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My experience with grief

  • 24 August 2021
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My experience with grief

My grieving story started one year ago, when my dear mother Gladys; aged 70 years, lost her fight against an aggressive form of colorectal (bowel) cancer.
Mum was initially diagnosed as stage II in November 2019, but in March 2020 she was unexpectedly re-diagnosed as stage IV metastatic. Mum commenced chemotherapy immediately, followed by immunotherapy, but only four months into her treatment plan, Mum sadly lost her fight against this terrible disease.

Although one year has passed, I am still sometimes in disbelief that Mum is no longer here with us. Because her cancer was very aggressive, she deteriorated rather quickly, especially in the last few weeks. This fast deterioration did not allow us time to be emotionally and mentally prepared for her passing.

After Mum’s death, we were busy organising her funeral, as well as coming to terms with what had happened. As I was nominated executor of her will, I had additional responsibilities of organising her estate. It was challenging dealing with the legal matters during such an emotional time. A bit like being on a rollercoaster. It was a balancing act.

As a mother of two teenage boys, I was mindful of supporting my sons during the passing of their dear Nan. My husband and sons were a great support, as we supported each other during this time. The four of us were closest to Mum, and we were all going through this sad journey together. I found some extended family members not so supportive and some friends exceptionally supportive. You just don’t know who will be supportive for you.

" If you haven’t experienced grief before, it is an unexpected feeling, something you are not prepared for. "

If you haven’t experienced grief before, it is an unexpected feeling, something you are not prepared for. You don’t know how it will affect you until it happens. I work on a maternity ward and there is a sign on one of the noticeboards that reads there are two things in life that will change you forever; love and grief”. This is so true. The death of a loved one is something you will never really get over, more of something you have to learn to live with.

I have coped better than I thought I would. There are a number of safety nets or protective factors that have helped me with the grieving process. They are:

  • Supportive family and friends (choosing people who support you best)
  • Keeping yourself busy and distracted (so you don’t focus too much on the sadness)
  • Keeping a grief journal (writing down feelings and emotions over a period of time)
  • Read articles/books on grieving (educating yourself is a powerful tool)
  • Buying a special plant to remind you of your loved one
  • Consider a memorial plaque or monument (I applied to my Mum’s local council for a plaque to be placed on an existing park bench in Mum’s memory)
  • Buying a new pet - owning a pet is very therapeutic. If you were your loved one’s main carer, a new pet can help with the loss of your carer role too.
  • Talking about your loved on daily basis. Just because your loved one is no longer physically present in your life, doesn’t mean they are no longer a part of your life. The relationship you had with them previously can continue, just in a different way. I like to refer to this as “keeping the relationship going”. Having this mindset has been the key to grieving, as it allows me to keep the relationship and memories alive.

" Choose special ways to remember your loved one to keep their memory alive and continue the relationship. "


Carolyn organised a plaque to be placed on her Mum’s favourite coastal walk as a way keep her memory alive.
  • Developing rituals.  Engaging in regular rituals can be therapeutic. I visit the cemetery weekly, where I take flowers and talk to Mum about the week’s events. This is replacing what I would normally have done in person or over the phone. Another ritual is lighting candles on special memorial days. Other regular rituals are making cakes or meals that Mum liked, or even playing her favourite music.
    My final ritual is “what would Mum say”. For example, if I was making a decision on something, I would ask myself “what would Mum say/do in this situation?” Making reference to your loved one in times of decision making is another way of including them in your daily life (especially if it was a parent that passed away).
  • Focusing on the positive things; remembering the good times. Because Mum passed away relatively young at 70, I do sometimes feel cheated that she did not get to live to a ripe old age. If your loved one passed away at a young age, unexpectedly or suddenly, then focusing on the positive memories is important, so as to not let the sadness or anger override your emotions.

Developing new rituals can become a new part of your “changed life”. Life won’t be the same, but choosing special ways to remember your loved one will help keep their memory alive and continue the relationship.

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