I asked him if he was afraid of dying
Death is a subject not many of us want to talk about. When I was a little girl and discovered that we all die, it brought enormous fear to my mind and body. I remember trying to process the fact that we live a life and then we die, I was only about 7 so it was a lot to take in at that age and mum and dad comforted me in telling me it won’t happen for a very long time and you would have lived a full life, we all die they told me. When I thought of them dying before me it frightened the hell out of me.
Then the first death in my life came at 9 years old, the only grandmother I knew who gave me great comfort, lots of love, yummy dinners, fun sleep overs and spider drinks. I remember the morning she collapsed after an illness and how I prayed that she would survive, she had to, this wasn’t going to happen yet. She was 73 years old but she wasn’t a typically old woman, not a lot of wrinkles and still a lot of dark hair, She was beautiful and I loved her dearly.
Her funeral was really difficult for me, she had an open casket and I was determined to go see her so I could make sure it was for real. She looked so pale and ill and that image has haunted me for the rest of my life. I still dream about her after all this time, some have been really pleasant and comforting and other have been really strange, dreams are like that and I suppose I carry around that grief now because I was unable to process that loss at the time.
When I was 30, my beautiful loving and funny brother Warwick died of a brain tumour at 35. This was a major loss for our family, he was the peace maker, the music man, the fun guy and the dreamer of our family. I didn’t know how to deal with this. In my mind I was still trying to figure out a way to stop this from happening even when we knew he was going to die after a meeting with his doctors.
While at his bed side I cried and told him how much I loved him and that he was the most amazing brother. My other brother Alistair came into the room and cried at his feet. I could see he was hurting to see us so distressed so I decided then and there I was going to try and be brave and supportive, at least when I was with him.
Every day we would be with him until he took his last breath. When the final stages of death came we were not warned about the signs, the rattle breathing was very distressing for me and my mum. I knew that when I left that night that that was the last time I would see him. I knew that Warwick would want to be with his loving wife when he died so I returned to my husband and 17mth old daughter and waited for dad to call me.
I have sometimes wished I had been with him when he took his last breath as I feel it probably would have helped me in the grieving process, but I was struck with fear, I didn’t want him to hear my cries and I didn’t want to take away time with his wife and baby boy. Life without him has brought a lot of changes, disagreements in the family, changed traditions because we needed to create new ones, bonds within the 4 of us made closer and an appreciation for how precious life is.
19 months ago, it was my darling dads turn to leave this earth. My dad was the first man I ever loved . He was this tall dark and handsome man that made me feel safe, loved and supported right up until he died. It’s difficult to compare the loss of both these very special men, Warwick’s death was difficult to accept because of his age and although Dad was fortunate enough to make 77 and he had lived and full and happy life, living without him has been hard at times, he had a wonderful strong presence in our family and amongst his friends and colleagues, the dynamics are so different now.
I asked him when we were told his illness was going to kill him if he was scared? He looked me straight in the eye and said Nope, I don’t know if he was and was just trying to protect me or rather that he had a good think about death over the years since we lost Warwick and just accepted what was to come. I asked him how did you get on with your life after you lost your parents? He replied, "because I had you kids and mum". I knew then that I was going to be able to get through this loss because I had loved ones that counted on me and I also knew I would have to help and support mum after losing the greatest love of her life.
My parents adored each other, I admired their marriage because it was solid, they were both incredibly loyal and supportive of each other and although they were never really the same after we lost Warwick, none of us were, but they got on with their life as best they could and surrounded themselves around positive and loving friends and family.
The waves of grief still visit me now and again, some weeks I feel fine and comfortable with life and then bang I’m crying for my dad because he always made things seem better and brighter. It was a privilege to be with dad right till the end and see him leave this earth peacefully and pain free, just how he wanted it - just mum, Alistair and me. I like to believe that when it’s my time I will see these beautiful 3 people again but right now I’m focused on living my life and being the best I can be and getting on with it, just like dad would want. Mums doing really well now, something I was very concerned about, but she has surprised me with her resilience and passion for life she misses him terribly but has mostly good days.
I’m no expert on grief but I think I’m well placed to offer some kind advice to someone who may have just had a loss and suggest some helpful tips I have learned that could really help the healing process.
1. Be kind to yourself – Often you will go into shock and your body will release stress hormones, have warm baths, go have a massage, drink healing teas, do whatever you do that brings you comfort and relaxation
2. Avoid alcohol or drugs– having a drink or two is ok but if you are struggling don’t use alcohol to numb your pain, it’s not worth it. I have never done this but I have been told by a professional that this a very common way people deal with their grief. It’s not the answer.
3. Write down your thoughts and memories and yes you will probably go over moments, times and memories with your loved ones, this is normal.
4. Talk to a grief counsellor or Psychologist who can help you to process your grief in a healing and helpful way. It took me 2 years after Warwick died to seek help, I wish I had done it sooner.
5. Surround yourself with good people who love you and accept you unconditionally.
6. Whatever you are feeling is ok, the anger, the sadness, anxiety are all normal and part of the process, these feelings will come and go, let them be there, cry when you want or need to, there is no time frame for you to be healed, you will never be the same person and that is ok too.
7. Take your time and move gently, To escape the pain you think that if you make changes to your life it’s a healthy distraction like moving house or changing jobs, I started a new business 8 mths after Warwick died, I also had another business going, it was full on!!! a great distraction but what I really needed to do was just grieve and take some time for myself. Try not make any major decisions in the first 12 mths.
I hope that any one reading this will find comfort and understanding from someone who has experienced loss. I understand now that to love and be loved are the greatest gifts we can give and receive and that when there is death it is our privilege to honour our loved ones with our tears.