So its nearly five months since Mum died. I thought I would give an update on how things are going.
If you remember ages ago I shared the 7 stages of grief.
I would guess that now I have reached 5 – the Upward Turn. But it isn’t simply a one way journey I do go back and forth across the stages. So here is a general update. I hope it helps others on different stages in their journey.
Stage 1 Denial
I am far from the first days of stunned shock and disbelief. I no longer find myself forgetting only to have fresh stab of pain when I remember. That mum is dead is just a fact of my life now. I realize too that it is not unexpected or unusual to have lost a parent at my age.
That’s not to say I don’t have moments when it seems to me inconceivable that mum is dead. She looked so well days before she went into hospital. Not like a drawn cancer victim, not like someone with 2 months left to live. Here she is on the beach, a happy day just a week before her operation. I still can’t quite decide if it was better that we all didn’t know then how little time she had left. Would our smiles have been forced? Or would we have appreciated the sea breeze and the gentle late afternoon rays of sunshine more?
Stage 2 Pain and Guilt.
I don’t have those racking wrenching sobs anymore. Its a gentle pull of loss. I don’t beat myself up for failing to save Mum.
But that is also not to say that those moments when I am in disbelief never turn into times when I reflect on all that happened and wish that I had done something different and wonder if I had – would she still be here? Should I have made her go to the doctor when she wasn’t quite right at Christmas?
Would it have made a difference if she got a second opinion? But, whilst in the weeks after her death those thoughts would have consumed me for hours, now they come and I let them go. For I accept in my heart that these things are done and can not be changed.
Stage 3. Anger and Bargaining.
After Mum died we directed a lot of our anger at the team that managed her initial care for her Urethral Melanoma at the Norfolk and Norwich. How could they have told her she was cancer free then she be riddled with cancer less than 6 weeks later? How could they have made her have a fruitless major operation leaving her in pain and immobile for the last weeks of her life? How did they not warn us that they had no real way of predicting how her extremely rare cancer would develop and that it might, despite extensive surgery, still go through her like wildfire? How did it spread so quickly?
This anger burned in us and we channeled it into a long letter of complaint to the hospital. Seeking we claimed not for compensation, but for better understanding of what went wrong and in the hope that if they acknowledged their errors things would be better for someone else next time.
Eventually we received a long reply from the hospital. It was a detailed account, which, while acknowledging some shortfalls (like never referring her from the surgical teams to oncology) argued that, by and large, they followed procedures: so did nothing wrong. The hospitals response gave no acknowledgment at all that those procedures were completely inadequate in the face of a cancer like mums. When I first read it that made me cry and feel angry all over again. How could they not see?
But weeks have passed since we got the letter and we are still discussing how to respond. Now I don’t feel I want to rage at them. I know that doctors are not gods. That they acted in good faith. They took a risk with major surgery and hoped that my mums strength would pull her through. It didn’t, but would leaving her and doing nothing have been better? Now I am not so sure.
My anger hasn’t completely gone. I still get an occasional simmer when I encounter other cancer patients who got lucky with their doctors and are surviving.
Stage 4. Depression.
Depression is an old friend of mine. I don’t need the trigger of a major bereavement to bring it on. It is always waiting in the shadows. In some way this actually helped when dealing with depression after mum died. I know all the things that help, exercise, small achievable goals, balance, meditation, keeping in the now, asking for help, scheduling things you enjoy. With those in place and the definite advantage of having my dad here for a couple of months the depression has lifted almost unnoticed until its a just the passing shadow of a cloud over the sun. I do not feel hopeless or trapped , empty or drained. Laughter comes more easily. Plans start to fill my mind again.
Though it does still feel fragile this recovery. I know that I am more glass than rubber. I watch with slight dread those around me wondering if I will bounce back or shatter if someone else I love dies.
Then there is 5. The upward turn.
Where I am now. Not at the end of the journey. I have only just started making practical plans.
I know I have not completely accepted mum’s loss. I still dream of mum being actually alive with her death being some kind of mistake.
But mostly thoughts of her bring me joy not pain. I can summon her spirit to me to advise me and can see the world through her eyes both in mischief and political conviction. I know how she would have reacted to yesterdays High School shooting in Florida. Fear for my kids (even though the shooting was miles away) along with absolute certainty that the only way forward is to ban those rapid firing guns.
When I want to feel especially close to her I put on her clothes and jewelry.
I now spend much of my time when I do think of her (and that is far less often than it was) looking back with gratitude that I got a mum who was there for me and believed in me. I know that not every one does.
The 7 Stages of Grief:
1 SHOCK & DENIAL-
You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.
2 PAIN & GUILT-
As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs.
You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn’t do with your loved one. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase.
3 ANGER & BARGAINING-
Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion.
You may rail against fate, questioning “Why me?” You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair (“I will never drink again if you just bring him back”)
4 “DEPRESSION”, REFLECTION, LONELINESS-
Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be “talked out of it” by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving.
During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.
5 THE UPWARD TURN-
As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your “depression” begins to lift slightly.
6 RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH-
As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.
7 ACCEPTANCE & HOPE-
During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward.