This is a post I had written before I went away and never posted. Full update on Mary to follow – for now it’s this.

Just as I had assumed old people are OK about getting old, I sort of thought that old people who are dying, and knew they were dying, would somehow be OK with that too. So naïve. But I just presumed that if your 80 something, you’ve been told you’re dying, there’s very little else you can do, that you would feel it was ‘fair’ to leave this world and offer up your space for some new born who might save the planet. Talk about projection.

For Mary, it is definitely not the case. She tells me about some other patients at the hospice who have recently died…”its horrible, I hate it, but they were ready you see, they said so. I ain’t bloody ready though, no way.” I noticed almost immediately that her comment made me angry. A part of me wanted to shout “oh for gods sake, you should be, count yourself lucky, at least you made it to your 80s!” I know this is about my own grief. This is some unaddressed anger I have about the fact that my mum’s life ended so prematurely. I tried so bloody hard to be OK with it, we both did. We spent so much time saying “oh we’re so lucky we’ve got so much time to prepare, isn’t that better than for people who have someone snatched away without any warning”….and I believed us. For a while. But, here we are again, back to that boring old truth which is that it seems to take a very long time to feel all these things everyone imagines you will feel straight away…and now sometimes I feel like I’ve lost my slot…I’ve missed my ‘grieving slot’ because everyone, including me in some ways, has moved on.

My therapist asked me to write a letter to my mum as a creative way of dealing with my emerging regrets…here is a snippet.

Dear Mutti,

I can’t believe I haven’t written before. It’s so strange that in just typing some words on a computer, it feels like I am communicating with you. I’m reminded of writing emails to you when I was away, or at work. It’s been so long since I ‘contacted’ you and as painful as it is, it’s quite incredible. Forgive me for not doing it sooner, and forgive me for not doing it all now, it’s too much, I cant do it all in one go.

Now I find myself several days later writing to you again but in a different space…now it doesn’t feel so painful, but I’m not sure if that’s because I’m not connected to the fact that you are dead. There we go…now it comes. God I miss you so much mum. I can’t believe I have survived so long without you. Right now I’m remembering that time a few days before you died when I asked you how will I know you’re there if I need you? You said you’d give me a sign…but I haven’t had one…I do just know it…I can feel you. I feel like somehow you can hear me…

I wish we’d had that conversation earlier…the one on your bed…I wish we had gone through events in the future and talked about them so that now as I experience them I can feel you more, like buying my house, like my career? We started to… I know it was hard for both of us to talk about everything. I just wish id been braver, and maybe I wish you’d pushed me more. What I wouldn’t give to go back to our last holiday in Menorca…such a wonderful time together…but now I feel we wasted it…we could have talked about everything. I’ve dreamt of you so much coming back to life…it sort of feels like this is the closest I can get to that. Now I feel sick…this happens a lot when I’ve been crying a lot for you…after a short while a wave of nausea comes over me and I stop crying.

I don’t feel like I need to tell you about me and my life because I feel like you know…I just want to hear your voice…I want to remember you more vividly…I cant believe I have got used to you not being in my life…its almost like I cant remember what its like to have a mum…what its like to have someone who knows your better than anyone in the world. I’ve survived that…its horrid when I remember that because it makes me feel what I’m missing….and I feel angry that so many other people have it. I just cant believe I have managed to get to where I am without you…its meant I’ve toughened up so much…I think of myself as some kind of sharp tool now…very spikey.

I’m sorry I didn’t hold your hand that time you put your hand out to hold my face…I think I was just so frightened…your eyes were so blurry and glazed over and I didn’t want to crumble. I’m sorry for not sitting with you more in those last few days and talking to you…I really hope you didn’t want us to be there all the time…it really seemed better to leave you to sleep…but now I think I should have been with you more…sat with you…I just couldn’t and I worried that I always stank of fags. Why did you have to fucking go mum? We should have done more…I know you wanted to go, but now it’s so hard not to think there was more to be done… I just so wanted to accept your way of dealing with it and I realise now that I never for one second actually believed you were going to die…I just spoke about it, but I never really considered it properly…otherwise I would have at least tried to get you to keep fighting…

I find myself incredibly curious as to how that must read to you…maybe it does nothing to a stranger? A part of me is even wondering if it sounds pathetic. Its astonishing what writing this and several other letters to mum has done for my grieving process. I’ve really addressed some very raw stuff that was hovering around and was affecting the way I was living.  Once I’d written them the word ‘closure’ had meaning for the first time. Its not that I have ‘finished’ grieving, but something about the suffering is over. The pain I feel when missing mum is different…its ‘good’ almost, rather than crippling. And I feel able to live my life and be happy now for the first time since she died. I highly recommend some letter writing.

3 thoughts on “Regrets

  1. My mum had cancer in 2005 (I was 25 then). It was really bad, stage 4, mastectomy, lymph nodes, 6 chemotherapy cycles, 35 time radiation… The full program. When she recovered in this special hospital near a lake in the Alps, I happened to be there too. We had a lot of talks and walks by/around the lake over coffee and got to tell each other how much we loved each other and how important we were for each other. In 2007, just when I thought life was good again, her cancer fatigue had just started to get better, she was diagnosed with a frontal lobe syndrome, a form of dementia. We don’t know where it came from, there might be an association with the cancer treatment or the fact her dad has had Alzheimer’s. We don’t know. She got bad very quickly, and today she is totally gone. She doesn’t talk or respond, she is a living piece of meat. I often cried, she used to be my best friend. I still do when I had too much red wine. I think of who will help me when I have a baby, who is there to listen when I need help (my dad is a typical man and rather incompetent to be empathetic with my sometimes irrational or manic girl problems), and the big ‘why her’ creeps in. Your letter really summarized how I feel so often. How lost it makes me feel, that she isn’t there anymore. In hindsight I am so, so grateful for the time by the lake, which we had after her treatment. I know she always knew how much I loved her, but too often we don’t say what we feel until it is too late. It is important to tell each other these things once in a while. Despite that I grieve every day. I often feel like the lone trooper in my life. I have a lovely husband, but it isn’t the same as a mum. I’m not sure if it will ever really go away, but for now I try to focus on those last positive moments with her and keep them forever in my heart.

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