‘I thank grief for showing me just how much I loved my mum’

One of the hardest things to manage is not only the grief of losing her but the grief of all the little moments and the special relationship we shared

Karen, Emma and Erin on Erin’s Communion day.

Karen, Emma and Erin on Erin’s Communion day.


From the dawn of every day, from the moment I wake up, I carry it with me, till the darkness of night and in the midst of my dreams, it hangs near. Simmering gently to a rumbling boil, waiting to explode, leaving me devastated.

The black hole (no one likes to mention) divides my life, as I struggle to battle out of it while putting on my trademark happy smile.

Grief leaves you spitting it out on the table, without warning.

It convulses to being so evident that the agonising breaking of your weak heart is felt so physically. Grief lives within you, so deeply embedded yet, it feels uncontrollable and it floods every fibre of your body. The flood of trauma and pain, in a way you probably didn’t know before. You may have imagined it, but you got it wrong, so very wrong. When emotions are uneven and unpredictable, they vomit into your soul and heart, streaming it with desperation of your mind, a fragile crack only you will feel, and no one will observe. Severing the strength, you proved in the past with a concise scalpel.

And it may never go away.

The memories can be heart-warming to exhausting and it is easier to dig yourself into oblivion, as it is easier to forget. However heartless as it sounds, it is our natural resilience that strives to heal and repair ourselves. A natural resilience that hasn’t faltered me yet. The resilience is to keep going, to be brave, as they say, when I didn’t have a choice then.

She was getting sicker and sicker and all I could do was stand by and watch it happen slowly, daily and cruelly. The helplessness is suffocating, as we believe, in life, that we can just about fix anything. The truth is, we can’t.

She left peacefully in a room filled with those she loved and after years of illness and problems, some people said I’d have a normal life now. As much as those people wanted to help, to have a life back without hospital visits that corrupted my daily life would be only “normal” if she had recovered. I never wanted a normal life or at least not for more than a few minutes when my energy was stifled, and I screamed inwardly at the unfairness of it all. Not for me though, never me. But for her, my mum. A woman of 56 years’ old, a good person and someone I truly needed in my life.

A normal life is not what I live now, in a state of grief and functioning, yes, but normal? My life was only “normal” when she was here with us.

I’ll be forever haunted by the slow and painful deterioration she suffered at the hands of too many illnesses. I wish I knew 10 years ago what lay ahead. I wish I could have saved her from it all and I wish I could have done more. Learning the hard way, I now know that life doesn’t play fair. I know that as I’ve lived through more sad moments than I care to relive, remember or revisit. And when the shit hit the fan it was devastatingly sad, she was “terrified of dying” and I told her it was going to be okay.

I lied to my mum, the woman I loved because her fear was evident. She cried quietly, tears rolling down her face, catching themselves in her oxygen mask. I think she knew my lies, all our lies, but I hope she understands.

Karen as a younger woman.
Karen as a younger woman.

Losing a parent shakes you to your very core because your position in life is questioned, the daughter of a mum. I knew who I was but now? I am not so sure.

Watching her suffer was a terrible experience and one I would never wish on anyone. Is it better when you know a loved one is dying? I am not so sure and as the days pass and life is busy, we don’t consider losing those we love. We take it for granted, the things that are so vitally important – our health and that of loved ones. I too, ignored phone calls when busy but now, I re-listen to messages she left on my phone just to hear her voice, one more time.

I knew she was leaving us

I knew she was leaving us for five long weeks – five weeks of preparation but in the final moments, I was anything but prepared. I had thought I had everything under control, the kids had their “funeral clothes” after I told the kids and we sombrely shopped for dark clothes that were suitable for such an occasion. We got cups for the house, throws for the furniture and stocked up on coffee and tea. But we didn’t remember to arrange her clothes, plan a funeral, pick music, flowers or speakers at her funeral. With family support, we got there but not one of us was in any way ready for it. I certainly hadn’t written a eulogy – something that nearly broke me.

To this day, I still can’t read my words and hearing them spoken was heartbreaking. Then there are the things you don’t consider, how you need to stand tall and thank people at the funeral, be a good host or at least try while people pass on their condolences. You’ll never remember who hugged you, who attended the funeral and you’ll feel something of a spectator in another person’s world, such is the strangeness of the day.

Emma and Karen.
Emma and Karen.

It is the chats I miss the most. No one asks about the kids like she did. Everyone is busy and I get that, but I grieve for my kiddies and what they will miss now. She always had time for them, and she knew them in similar ways to me because she always asked about them. She watched them grow and she wanted more than anything to watch their progress in life. Her eyes lit up once she saw her grandchildren. In fact, hearing the tiniest of news about their life made her so obviously happy. A smile would form so beautifully as her eyes brightened and the love she felt shone even in the pits of her pain.

In moments of pure stupidity, I think to call her or at least say, “I’ll ask Mum”. When I feel sick or not myself, I’ll think to call her and then I realise my mistake with lasering agony. She’d force me to see a doctor, remind me to take it easy and support me as I struggled with life’s busy days. And now? There isn’t anyone who cares very much if I overwork, there isn’t anyone left to say “take a break” and there isn’t anyone to support me like she did. That’s a mum’s job, to love, to care and to never stop being a mum – no matter how old you grow.

That’s probably one of the hardest things to manage, not only the grief of losing her but the grief of all the little moments and the special relationship we shared. I grieve for the trips to the coffee shop, pushing her along in the wheelchair, cursing the curbs. How I gave out to her for wanting sugar in her hot chocolate ( I still don’t get that btw) and how I’d complain that she’d chat to everyone – sometimes I’d leave her and return back minutes later and she’d be there still chatting, still smiling, Still living.

I grieve for my mum, the one that ran (she was healthier then) to my workplace when I called her saying I was bleeding heavily. I was pregnant with Junior – the baby I never met and how she held my hand in the ambulance. Or when days later, in my horrific grief she forced me to cry by saying it was okay to do so. Knowing how stubborn I was, she knew I was struggling and grieving. If only she could be here now to help me.

Christmas, 2008: Caitlin, Karen and Erin.
Christmas, 2008: Caitlin, Karen and Erin.

I grieve for my children’s Nannie. The one who loved nothing more than just sitting with them and paying full attention to them. They still talk about her and they know they have lost a huge part of their lives but we try our best to carry on. I grieve for me too, the person I once was. I used to be stronger, more resilient and unbreakable. Now life is so much more nerve-wracking, I’m scared of everything and I’ve lost confidence in myself. Sometimes I think I’ll never get back to me or the funnier/stronger version. I just don’t know anymore.

I grieve for the lost beautiful friendship we shared, though we had cross words, I’m proud that I always respected her and we agreed to disagree at times. I grieve for the future we never get to have. The eldest will be doing her Leaving Cert in two years and I can’t tell you how hard it was on Junior Cert results day without her there to call about the results. The little one’s Confirmation will be next year, her entrance to first year, the eldest her debs and her future plans. Mum will miss it all and I am still getting used to that. We wanted her here. We wanted to share those moments with her. I needed Mum to be by my side to remind me how to be a good mum, how to enjoy the girls – as they grow so fast and how to be happy even when things are hard.

Constant person

In the grief I have suffered before mum, she was the constant person there. The one who listened to me crying down the phone after our dog died, the one who encouraged me to bounce back after losing Nana and the person who taught me it was okay to grieve for your unborn child.

And then she left and there is no one left to guide me through this in the way she could have. There is no one to call and no one to trust, like her. My dear mum.

She left me with a profound love – it was special, caring and irreplaceable. At 34 years’ old, I lost her, and I’ll probably never fully recover but that’s okay. It’s okay because that’s what it is. For all the pain and the constant struggles, it is meant to be like this. The harshest reminder of love is the great loss and lengthy recovery. I am trying to make friends with grief and to respect its need to litter my life. Its need to stick to me is not about ruining me but to remind me of love. Beautiful, simple and unadulterated love.

Karen's 50th birthday with Erin, Emma and Caitlin.
Karen's 50th birthday with Erin, Emma and Caitlin.

If I could change the past, I’d love to have seen her recover but as it is impossible, I’ll live with the past and its changing effect on me. Without her I would never have been the person I am, I wouldn’t know kindness is everything. I would never have known about the illnesses she suffered and I wouldn’t be so aware of invisible illnesses or how health can be so fragile. I wouldn’t know how hard wheelchair access is or that there aren’t enough resources for families looking after their loved ones. I wouldn’t know that sick people are vulnerable, and it is up to us to give them a voice. In fact, she said to me a few weeks before she died, “I don’t want to disappear. Make sure I still have a voice”. I laughed her off, but I know she wanted me to ensure that I used mine to raise awareness for invisible illnesses and for those who are extremely ill. I am still lost in the wave of my friend, grief, but I’ll find a way to have her voice heard. I promise.

As I manage the pain, the grief and slow recovery, I’ll find my way.

It’s only right to suffer because I loved her that much.

I really did and I thank grief for showing me just how much. Grief and I are besties now and we must learn to respect each other and give each other space to grow.

And I’ll be okay, in time.

Not because I am brave but because I don’t have a choice.

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