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What grief has taught me about life

You know when you’re quietly confident you can pull something off? I consider myself a very competent human and nothing really rattles me in life. I rarely balk at adding something new to my juggling act; in fact, I run on the adrenalin and the challenge of pulling it all off. So when I was faced with losing my best friend my mum, I adopted the same approach. I’ve got this. I mean, it’s all part of growing old and something everyone will face at some point. So I was quietly confident I could manage the end of life process knowing I had a strong disposition and I was competent at handling pressure. Boy, I’ve never been so wrong as I was about grief and loss.


My personal grief and loss

Within an 18 month window, I lost both my mum and my dad. Both of my parents endured harrowing ends to their lives. I can only describe watching it as extreme trauma. While I sheltered my husband and kids from the front line of death, I then found myself enduring this war alone.

After dealing with two very different situations, I believe that it’s not how people leave this world that wounds you the deepest, it’s the relationship you have with them at the time they go.

My mum left within 6 weeks of being in the hospital and before that, I helped her at her home for around 4 weeks. This meant we were still very close and our relationship was very strong. I was her safety line. If she needed anything she called me first.

My dad had dementia and was admitted to a high care dementia ward 2 years prior. I was the only one he remembered for the first year, and then dementia took that away from me. His dementia was very challenging. He was a very strong person in life and dementia made him angry and aggressive. My dad lost everything he stood for. He lost his pride, dignity, loving nature and he lost us.

So as you can now imagine, the hole I dug after my mum left was pretty deep and I crawled right on into it and covered myself in dirt.

Where was this confident, competent, strong human-being who could handle anything? She’d met grief.


My friend grief

I had never dealt with grief until I lost my mum so I couldn’t recognise it. One day the floods came, and they stayed for days. I cried in the shower, in my bedroom (pretending to read), or anytime I was alone. I’d jump in my car and park somewhere so I could just cry uncontrollably in private and I couldn’t stop no matter how hard I tried. The sadness finally caught up with me.

My original family unit was broken.

I was broken.

Talking about it wasn’t an option and I didn’t want to go anywhere. Life had to go on; I had my children to look after and a house to keep running. However, outside of that, I couldn’t face anything in the real world. It scared me because I knew I could easily be reduced to tears. My world was plagued with the recency effect of watching my mum die. It has swallowed me whole and it haunted me 24 hours a day.


Help is all around

I was stuck in the trauma of what I had just endured and then two hands reached in and pulled me out. Friends I’ll have for life. Friends who aren’t offended that you don’t return their calls; the ones who aren’t all judge-y when you won’t go out; they simply take action and help you recognise you need help.

One my friends bounced into my house one day and said “Right, I’ve rung the helpline, I’m all over it, we need to get you to a GP and find you someone to talk with. It’s all normal.”

Normal……was I acting not-normal? Grief and loss can easily cloud your vision.


What I’ve learned about grief and loss

1. You can’t fix it.

You can’t tick it off your list and solve it. It’s not a thought or a concept you can answer. It’s a feeling, an emotion and it’s raw and real and it’s something you have to learn to live with because it never leaves you….and I mean never ever.

2. Death is part of life.

It’s been a hard pill to swallow, especially when you have young kids like us. I think we go through life with death a very distant thought if any at all, but when your parents leave you, the cycle of life is very clear.

3. It’s not just about the loss.

It was also about who I was in the relationship I had with both my mum and dad. I had lost that special feeling of being loved by your parents no matter how old you are. My mum was the first person I rang when I had news, good or bad.

4. Grief strips you naked.

Something I wasn’t prepared for but it’s allowed me to rebuild a different person, a better person and I’m very grateful for that. My self-awareness, my compassion and my gratitude are much stronger. It has humbled me.

5. Talking is the answer.

For me, it took a psychologist to get me out of the hole. For 6 months or longer, I would just cry at every session. Grief is exhausting. Over time I was able to understand more about how I felt and why I was feeling it. I still go to see the same psychologist and just talk about life. It’s great talking to someone that doesn’t know you personally.

6. You can’t box up death.

Nothing ever goes the way you plan it. It doesn’t fit into a box with a nice neat ribbon on top. You’re riddled with guilt because you didn’t say, do or act on something before they left. Just one last conversation could have allowed me to fix that, but you can’t box death. It just happens. The end.

7. Recency effect fades.

It’s so hard to move away from the harrowing time at the end. It can stay with you 24 hours a day. It swallows you whole if you let it. I can tell you that while this time in my life will never leave me, it is fading and fonder memories are more prevalent.


Life lessons

I am very grateful that my parents chose Lake Macquarie to settle and raise their family. Both from overseas, they could have ended up anywhere in Australia, but they chose here.

My childhood was amazing. I want to make sure my children enjoy every little inch of life here in Lake Macquarie so their legacy lives on.

Grief has taught me that no matter how hard we work and how much we earn, if we aren’t enjoying rich family time, then we aren’t living. Before grief and loss, we were taking life for granted.

It’s only when we experience big events in life that we realise life isn’t about what you make through working hard. It’s more about what you make of it. Happiness and gratitude.

We choose to live our lives in honour of Nanny-J and Poppy-Opa.


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