In 1991, at the age of 66, my mother died suddenly – however I was expecting her death. I was 28 and living in the UK at the time. I had a dream back in August 1990 where I was told “she died in July” so I was planning to go home to New Zealand in the June of 1991 but she died in March before I got home.
Sensing this and the reality of it happening were two very different things though.
I had been out all day and got home to a phone call from a friend in England who told me Dad had been trying to call me all day, and that Mum had died. I went numb with shock.
I phoned home and found out she had been in hospital for four days, which I didn’t know – she hadn’t wanted me to be told. The doctors had said in the morning she was well enough to go home but in the evening her heart rhythm became irregular which couldn’t be stabilised – she went into cardiogenic shock and died. Her favourite sister had come down to visit and both her and Dad were present when she passed.
My friend and her husband came over to help me pack and take me to the airport, but we went to the local pub for a drink first! I had managed to get a flight home the next afternoon – it was the longest flight I have ever had, stopping many more times than usual along with transits – something like forty-six hours.
I arrived home two days before the funeral. I had asked for the funeral to be put off until I got there because I wanted to see her and say goodbye – the idea being to ‘have completion’. I saw her at the funeral parlour, staying with her for forty minutes, hugging her and basically wanting her back.
There were mixed feelings of anger too – with Mum, with the world, of not being told she was in hospital, and being attached to having her in my life.
As we left a staff member said he thought we’d long gone, implying we’d been there an unusually long time. I could feel myself react in anger, feeling it was my right to be there but didn’t say anything. When Dad and I went out to the car there were some people standing in the street laughing and I remember feeling so angry and how dare they be happy.
My mother and I always got on very well, like good friends, whereas my relationship with Dad wasn’t close and had tumultuous times especially through my teenage years. So here we were together without a strong foundation of communicating or connection.
We went through all the necessary details of the funeral together in a functional way – choosing Desiderata and Mum’s favourite hymn, and allowed the funeral director to speak for us. I don’t remember flowers at the funeral but there were plenty at home. The funeral parlour was packed to overflowing with many people standing outside. I was amazed at how many attended and remember thinking if only Mum had known just how many people she had touched in her life and who clearly appreciated her, she would have been amazed. I felt sad that she never knew this.
She felt she lacked confidence, attending an assertiveness course with other women, which then became a support group for them all, and working within the local women’s centre supporting people with their budgets were all things she did in her later years after retiring.
Returning home after the funeral, and having family and friends visit was lovely in many ways; especially to have the company, but on the other hand I would feel angry or upset inside when people were joyful or laughing, even though I knew at the time, in any other circumstance I would have been the same and joined in.
My aunt left the next day, and Dad and I were left on our own. He told me what had happened – why Mum had gone to hospital and what happened on the last day, but he wouldn’t talk about how he felt, holding in all his obvious grief (it was nineteen months later when he let go and cried). I still felt numb, not knowing what to say either, so there was polite conversation and long silences, and finding ‘things to do’.
After six weeks I went to visit my aunt and stayed for a week. She took me to a kinesiologist friend of hers who told me I was numb. Although I mentioned this earlier and writing from hindsight, I hadn’t actually realised this until that point but I knew there was sadness and grief there I wasn’t able to express.
I was finding it hard work to cry, it was something I almost had to force to happen – it didn’t feel natural or normal.
Returning home, I stayed another six weeks. I don’t remember a great deal of that time although I recall going into shops when it was Mother’s Day and feeling angry again – how unfair the world was and refusing to look at any Mother’s Day ads and trying to avoid going into shops that were advertising it where-ever I went as best I could.
Dad and I sorted through all Mum’s belongings before I left. I don’t recall this being very traumatic but perhaps that was because I was going back overseas and couldn’t wait to get away – probably to escape the memories that being home constantly triggered.
It was about six months later, when I was attending a mind-body-spirit festival in London that a ‘healer’ told me I was still holding onto my mother and needed to let her go, that I was holding her back from moving on. I went home that night and cried and cried, apologising for holding her back.
As I did this I felt an energy the length of my body leaving me and the relief was enormous. The tension of holding everything in since her death had gone.
I haven’t cried much since, and in some ways I felt I was okay and had got ‘used to’ her not being around. There were odd things that popped up now and again like taking photos – I realised that all the pictures I’d taken in the previous six years I’d been travelling and working overseas had been taken with the almost unconscious thought that ‘this one is for mum’, and with this realisation, I stopped taking photos for some time.
It has been twenty-eight years since Mum’s death but I can feel there are still some hidden things there.
The first two years after having my own child in 1997 were a difficult time, as I often wanted her there for advice and help. It took many years to get over it – reminders such as Mother’s Day, seeing mothers of all ages with their children in the street, friends with their Mum’s, etc – frequent triggers would bring it all back but over time the reactions have dwindled.
In retrospect, I can see how much I reacted to Mum’s death and how with Mum there was need and attachment, which made the grieving process difficult.
When my Father died some years later. I experienced his deathin a very different way – that is a story for another article!
Paula S., Australia
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