It has been almost a month since Mum passed away.
A month…and a lifetime’s worth of lessons on what it’s like to lose your mum.
Some days, it seems like just yesterday she left us.
Some days, it seems like it’s been years since she’s been gone.
A few weeks ago I shared my thoughts on getting the chance to say goodbye to a loved one. I wrote this shortly after my mum had fallen and broken her hip. She required hip replacement surgery. Surgery that we, her family, and her doctors, thought her 83-year-old body could not handle.
Surgery went very well but, sadly, her heart could not withstand all the stress her body endured in the weeks following surgery.
So on a rainy day, at the end of September, I became a motherless daughter.
I’ve learned so much since Mum passed away.
Lessons I wish I never had to learn.
We all come from different backgrounds, family dynamics, and life experiences. Many of us will grieve the passing of our loved ones in different ways. There is no right way, or wrong way, to grieve. Grief is a very personal experience.
For those of you who are lucky enough to have such special parents like I’ve had, this one’s for you.
Because I know from experience, you are the ones that have the most to lose.
It goes without saying though, many of these lessons hold true for anyone who stands to lose someone very special to them.
So, in the hopes of helping others know that they are not alone in their grief, and what they are feeling, here’s what it’s like to lose a parent, and the lessons I’ve learned so far…
You Cannot Predict Death – The last 3 weeks of Mum’s life was like a roller coaster. We thought we were going to lose her during her hip surgery. She pulled through. Then we thought we were going to lose her during 4 separate episodes of pulmonary edema. Then she started to improve. She was able to start eating, gain strength, sit up at the side of the bed, then get out of bed and walk again. Things were looking up. She was even wanting to play her favourite card game, Skipbo, again. Things were so good by week 3, the hospital told us to prepare for her move to a long-term care facility until she was strong enough to start rehab. The very next morning she died.
You’ll Watch Your Parent Lose Their Dignity – Mum’s dignity got left at the Emergency room door when she entered the hospital. After surgery, and during her worst moments, she needed help with everything. Everything. Somehow, that loss of dignity becomes okay in those moments. You just deal with it and do what needs to be done to help your parent.
You’re Never Prepared To Lose A Parent – I was prepared to lose my Mum. Or so I thought I was. I even wrote a post alluding to this. I was wrong. Dead wrong (pun intended). No matter how much you prepare yourself, or how much time you have to say goodbye to your parent, you will never be prepared to actually lose them. Never.
Things Will Seem Surreal – In the moments after Mum died, and for many days since, Mum’s death has seemed very surreal. In my head, I know she has passed away but…maybe it was all a bad dream. Maybe tomorrow she will call me. Maybe I will see her sitting in her favourite chair when I visit her home next. My illogical mind is still living with some sort of strange hope that I will see my Mum again. My logical mind, however, knows very well that I never will.
You’ll Find Strength Where You Thought You Had None…And Then You Actually Don’t – In the first couple of weeks after Mum passed, I somehow found a strength I didn’t know I had. I dealt with necessary issues at the funeral home. I got through her memorial without crying (mostly). I wrote a long tribute to her that I shared at her memorial. I spent countless hours on the phone with many family members and friends who called to offer condolences, and I spent days going through Mum’s stuff with family members, sorting everything into piles of keep, donate, and toss. Most of the time, I have this strength. Then, out of nowhere, that strength disappears and I suddenly feel like a lost little girl, one who is longing for an “everything will be alright” hug from her mum.
You’ll Sink Into Some State Of Shock – Everyone reacts differently to the death of a loved one, however, I believe everyone experiences some form of shock within the first few hours/days of a loved one’s death. I had read about this before. I just didn’t know what it was like to experience it until now. All I can tell you is that it makes you feel like you are on “auto-pilot”. You can’t seem to cry when you think you should be crying, and because of that, you start to question yourself. I sure did. You question a lot of things. Why am I not crying? Why is my mind all over the place? Why do I not feel like myself? It’s probably just a coping mechanism but, it sure feels weird once you realize you’ve gone through it.
You’ll Regress To Your Inner Child – I have cried – hard. I cried like I never had before. Maybe you won’t cry right away. Maybe you’ll cry just a little. But when your loss truly hits you, you will sob uncontrollably. My advice? Let it happen. It won’t seem like it at the time but, it will help you.
Regrets, There’ll Be A Few – Regardless of how great a relationship was that you had with your parent, or all the wonderful discussions you had with them before they died, regrets and guilt are nasty little feelings that have a way of sneaking into your thoughts no matter what. In my head, I know Mum would never want me to have regrets, or feel guilty about anything but, somehow, I still do. My head is full of “what ifs”, including the final one…”what if I had left for the hospital the very minute Mum first called me on the morning she passed away…would I have made it in time to be with her when she died.” I know it shouldn’t but, that one question will likely haunt me for the rest of my life.
You’ll Feel Like A Part Of You Has Died – This is especially true if you are close to your parents, like me. The people who gave us life. For most of us, they are the people we have the closest relationship with. The people who know us best. Inside and out. For me, my Mum was someone I could count on. No. Matter. What. She was always there for me. My rock, my support, and my biggest cheerleader. All my life…until now.
You’ll Be Alone In A Room Full Of People – We’ve all heard this before. Some people experience this feeling when experiencing anxiety. This is how I’ve felt on many occasions since Mum passed away. I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful family and friends, yet at times, that doesn’t seem to matter. The person I most want to be in that room, my Mum, isn’t there. And, at that moment, that’s all that matters.
Thoughts, Prayers & Condolences Will Surround You – This is similar to being alone in a room full of people. When your parent dies you will immediately be surrounded by thoughts, prayers and condolences. You will be showered in phone messages, emails, cards, flowers, food, and donations. Then…nothing. When everyone else goes back to their normal lives, that’s when your parent’s death will hit you the hardest. This is when you will feel most alone. This is perfectly understandable, and normal. Life goes on – for everyone else. Face it, we’ve all done this. I know I have. I’m just as guilty. You just don’t think much about this until it happens to you. Losing the 24/7 support of loved ones and friends makes this time one of the hardest moments to get through.
You’ll Think About Your Parent – A Lot – Your parent will be on your mind, almost constantly, for the first few days, and maybe even weeks. I still think of Mum numerous times a day. I always have but, I think of her even more since her death. I think of her during the day, often when I least expect it. It could be a chore, baking something, or hearing one of her favourite songs on the radio, that will make me think of her. She’s in everything I do. There’s nothing wrong with this and, in fact, I hope it’s always like this for me. Only one day, instead of making me sad, I hope it brings nothing but happiness to remember her in these ways.
You’ll See Your Parent In Everything Around You – Everything your parent liked, disliked…from tv shows, to music, to clothing, to food…when you see, hear, smell, taste and touch these things, memories of your parent will come flooding back to you. For me, music and foods have been the most obvious things. A drive in the car listening to music, or a trip to the grocery store – such every day things – have led to a few unexpected tears.
You’ll See Your Parent In Other People – The grey hair in tight permed curls, the TanJay outfit, the polished fingernails and matching purse. For a split second I swore it was Mum. Of course, all hopes were dashed when the lady turned around at the grocery store. Like me, you will find yourself looking more closely at those who are your parent’s age. You are secretly hoping to spot your parent amongst the crowd. As disappointing as this will be, people who resemble your parent will provide you with a strange sort of comfort at times like this.
You’ll Long For Things – You will find yourself wishing for just one more day with your parent. Just one more phone call. You will long to ask your parent’s advice on something. You will wish you could share that exciting news with them. You will want to ask them questions that you’ve just thought of after they passed away. I still wish I had kept Mum’s last voicemail message to me. I wish I had asked Mum how she felt after her own mother died, and how she coped with it. I also know that, over time, I will continue long to ask Mum many things. I don’t think that will ever change.
Ask The Questions You Never Got To Ask – Speaking of questions, if you still have your other parent with you, ask them the questions you long to ask your parent who has passed. I had a conversation with Dad, shortly after Mum died, and he was able to answer a few questions for me that I never thought to ask Mum until now. Two of my aunts have answered other questions for me. For this I feel very grateful.
Do Not Fear Death – This was by far the biggest lesson I learned from Mum. Mum taught me not to fear death. After numerous bouts of pulmonary edema, Mum’s doctor sat at her bedside to explain to her that the next time this happened, could be the last.
There were no “ifs” in this conversation…only “when”.
Mum’s doctor looked her in the eye, anticipating that Mum would instruct the doctor to keep her alive by any means, should something happen. She was wrong.
Mum’s response to being told she could die at any moment?
It was a response full of strength, courage, and acceptance.
It was a response that was so very much my Mum.
It was a response that let us know that Mum knew her time was almost up…and she was okay with that.
And it was a response that none of us will ever forget.
With raised eyebrows, and a shrug of her shoulders, Mum uttered her best one-liner ever…
“Oh well, Toodle-oo!”