It’s nearly 20 years since I heard the sentence that would ultimately change my family.
Sensing something was up, I perched at the top of the stairs of our suburban home, and nosily listened into my parents’ conversation.
“It’s the Big C,” Mum said. I was 14.
She put up a courageous fight for over nine years but on May 16, 2009, my beautiful mum Cheryl passed away. It feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago at the same time.
The early days of grief are talked about a lot but what does it look like a decade on? Here are 10 things I’ve learned in the last 10 years without my mum.
1. The ‘big’ days hurt but they won’t necessarily be the worst.
Birthdays. Anniversaries. Christmas. They’re all tough but you expect them to be. There’s a build-up that allows you to brace yourself. In my case, the anniversary of Mum’s death, Mother’s Day and her birthday all fall within 17 days of each other. I know it’s an emotional and draining time I just need to get through.
It’s the random out-of-nowhere days that will have you bawling your eyes out in the shower on an ordinary Tuesday. And that’s okay. Riding the emotions is all part of your ‘new world’. It might get somewhat easier but you’re never ‘over it’.
2. Loss doesn’t bring all families closer together.
There’s a perception that close-knit families become even closer when they lose someone. And I’m sure many do. But not all.
It became clear just how much Mum was the glue in my immediate family. So much so, my Dad wasn’t at my wedding and we’ve had a very challenging relationship over the last 10 years. That was its own grieving process that I never would have expected to go through.
3. Adulting is harder without your Mum.
You grow up quickly when a parent is diagnosed with cancer when you’re 14. I think of myself as a strong, resilient, capable woman. But there are hundreds of questions I wish I had the chance to ask her, from the big to the small.
Mothers also tend to be the keepers of so much family detail – little moments and memories from my childhood that are gone now too. In particular though, becoming a mum one day myself without her by my side is a confronting prospect. (A huge shout-out to Zoe Marshall for sharing her experience with this so honestly, it’s not talked about very often).
The fact my future kids will never get to meet her is hard to accept.