On Wednesday 29th April 2009, our lives changed forever. Our perfect family was torn apart by the dreaded C word. Cancer.
My beautiful, incredibly caring, loving, hilarious best friend and Mum (Lynne) lost her battle to skin cancer. Malignant melanoma to be precise.
I distinctly remember saying when I was younger that I would kill myself if either my mum, dad or sister died. This may sound drastic I know, but I honestly didn’t think life would even be manageable without any of them.
When in 2008 me and my sister were told she had been diagnosed with cancer, whilst being absolutely devastated, I thought okay, she will get through this. She took me and my best friends to our year 11 prom (see picture below ha), we had our last holiday in the south of France, to which she learnt to dive (this was huge as she would refuse to ruin her hair under water, ha!) and we celebrated our last Christmas together, all unbeknownst that these would be ‘lasts’.
She had had a number of operations to remove lumps and underwent several rounds of radio and chemo therapy which completely wiped her out. There were days when she’d be in agony but like the trooper she was, with an admirable positive attitude and unstoppable sense of humour, she powered through everything.
It wasn’t until March 2009 when our incredibly strong dad sat me and Emily down and told us that her illness was terminal. My heart broke, I felt physically sick. From then everything seems to be a bit of blur. God knows what happened to my brain but I often have to be reminded of certain things that happened surrounding those last days with mum. I didn’t want to believe any of this was really happening. I gave her the biggest hug and told her that I loved her with all of my heart as we left her at the hospital. She was fortunate enough to receive private healthcare so the hospital was just incredible and the care she received was second to none. Something we will be forever grateful for. She laughed and joked with her consultant and nurses up until the end.
Strangely, the night before we lost her dad had decided he would stay the night at the hospital. This was the first time he had decided to do this, then at approximately 9am the following morning she took her last precious breath. My late auntie always called that ‘sychronicity’, a weird but happy and comforting coincidence.
Before we knew it, it was time to plan the funeral and once that came and went and we were back to our usual routine, we had to move on? NO! You never move on from such a devastating event, so don’t put yourself under any sort of pressure to get back to ‘normal’, there is no such thing.
I was seventeen at the time so quite a difficult age. I tried to pretend that it hadn’t happened, which weirdly isn’t that difficult at first as none of it feels real. We spent a lot of time with family, we booked a holiday and I surrounded myself with my amazing friends. My dad gave counselling a go which he found very beneficial. I however decided that I didn’t want to discuss my loss with a stranger that didn’t even know my mum. Now that I’m older (and I like to think more mature) I’ve ended up regretting this decision for reasons I’ll go into further at another time, otherwise I’m in danger of this post being longer than my dissertation.
There are many coping mechanisms available to help you get through the loss of a loved one some of which I’ll list below:
- Counselling – available privately or through the NHS. If you are willing to pay to go privately I truly think it is an investment. Whether it’s been 6 months or 10 years it’s never too late. Nine years on I finally decided to give it a go and will be having my fourth session on Tuesday. It’s an excellent way of getting your thoughts off your chest and out into the world, giving you a sense of release and relief.
- Books – Only recently have I taken the time to read two books that came highly recommended which are ‘At last a life’ and ‘At last a life and beyond’ by Paul David. These aren’t about bereavement directly but as a result of losing my mum I started to get awful anxiety in 2014. It is written from the perspective of someone that suffered with anxiety for 10 years. Finally an author that I could relate to.
- A positive attitude (easier said than done) – As f*cked up as this sounds I have tried my hardest to look at any teeny positives that may have come from it. Mine being that this horrible event bought me and my sister so much closer to my Dad. He has become a bloody hero, smashing both the role of Mum and Dad in one go!
- A friend that is willing to simply listen – I don’t often talk about the day that we lost our mum but when I do I feel such a sense of relief. As the saying goes… ‘A problem shared is a problem halved(ish)’. I also find that by talking about her to friends and family, it keeps her memory alive. I LOVE reminiscing and watching home videos. Such happy memories. This doesn’t work for everyone though as I know that my Dad particularly struggles with seeing pictures and videos that hold such precious memories.
- Cry – Don’t be afraid to let out your emotion. I always feel so much better after a good cry, even if it’s for no reason. There is so much stigma especially around men ‘manning up’. I HATE THIS! It is just as hard for men as it is for women. Who the f cares what people think, let it all out whether it be in the comfort of your own home or in the middle of the office.
- Exercise – This has been recommended to me a number of times. I have never been a big gym goer but when I did manage to encorporate it into my routine last year I felt so much better for it. This isn’t absolutely necessary though. Taking in the fresh air on a walk in the countryside really helps to clear my head when I’m having one of my bad days.
- Continuing traditions – My mum LOVED Christmas. Every year was made so magical by the varying traditions she did for us. I could write a whole other post on this so I won’t go into detail, but again carrying on some of these traditions really keeps her memory alive. I know that if we stopped celebrating this time of year since losing her she’d be turning in her grave!
- Charities – I didn’t take advantage of what these amazing charities had to offer but three that were recommended to me were MIND, St. Richards Hospice (a local charity) and the bereavement trust.
I am by no means suggesting that this is what you should do to get through the loss of someone so close to your heart. I am simply highlighting what is available. Everyone has different ways of dealing with such an event and there are certainly no rules. I can assure you I didn’t follow any but I knew barely anyone that had been through what I had apart from my own Mum. Not helpful! This is why I have written this post to reassure you that, in the words of the late Michael Jackson, you are NOT alone. I would love to think that I can be of help, even if it’s to one other person.