Bereavement often comes up in our helpline calls, often as a secondary strand. Perhaps the caller rang to discuss feeling stressed, depressed or in an anxious state. Recently one caller rang to say she was just not coping with work and did not know why. I asked ‘Has anything major changed in your life over the last year?’ She responded 'Well not really except my Dad and one of my siblings was killed in a car accident over the summer last year…'
I could sense that already there was a shift in understanding of herself and her own inability to cope. Grieving is not linear, often a period of grieving can be triggered by something small. Death changes so much in our lives from the subtle things like not being able phone someone to suddenly remembering that they are not there to share news with, to buy a present for or cook a particular favourite meal, or ask for a well-loved recipe.
My mother died suddenly this year. She was 88, frail but mentally sound and if I tell you on the morning of her death she had been out to church and posted a cheque for a specialist order of seeds for a roof-garden plant you will know that death was not in her immediate plans. I am 60 so I have had access to being mothered for a long time. In the last years of her life she became very affectionate towards her many children, paying us compliments and being in very close contact.
I was amazed at my reaction as I howled like a banshee when I was told. For a few hours I think I may have been in another world of madness and timelessness. For one month I felt like I was treading water and could not find any solid footing. I felt like I had a hole in my ribcage that nothing could fill. My rational brain tells me I have no hole in my anatomy but my emotions say otherwise. I wake up every day feeling that all is right in the world. Then the blow hits, Mum is dead and I have to pause. She died in Ireland and I live in England which in a way is odd as until I go back I can almost pretend she is still alive. I have not lost her; she is gone, gone to earth as the poets say but her memories now flood my mind from early childhood onwards. I was not prepared for the exhaustion of the constant flow of images, words and reminders. My brain has to reprocess my life with a big chunk of it now missing; no wonder it feels so tired.
So what helps? Admitting that it is tough really helps. Speaking to others who have lost a mother and reading some of their blogs has been enlightening. I am lucky to have great work colleagues and a job that I really like, a loving partner, two wonderful dogs, a few close friends and some great siblings. Indulging in silly box sets and reading is good as is simply getting out for a walk. Making sure I do repetitive tasks, get up in the morning and get dressed. Routines are so important and necessary. And, of course, letting the tears come and being willing to give in to the pricking behind the eyes. It has also brought so many surprises my way, new relationships with siblings mostly positive but not all and hugs from people who do not know me well including my chiropodist and the librarian. I also now understand the mother-child attachment theory better which I studied when retraining as a counsellor.
Bereavement changes you, it is tough and has unexpected outcomes. If you have been affected by a death then please do contact us for some emotional support.
Mary Jackson is LawCare's coordinator for Ireland.
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