real life

"My mum died when I was a teenager. I'm now ready to admit why it was a blessing in disguise."

When people find out that my mother is dead I am usually met with a chorus of ‘sorry I didn’t realise, why didn’t you say something earlier?’

It’s not because I am averse to discussing my mother, but due to the fact that it often times feels as if she was part of some distant past life that I can barely remember.

This is not because I don’t love her, I do, and miss her dearly but life was extraordinarily different when she was alive.

Photo: Supplied/Kara Harden Photography.

My mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder shortly after my older sister was born, and truth be told it was poorly managed right up until her dying days.

My sister and I spent the best part of our first few years of life visiting mum in psychiatric care, hazy memories that are hard to hold onto.

Our upbringing was just as, if not more turbulent, constantly moving between Queensland and South Australia as mum decided whether or not she really wanted to be with my father.

When I was six my mother finally left my father for good, and in the first few months following their separation she barely got out of bed, leaving my seven-year-old sister to pick up the pieces, and unwittingly become a pseudo-mother to myself and our barely one year old brother.

The years that follow are a blur of missing school, her changing jobs sporadically, moving houses, her going out and getting wasted, being left in my sisters care, emotional dependancy, 3am cleaning sprees, abusive phone calls to my father, me resenting my sister for being mum's favourite as she resented me for my lack of responsibility towards mum.

This makes it sound as if my mother had barely any good points, but she did and she had many. She had a loving heart, good intentions and our house was always full of friends whether they were hers or our own.


Photo: Supplied

Due in part to bipolar, mum and I had a very strained relationship.

I grew up believing that she cared for my siblings more than me and at times she made that very apparent, so I spent a large portion of my childhood living between my mother and my father's custody.

I was the only one of my siblings allowed to do that, as my mum would go through phases as to whether she wanted me around or not.

For years she used this as a point to pit me and my sister against each other; flaunting my apparent freedom to my sister and her constantly calling my sister her best friend, a title I yearned for not realising its consequences.

This created scars that I am still healing today, but as I grow older and wiser (hopefully) I understand how much the bipolar played a larger part in our dynamic.


Photo: Supplied.

It was Christmas Eve when I was 15 that I first found out about the tumours in my mother's brain.

Words like glioblastoma, malignant and benign were being thrown around and I had no idea what they meant.

In the following days, she had emergency surgery to remove a good portion of her tumours. But on New Year's Eve we were told that it was stage four terminal cancer and she wouldn’t live out the year.

The months that follow are a blur that I hardly remember. By some twist of fate I was visiting her when she died.

That morning my sister discovered our mother's body, her and I stayed with mum in the bathroom taking instructions off the paramedics on the phone as we tried to keep our younger brother from seeing her.

In the wake of her death we were forced to pick up the pieces of our broken lives and slowly and painfully string them back together.

Mental health services available in Australia.

As it quickly approaches five years since my mothers passing, I am lending my thoughts a lot to how the fallout of her death acted as the catalyst of major growth for my siblings and I.

It’s unfortunate to say that her no longer being here gave us the space to break the unhealthy habits we had formed in our childhood.

However in her absence we have had to become closer and learn to lean on each other and from that we have rebuilt bridges that were long ago burnt.

With everyday that passes I miss her more and more and wish she was still around to celebrate the many achievements of our lives, but realistically speaking they wouldn't have happened unless she had died.

I look at my life and where it has taken me, it hasn't been an easy road by any accounts but I see the person I have become and I am resilient, empathetic and incredibly independent.

From that I have found that in some sort of backwards way my mother's death was a blessing in disguise.

This article was originally published on Shaeley's blog,, and republished with permission.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.