A room for one – the solace of grief

I have just spent half an hour sobbing into a Sass & Bide t-shirt found on the floor of my car parked outside a Thomas Dux gourmet supermarket while a friend on the end of the phone teaches me how to breathe again.

I never wanted to write about grief, not here, not as often as I am. But grief doesn’t run to my schedule, it has an agenda of it’s own and descends at a whim oblivious to my goings on.

Some say it comes in waves but that would suggest a rhythm one can predict like tides that run with the moon. I feel no rhythm in my grief from the death of my mother three months ago but I do live in a slow motion pace inside a bubble from which I see my altered world.

Outside the bubble is a world of noise, inside is silence and muted sounds. When grief hits the bubble bursts and a cacophony of sadness invades my head until the bubble grows again with me back in it. I don’t mind the world inside the bubble though I fear my constant retreat to it will prevent me from living in real time.

Four days after my mother died I lay in my bath tub soaking in tepid water and rang her mobile phone. She didn’t answer but you knew that already. A man’s voice took the call and I hung up. Her phone had not been used for over a year and her number had already been transferred and her name replaced.

I can’t explain why I rang her old number  no more than I can explain why I felt the need to constantly kiss her on the lips when she was in hospital or why I apologised for not being married or my need to hold her cooling legs like marble under my hands long after she took her last breathe or why I took photos of her lifeless body on my phone.

I had thought that when my mother died it would be like heart break. It would be intense and painful and follow me round with every single breathe, dragging behind me like a boulder.

But it’s not. I live my life, I have fun, I laugh and all seems fine and then bam. There it is again. It may last a minute, ten minutes, an hour, a few days and then it’s gone. Just like that. Grief is crazy making with an element of surprise and the constant knowledge that no matter what you do that person is gone, never to return, never.

Losing a mother is like being on a ship that has lost it’s ballast and is now at the mercy of the deepest ocean and all it holds within. I bob around without a foundation to bring me back to the same balanced spot each time, a spot I just can’t get right. Instead I spend my time sideways, upside down, rightside up, sinking to the ocean floor and floating back up, taken on the current to places I have never been.

My bubble burst again this week. It was stretched beyond repair and I wrestled within it trying to find a space to survive away from the madness inside my head.

I fled to the internet at 1.00am when I couldn’t sleep and googled ex boyfriends just to make myself feel really good about myself until 5.00am when I knew I was now well and truly lodged within a rabbit hole.

I later fled to the air conditioned confines of a movie cinema to escape the summer heat and the pulsating burning of my chaotic thoughts fueled by my insomniac internet session the night before.

By dusk I was driving around the streets dialing friends who went through to voicemail. When I found a live voice at the end of the phone I broke down, pulled into a carpark of a gourmet supermarket and sobbed for half an hour into a t-shirt I found on the floor of my car. My friend stayed on the line and taught me how to breathe again.

My mum, turns out I just wanted my mum and the silence of my ex boyfriend since her funeral just mimicked the final silence of her.

It also reminded me that I had put the grieving of a significant romantic relationship to the side when the end of life’s ultimate relationship took precedence and now there was no escaping either. I wanted one to comfort me for the loss of the other and vice versa yet both had legitimate reasons why they couldn’t. Grief is like that, it intensifies every loss no matter the size and takes residence inside your head.

Fourteen months ago when I was told mum had cancer I was determined for a prognosis, a figure I could put in my diary as if controlling time was a) within my power and b) the key to keeping my grief at bay. If I could manage the time I did have then I could easily move forward and get on with my life after that date, right?

“You must ask the oncologist what your prognosis is” said the pragmatist me down the phone to my mum before emailing her a list of questions to ensure she got the answers to.

When I rang half an hour after her and Dad returned home from the specialists for the biopsy results I found out three things. My father was angry, my mother had walked in the door and gone straight for an alcoholic beverage and the bladder cancer tumour had invaded her vagina and pushed itself around her ureta, shut down one of her kidneys, infested her lymph nodes and settled in her lungs.

The cancer was in the words of the specialist, inoperable and in the handwriting of my father on the piece of paper he had printed out with the questions I so wanted the answers to, incurable. There would be no chemotherapy and only a short course of palliative radiotherapy to buy her an extra month or two.

My father said there was no prognosis but my mother said the specialist had told her Grade IV bladder cancer takes around twelve months to strangle the inner organs and send the host body to death. He had also told her he believed she was half way there.

Prognosis? Six months. He didn’t say it, I did. Like all doctors he can’t tell you how and when and what date and time you are going to die and nor does he want to.

In six months you can build a Rolls Royce or film Laurence Olivier’s 1948 Hamlet or lose twelve kilos on Weight Watchers or wrap up your mothers life in the hope that losing hers won’t make you lose your own.

She lasted double that time.

I don’t long for my mother to return. I felt that as deaths go she had a good one and it is bound to come to us all, bringing her back would just delay the inevitable.

Inspired by her own desire to face it head on I ran towards her for the last vulnerable year of her life and was rewarded with some truly special times. What I do miss is the constance of her presence in this world, my world and the physical aspects of her body being here.

My body, born from hers, has acutely felt the physical loss. The warmth of her hand and the sound of her laugh.

When I was born the only other person in the room was my mother. The midwife attending the home birth had gone to call the doctor due to a complication which turned out to be my butt wanting to come out first. By the time she returned I had already heaved my way out.

That’s what I miss. Just my mother and me in the room.

This piece was also published in The Huffington Post

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2 Comments

  1. Rachel

    February 5, 2015 at 1:23 am

    I too am a ship that has lost it’s ballast. I’d like to say it gets easier but I think that’s a lie we tell ourselves so we get up the next day. It’s always hard, and it’s always a truth about yourself. And each moment and occasion is just another she missed. I find myself keeping lists of the missed moments.

    Anyway, writing was all that kept me sane for a long time. It’s probably the only reason I’ve been getting up everyday for the past 4 years. That and my best friends.

    Loved the piece, came through Huffington. Keep writing.

    Thanks,
    Rachel

    Reply

  2. Ashley

    July 27, 2015 at 3:08 am

    I’ve never read a truer account of what it feels like to lose a mother. When I read this for the first time, I felt like you finally put in words what I hadn’t been able to for the five years since my mother’s passing. I return to this piece every so often not because reading it reinforces my sadness, but because it reminds me how much my mother meant to me. Thank you.

    Reply

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