By: Meryl Hanmer
On the 7th January 2017, I was half way through my year abroad; studying in Valencia. Up to that point, my time abroad was filled with moments that I wish to remember forever, but on that night I received news that I desperately want to erase from my memory. It was on that night that my mother broke the news to me that she had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and it was terminal.
Immediately, it was obvious that my mother’s cancer was far along and the chances of any form of successful treatment were very slim. As a family, we decided that the quality of time left was more important to us than the quantity of time left and because of this we decided that she would not undergo any treatment, instead have only pain management. This was a painful decision to make but a decision that we stand by to this day.
To watch my mother grow weaker and weaker was immensely distressing, her deterioration was rapid and the pain was unforgiving. For me the worst night was when my mother became delusional, she no longer knew who my brother and I were and she kept calling for her father who had died twenty-four years previously. That night my father stayed at my mother’s side in the hospital, fearing it would be her last.
Following that night, from which she did pull through, we all came to the sorrowful realisation that the sooner she died, the sooner this pain would end. It was another two months before she died peacefully in her sleep, slightly over six months after her diagnosis. At the time of my mother’s death I was living and studying in Brussels, to hear of her death when I was alone in a different country was heart-wrenchingly painful.
Despite the extreme level of pain and sorrow that I felt through this entire process, there were still some positives to come from the situation. Thanks to the ongoing support of both my parents I continued my studies abroad. The day following my mother’s death I was due to sit my final exam and although it would have been reasonable for me to miss it, I decided to sit it and managed to pass with a score of 92%! This showed me that no matter how bad the situation, if you are committed enough you are still able to continue with your goals. Additionally, the other positive that I take from everything that happened is that I could see the unconditional love my parents truly shared for one another. The way that my father cared for my mother was beautiful to behold and I feel privileged to have witnessed such true love.
Everyone handles grief differently and there is no right and wrong way in which to handle it. Some people prefer to be private in their sorrow, whereas others need to talk about it with friends and others talk with professionals. With it only being eight months since the loss of my mother, my grief is still very new to me but below are four things that helped me / continue to help me through this process.
My parent’s honest perspective of grief – Before I was born my parents were cast down by the pain of losing four other children. I have been fortunate that when growing up my parents were both open and honest about what happened and the grief they suffered as a result. My parents always told me that there was no pain greater on earth than the pain of a losing a child; they told me that it is unnatural for a child to die first. Therefore, when faced with the pain of losing my mother, I was able to take some comfort from the fact that it is the natural order of things for me to lose my mother. Despite the fact that at 23 years old I know no one else who has lost their mother as early as I have, I know it is still the right way for things to happen.
Having a united family – As soon as my mother was diagnosed with cancer, she made a point of always including my father, brother and I in everything that went on. We were all encouraged to attend every doctor’s appointment with her and we were all allowed to share our thoughts and opinions on what should happen. When it came to making the decision of not to go ahead with treatment, we all take comfort from the fact that it was a family decision. With every decision that had to be made we were united in our conclusions and ultimately this gave us the strength to move forward together.
Accepting the situation – As soon as we came to realise that my mother was going to die, we, as a family felt it helped to address the situation practically and allow my mother the opportunity to have her say in regards to what happened following her death. Together we openly talked about the funeral and my mother made us aware of what type of service she wanted, the hymns she liked and readings that she thought were special. Many other friends and family found it too hard to hear us talk like this, but for us it helped to be realistic about what was going to happen and to make plans ready.
Talking to a friend in the same situation – My biggest help in dealing with this whole situation was having a friend who had been through the same thing with her own father and with whom I could share my experiences and feelings. From the very beginning I could call this friend day or night should I need to and for the whole six months she was there to answer any questions that I had about what was going on. Even now, eight months on, I still frequently talk to my friend about how I am coping adjusting to life without my mother. It has been so important to me that she also knows what it is like to lose a parent and can empathise entirely with what I went through and what I am still going through today.
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If you have been affected by the issues in the article, you can contact the Students’ Union Advice & Support centre for free, independent and confidential advice.