When your mother dies you are losing one of the most important relationships of your life. However old you are when it happens, or however close you or your mother were (or were not) things will never be the same. Mother’s Day can be a painful reminder to everyone grieving their mother. In this blog Cruse volunteer Yolanda shares some of her experiences of grief, and offers a few tips for coping with grief and with Mother’s Day.
My mum was an amazing charitable human being who spent her life helping other people. As well as being a mother of seven and a grandmother of 10, she had been a school nurse, a Girl Guide leader, a volunteer for Mind, a foster mother and a mother figure to many. She had an amazing gift for attracting and supporting people who had lost mothers.
I only truly appreciated Mum’s own grief journey during my training to become a bereavement support volunteer. Mum was nine years old when her own mother died and she was raised by her grandmother. She left Jamaica in 1962 and was not able to return to see her grandmother before she died. Mum would always talk about her grandmother and cry unconsolably on Mother’s Day. Now I understand that the pain of grief consumed her.
Mum also lost a baby which died at birth and was widowed at the age of 46 when my stepdad sadly died three months after being diagnosed with cancer. In 2012, her stepmother died and then a year later her younger brother died. This was followed by my dad’s death in 2014.
In September 2015, Mum had a stroke. She lost her voice and the use of the right side of her body. Two days later, we were devastated to find out that Mum had no immune system and had days, maybe weeks to live. So, not only had we lost our vibrant mum, but now we were being told that she was going to die. She died eight weeks later at the age of 77 leaving doctors baffled that she had survived for so long without an immune system.
When we were told that Mum was going to die, I cried every day for two weeks. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it. I always thought that Mum would live to be 100. My brother couldn’t understand why I was crying and told me to pull myself together. I couldn’t help it; the tears just flowed on their own.
I finally stopped crying after I made the decision to accept Mum as she was at that point. The old Mum was gone, and this was who she had become. I decided to embrace every moment we had left. We were never very good at saying ‘I love you’ but we said it every day from that moment… well I said it and she said ‘m mmmm mmm’ which was her new way of telling me the same.
My experience of grief
When Mum died, the hole she left was huge and the family was devastated by her loss. We didn’t cope very well, and the family fell apart. She was the glue that held us together. My brother died six months after Mum when his heart stopped suddenly.
After my Mum and brother died, my grief was put on hold as I tried to get back to normal. I was working full time and trying to sort out the death administration. I would get annoyed at people who would tell me how my Mum would want me to behave, but it wasn’t her trying to pick up the pieces of my shattered life, it was me!
Returning to work was hard as I struggled to perform at my pre-loss level. I remember my manager at the time asking me when I thought I would get over my Mum’s death and she could not understand why I bit her head off! It was like I had put up an electric fence and anyone who crossed it got a shock!
I felt like something was wrong with me because I didn’t feel like my usual self. I felt different. I became angry and intolerant and wanted to retreat from the world. At times, I felt like I couldn’t go on. My grief finally kicked in when my car key stopped working. I remember sitting on the pavement and sobbing. I had no fight left in me. I took time off work and realised that I wanted to live a life with purpose from then on.
When I was grieving, I felt like someone had ripped my heart out. It was the most painful experience I have ever endured and I never realised that I could feel so sad. None of my usual self-help techniques, nor my positive mantras could lessen or remove the pain. Even though it was an emotional pain, it hurt physically.
I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep. I had flashbacks and nightmares and couldn’t think straight. Every time I had to deal with something to do with the death, I instantly felt drained. I lost confidence in my abilities and felt like I no longer had a purpose. In my case, I lost both of my parents and my brother in a short period of time. I tried to carry on as normal, but the grief literally wrestled me to the ground and floored me.
What I realised was that things have to come to a stop before they change direction and I had to learn how to live again without my loved ones being in my life physically.
Coping with grief on Mother’s Day
Mother’s Day doesn’t just last one day. As soon as Valentine’s Day is over, Mother’s Day merchandise and advertising are everywhere. For weeks, there are constant reminders that your Mum is no longer here and that can make you feel very low. I remember the first few Mother’s days after Mum died. I found it a painful reminder that she was no longer here, and I kept thinking “what’s happy about it?
It might help to remember these occasions were created by retailers, so there is no need to buy into the commercial hype. When you are bereaved, you don’t need one day to remember your Mum. You think about her every day. I personally feel that if Mother’s Day is seen as a day to honour all maternal figures, it takes the pressure off from making it a “happy” day. This way you are free to mark the day in whatever way feels right for you.
I tell my Cruse clients that it is really important to be especially gentle with themselves while grieving and that it is OK for them to be feeling as they are. Special days can be especially hard and this is when people tend to reach out for help.
I wrote this for a friend after she lost her mother. “You don’t really understand how it feels to lose a mother until you lose yours. You can try to describe what it’s like, you can describe the empty space that has been left behind, but words can’t really describe the pain of losing the woman who was the universe who created you. The woman who nurtured you and stretched her body to give you the space to grow. The woman who gave you a chance at life.” I recognise that you do not have to give birth to a child to be their Mum. My rescue cat would probably agree with that statement!
My personal experiences have helped me to understand the grieving process and they have taught me compassion, empathy and resilience. This Mother’s Day, I encourage you to tap into your maternal side and be kind to yourself or another who may be struggling.
In this video, team members from across Cruse Bereavement Care share their advice on how best to cope with grief on Mother's Day.