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“It has taken me 25 years to grieve my mother’s death”
Earlier this month our Prime Minister, Hon. Julia Gillard lost her Father. Although he had been unwell in recent times, his death was sudden and came as a shock to Ms. Gillard and her family.
Anyone who has experienced losing a parent, particularly an unexpected or premature passing will no doubt understand her pain at this time.
My mother passed away when I was 15. She had been unwell for about twelve months, but had put it down to dealing with a particularly stressful situation that our family was going through at the time. Even her doctor agreed that her troubled health was most likely a result of stress.
I remember my parents arguing about that diagnosis. My father was imploring her to get a second opinion. She had been unwell for a long time and had got to the point where she was having trouble swallowing. However, Mum was of the generation that trusted doctors and didn’t feel it necessary.
My memory of the next few months is rather sketchy. I do remember it was a Sunday morning when Mum went downhill and Dad insisted on taking her to hospital. I remember being scared as they left the house and for good reason. It would be the last time I would see Mum at home.
That day she was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with throat cancer. There was a lump in her throat and her weakened immune system meant she had developed pleurisy. It was only a short ten weeks between this diagnosis and her passing. I was only allowed to visit her in the hospital once before she was transferred to the city in intensive care. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, at this visit it felt like Mum was saying goodbye.
As an only child I felt extremely alone. Dad was suffering and unable to talk about her death. He had lost his best friend, the rock that held his world together and he was in so much pain. There were other family issues that were confronting at the time and needed to be dealt with as well. All of this resulted in me developing a tough skin. I remember crying to myself in bed late at night, scared of what the future was to bring and feeling abandoned, yet during the day I put on a brave face. I had to.
I don’t think I really dealt with Mum’s death. I just moved on. I remember the words I wrote in my diary the day Mum passed.
‘I thought I should tell you Mum died today. It’s a terrible thing, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Life has to go on.’
That was 21 years ago, and I don’t think I have ever grieved properly. Until now. What has brought on my grief isn’t clear. It is just a process, a journey, and perhaps now I am ready.
There are so many questions I have that remain unanswered. I find myself wanting to know more about her. I want to know all the things that made her her. I resent that I never got to know my Mum as a person, rather than just a Mum.
There is anger too. Anger that she could let herself get so sick – like she had a choice in the matter and she chose the ‘easy’ way out.
But most of all I miss the things that I don’t know, and never will know. Having a Mum to call up and have lunch with, or just for a chat on the phone – adult to adult, Mum to daughter. And one of the hardest to handle, is that my children don’t have a grandmother. That special Nanna to take them to the park or to spoil them silly as grandparents do.
The grieving process I know will take many more years. I can’t let my heart be emptied by my grief, perhaps that is why I it has taken me such a long time. Bit by bit. Step by step.
Losing a parent is something we will all face at one stage, and whether it is too early, unexpected or after a long fulfilling life, it is a devastating experience. The grieving journey that will follow is not an easy one and there is no right time frame in which to grieve, but I do know that it is inevitable and so very necessary.
My thoughts are with the Gillards, may they find strength in one another.