real life

Belinda's mum's death was like a 'horror movie'. It could have been a peaceful goodbye.

When Belinda Teh arrived at the hospital the morning her mother died, her mum was unrecognisable.

Her eyes were pointing in different directions, she was all sorts of different colours, and she looked like a tortured shadow of herself.

She spent her final four hours on this earth choking, spluttering, twitching and gasping for air. It was a horrible way to die.

WATCH: Belinda is appearing on tonight’s episode of Insight. Here’s a preview.

Video via SBS

Mareia Teh had asked twice for medical assistance to die peacefully from the advanced, aggressive, triple-negative, terminal breast cancer that had already promised to take her life – and that morning when her then 23-year-old daughter came to her bedside one final time, she looked her in the eye and said her name.

“It’s the reason I get up in the morning and campaign [for voluntary assisted dying]. She knew what was happening to her,” a now 27-year-old Belinda told Mamamia.

Just over a year after her mother’s death in April, 2017, news came through that Victoria was to become the first state in Australia to bring voluntary assisted dying into law.

Those laws became accessible on June 19, 2019.

Belinda-Mum-close-up
Belinda and her mother Mareia who died in 2016. Image: Supplied.

"I couldn't eat my dinner because I was crying so hard. Knowing from that day onwards, people like my mum would be able to ask the same question my mum had asked and instead of getting a 'No, we can't'. They'd get 'Yep, here are the forms, let's talk about it...there are no words'," Belinda told Mamamia.

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"It was too far away and too late for my mum. It felt like the greatest tragedy," she said.

It's why Belinda started walking.

She walked all the way from Melbourne to Perth because she wanted to bring that same choice back home to her state of Western Australia.

It took 70 days and 4,500 kilometres but Belinda thinks the challenge saved her.

Belinda Teh
After the laws passed in Victoria, Belinda started walking. Image: Belinda's Brave Walk.

"I would have really struggled unless I was able to park that emotion somewhere," she explained, adding that her walk was a non-violent way to protest what had happened to her mum.

"Watching my mum die over the very final hours of her life was like watching a horror movie, but the star of the film was my mum. I couldn't turn it off, because you have to be there for those moments," she told Mamamia's news podcast The Quicky last year.

LISTEN: Here's Belinda on Mamamia's The Quicky last year.

Now in WA, laws of a similar kind are currently in the implementation process, a goal Belinda worked towards for an entire 12 months.

She admits when she finally took her "foot off the pedal" she fell into a heap.

"I didn't have time to plan how I would self care after... it was such high energy, and I used every ounce of my energy so when it was all over I had nothing left. The tank was empty. I am in the process now of rebuilding my emotional stores, and I am feeling so much better after a few months of R&R," she told Mamamia.

Belinda wants voluntary assisted dying to be a choice in every state and territory in Australia. This is something she will continue to help campaign for because right now the way she sees it - the options aren't good enough.

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"She could have [taken her own life] ... that was an option for my mum. Another option was terminal starvation and dehydration, which is a fancy way of saying you stop eating and drinking and wait for your body to shut down. It's excruciating and can take weeks," she explained.

Belinda's mum was given morphine as she violently left this life, after previously being told "rest assured we will make you as comfortable as possible and give you as much morphine as you need".

What Belinda witnessed was not comfortable.

In fact, it was extremely traumatic not just for her mum but for the entire family.

Belinda's brave walk
Belinda has campaigned tirelessly for voluntary assisted dying ever since that choice was denied from her dying mum. Image: Belinda's brave walk.

"I think unfortunately there's this normalisation of people dying bad deaths in Australia. It shouldn't be normal. It should be shocking when someone dies like that," she said. "The grieving we were always going to have to do, but the trauma wasn't necessary."

Pushing away the trauma and the bad memories of her mum's death is something Belinda has only recently learnt how to master.

"No matter how badly it ends, it's so important to be able to seperate that," she said. "I am really glad I am able to do that now."

While Belinda wanted the trauma to end, grief is something she never wants to let go of.

"I don't want to stop grieving because grieving is remembering as well. I don't think it's a negative thing. I think there was a time earlier on where I thought grieving was something that had to be completed and I tried to 'get it out of my system', but I always came back to the feeling that I will be grieving her forever...and I think that's a beautiful thing," she told Mamamia.

Feature Image: Go Gentle Australia.

You can watch Belinda on tonight's episode of SBS Insight, Tuesday 8:30pm.

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