Mum died from breast cancer a year and a month ago. She was given two years to live about 18 months before that. The past two years could be the toughest I have been through, but how have I got through them? To answer this, I have done one of my favourite things - compiled a list - that I hope will be of use to others.
1) Everyone is different and every experience is unique
Every person is different, every death is different and every reaction to a death is different. We are all unique, this is the spice of life and what makes life so incredible. I asked a psychologist years ago when someone died 'If I'm like this when this acquaintance has died, what am I going to be like when my Mum or Dad dies?'. He said 'It's impossible to say as each experience is unique'. Other family members have reacted in diverse ways to Mum's death, friends have responded in varied approaches, we all had varying experiences at her funeral. I wanted to hug everyone so I was determined to 'make the most' of the event. I barely shed one tear. Others were crying buckets. That doesn't mean I'm repressed, my emotions are coming out at different times, both before and after the funeral.
2) Writing down experiences is helpful
I save my blogposts here as draft; only I can see them, they are not published when I don't want to publish them. Looking at these draft posts is a great source of comfort and gives me a sense of achievement and time passing. I also mark each day out of ten in my diary, I can see patterns of mood and how long I might be sad for, and for how long I am content. By doing this one can get a sense of recovery from trauma and suffering.
3) The best way to die is ... six of one and half a dozen of another
In other words there is no 'best' way to die. Yes you can die in your sleep (as one relative has just done) but family and friends are denied a goodbye or send off. Or you can have your celebrations and long goodbye but you get to see suffering and distress too. We can't pick how we die (thank Goodness) so no point worrying about it.
4) Grief has many forms - ask for help
And sometimes it comes up and bites you on the behind when you are least expecting it. Anguish, emotional pain, guilt, regret, sadness, anger, fear, frustration, despair - all come from loss of one sort or another. Those of us who have felt grief have been there. Perhaps try to name it, perhaps try to share it with someone. Do what works for you. This will be difficult, asking for help is the most difficult thing us independent human beings do. Do not suffer alone, there is no point in that. Have a list of people or organisations you can ring 9-5 Monday to Friday and a list of people and places you can ring out of hours. Don't struggle in silence.
5) Take each day at a time
If this is a struggle, take each hour at a time, each minute at a time. Just get some fresh air, a few deep breaths, focus on a part of nature - just spare a few seconds of 'me' time.
6) Count your blessings
On a good day this will be easy, on a bad day harder. Appreciate the little things in life; the sunshine, the changing seasons, your own sense of touch. Count three blessings on a bad day, fifteen on a good day. Record them and you can read through them on a bad day and then you have a new blessing.
7) Do what works for you
For some work is a great healer - they throw themselves into it, for others they need a lot of time off the supposed 'rat race'. Some enjoy being alone and meditation, others love the company of friends and family. Regular exercise is a tonic for the motivated, sleep can help the stressed and tired. Try to work out what makes you tick and gets you on the road to recovery. Pin your lists of what helps you on your fridge so you are reminded daily of the little things you can do to help yourself.
8) Have no regrets - banish guilt
Easier said than done this one, but focus on the positive memories and your achievements. You can't help others if you're not well yourself and if you are burdened with a shedload of guilt and regret you may punish yourself and isolate yourself further from the things that help. Guilt is a terrible emotion and if you have problems with strong negative emotions like anger, fear, guilt, bitterness and extreme sadness - especially suicidal thoughts then you need to talk to the professionals urgently. Contact your GP or out of hours services if this sounds familiar.
9) Celebrate and commemorate
The rituals of life, death and bereavement have been a great comfort to me. We had a big bash for Mum's birthday before she died which was fabulous. Luckily for me, I had an experienced friend by my side when Mum actually died a few months after the celebration. Our friend had experienced death first hand before, unlike me, so was able to suggest lovely things. We placed a small posie of flowers in Mum's hands as she was dying, read her poetry and spoke to her. It was a good death in the end. But we were very fortunate in that regard: Mum died quite fast, in the late morning when we could be there. She died over the course of about two hours.
We have commemorated Mum's life in several ways and according to her wishes which is also of great comfort. We scattered her ashes on her Birthday,a great occasion. We have published her book of poems and set up a fund - Wellsprings Healing Arts Fund named after her inspirational book. On the anniversary of her death last month myself and my brother spent precious time together. Planning ahead for these events has been beneficial.
10) Keep in touch
You can't beat face to face contact with human beings. If you can't manage that - but you need it, try sending a text to someone to book a telephone chat in with them. With our busy lives this may be the only way we can talk. These social interactions and social relationships will help build up your resilience ready for the next thing life will throw up.