kerrie in particular) became very close to Mum during her time there and for us as her Daughters, that meant so much.
Mum was transferred to Strathcarron Hospice on Friday 19th March 2010, where she remained until she passed away, aged 53, on Easter Monday, 5th April 2010, surrounded by the ones she loved and lived for, her family. This was the first time I had ever experienced the real pain of my heart breaking. There is nothing like this pain, it is genuine, suffocating, screaming from the inside pain.
The only thing that I could draw strength from was the need to be there for my boys, Euan was 8 at the time and Steven was just 4, they needed me and if my Mum had taught me anything, she certainly taught me to protect, love and care. Mum kept so much of the pain and anguish of her illness from my Sisters and I, she was the true definition of a loving and protective Mother to the very end.
After losing my Mum there were so many grim days that looking back on now, seem to be just one continuous, long, blur. How I got through it? I really don’t know, I can only say that I have an amazingly supportive husband, wonderful children and a loving family behind me (as I write this I am hearing the song ‘Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher’ playing through my headphones).
Grief is all consuming, it takes you to the darkest places, but you know it is a necessary part of spiritual growth, it is something that builds strength in those who face it and go through it’s exhausting cycle. Each pass through the grief cycle is as individual as a fingerprint. There definitely is no time limit, but if you stick through it, having faith that each sorrow filled day you survive is only bringing you closer to more joyful days, filled with a true gratitude for your life – and all that you have had in it. Easy enough for me to say now I’ve came out the other side, you might be thinking? Well not quite…
I lost my Grandparents very quickly after losing my Mum, but having already been so devastated by the loss of my Mum, my heart really couldn’t hurt anymore. My Gran and Grandpa’s deaths were still very hard to go through, but losing them became an acceptable thing. This can only be down to the fact that I felt so cheated at losing my Mum when she was still so young and we still had so much to do together!
My Dad became Mum and Dad to us all in the very best way he could. He was there to welcome another 3 Grandchildren to the world, my nephew (Kristina’s first baby) Andrew, exactly 1 month after Mum’s passing, then her daughter Orla in December 2012 and then my own wee gift from heaven, Livia in March 2014. He was the doting Grandpa and loved nothing more than spending time with his grandchildren and teaching them all his wee ways. My Dad had lost a massive part of himself when my Mum died and time unfortunately did not make this any better for him.
On 1st October 2014 whilst at home in his kitchen, my Dad suffered a massive heart attack. This is a night that still haunts me and I still relive each moment of it. There are things that are set to try your soul and this was one of those times. To see our Dad being taken from us right before our eyes was more than we could bear. “This isn’t happening!” and telling myself “he won’t leave us” going through my head, as I watched on in horror as the paramedics tried to bring him back.
Dad was taken by ambulance to Forth Valley Royal Hospital, where we sat waiting in the family room, for what seemed like hours, when the door swung open and the Doctor walked in and sat down beside me. My knees began to knock together – I knew what was coming. If I am being honest, I knew as we chased down the road, behind the ambulance. I just didn’t want to actually hear it – ‘I’m very sorry your Dad has passed away’.
My heart was shattered once again but this was different, the element of shock involved created an illness within me. I had no appetite, my body could not get warm and I could not rest, at all. But I had to keep going, I was still breastfeeding Livia and even though every inch of me wanted to curl up and hide, I couldn’t. In my head I could hear my Dad giving me a row – he would be so annoyed if I just gave in, HE WOULDN’T – so I DIDN’T…
I got through it with the help of my family again, especially my Mother In-Law, Jean who was there to bring the light where it was needed. Loyal and loving as ever, she knew the torment of grief all too well after losing her son, Steven, aged just 17 and we had already gone through losing my Mum together.
You will note from above, the mention of my wonderful Mother In-Law (or Mum 2 as I affectionately call her). You might be starting to think I am writing a fictional story here with what is coming next, but no, if only that were the case.
Jean became ill just one month after we said goodbye to my Dad, around the same time, my Aunty Betsy (Dad’s Sister and our surrogate Granny) was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. So things not improving for our family just yet then.
Aunty Betsy carried on in her usual ‘just need to get on with it way’, she was the most remarkable woman I have ever known, strongwilled, with a heart of gold – bursting full of kindness and the wittiest sense of humour.
At the same time, Jean hadn’t been feeling well and had been attending her Doctor. Unbeknownst to us, She was very ill, but to begin with she didn’t want to worry us, she thought we’d had enough of that already.
On 16th December 2014 I happened to be out walking Livia in her pram when I decided to call into Jean’s. I was met at the door by my Brother In-Law William who I could see was really upset. He helped me in with Livia and I was sat down on the sofa next to Jean. “It’s not good news”, she said in her soft, kind voice. “It’s cancer of the pancreas”. My heart began to thud. I felt like it was going to explode, surely there was a mistake. I felt so lost and confused. Brian was away on business and I had to phone and tell him. Having to tell him over the phone when all I wanted to do was to hold and comfort him, was unbearable.
Jean’s journey can only be described as ‘Jean’s way’ in my opinion. She was an inspiration to us all, setting and writing down her goals for the limited time she knew she had left. Making each and every one of us know just how much she loved us and most impressively travelling to Lake Garda in Italy, with her partner Stuart which was another big tick off her list. We also had a very special family break away in a luxury lodge which she described to us all as being ‘so special’. She loved waking up each day of that week in February 2015 to the sound of all her Grandchildren laughing and playing as the adults got on with the big cooked breakfast. She painted her garden fence and shed, which was no mean feat – her garden is vast to say the least. She allowed me to do her ‘big housework’, but I would often arrive on a Sunday and she would be adamant that she was dusting the living room. No way was I going to argue with her, it would be pointless.
November 2015 came like a tidal wave, it tore us all down in our tracks. Things had gotten bad very quickly with Aunty Betsy. Kristina and I took turns over the weekend of November 21st to stay overnight and look after Aunty Betsy so Uncle William could get some well needed rest. I had the Sunday night stay. It was hard, she was struggling, but there were still little moments where it was just me and Aunty Betsy as we had always been to one another. My night nursing efforts were rewarded in the fact Uncle William had caught up with some much needed rest.
I kissed my Aunty Betsy goodbye that Monday morning and that would be the last time I would see her. She slept her way to heaven early in the morning of Tuesday 24th November 2015.
That Tuesday evening I bathed Livia and got her in her pjs ready for bed. I felt like a robot, going through the motions, doing tasks that were necessary to complete the day. Something made me drive along with Livia, to visit Jean that night though. I arrived to find Jean feeling much weaker. We chatted in the kitchen as she and Livia passed pegs to one another. She wasn’t well at all. I knew in my heart that things were changing quickly, much too quickly. We exchanged hugs and kisses before we parted that night, as we always did, but there was more urgency and importance in this exchange. My heart sank as I closed the front door and buckled Livia into her carseat. I returned home emotionally exhausted, but unable to sleep that night.
The following day signalled the beginning of Jean’s journey from this life. Jean squeezed so much into those last 11 months, right till the end. Even then, she had things just the way she wanted it – to be at home in her own bed, with her loved ones beside her. Jean passed away very peacefully in the early hours of Sunday 29th November 2015.
So there it is, In just five years of my life, there has been so much loss, more than some people tackle in a lifetime. For many of you reading this I am sure its been all too much, death does not flow easily in conversation but the truth of it is, with the exception of birth, it is the only other experience you are guaranteed to have on this earth plane.
The grief that accompanies death is something I now see as a road that must be taken in moving forward. Not a nice road, its full of bumps and sometimes blocks get in the way, but eventually if you stick to it, it takes you where you need to be. I often hear the Elton John song play in my head (‘I’m Still Standing’), and well, I am. I am still standing but a lot differently, to carry the weight of these losses each day, but I’m STILL STANDING and I have an absolute appreciation of Life in all its forms, which is a true blessing. What is really important here is the fact I have been to the very depths of sadness and somehow got back up, I know we can all do this!