Conor’s Story: “She Was My Mum – My Best Friend” 4

Forget-me-not flowers

In our Your Stories series, we collect essays, articles, open letters, poetry and artwork from bereaved people all over the world. In this edition, Conor Duffy talks about losing his mum to COPD after being her carer, and the unique challenges of grieving as a single adult.


My mum passed away last Saturday week. She had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). She had been ill for quite some time. I am her son and was mum’s primary carer. I am a 45-year-old man, childless and with no significant other. She lived with me.

I have a very loving and kind family in my three brothers and sister and their spouses and kids, who all rallied around the time mum became really sick (around November last year). We all engaged in rosters and getting home care for her as I am at work during the day. She passed away in her own home in her own bed as she wanted, and it was peaceful. I am so grateful to God – and to my dad, RIP – for that, anyway. We got to “wake” her at home over a period of two days, which helped greatly.

I know how lucky I am to have such a strong family unit (you do hear horror stories of one sibling being left behind to do the heavy lifting in looking after an elderly parent, but that’s not my story). Yet, I can’t help but feel desperately lonely and heartbroken after her loss.

I felt some people were consciously avoiding talking to me.

You process things differently when you are single. They say that grief is simply love that has nowhere to go, but that is not true if you have a partner or a spouse and kids. You see your parents in your kids, either in the way they look or mannerisms passed on, so it feels like every time you hug your child you get to hug your parents one more time. That’s the way I see it.

Don’t get me wrong – my siblings’ grief is as deep and profound as my own, and as I am the youngest, they knew mum longer and so have more memories to wade through. But … I don’t know. At the funeral, conversations can turn to “How are your kids?” if the person feels too uncomfortable with someone grieving. I don’t have that, so I felt some people were consciously avoiding talking to me. They felt on surer ground with my siblings.

I miss her so much. I am crying as I am writing this (I had to take her name off the last utility bill this morning). She was 87 years old and, save for the last couple of months, the least demanding patient you could meet. She loved us all dearly, as only an Irish mum can (I live in Ireland).

I miss the routines we had together. I would bring her breakfast in the morning, bring her to church (when she was able), bring her up town to get her hair done or bring her out for a weekend meal. I still have an alarm on my phone to remind me to change the batteries in her hearing aids every week, and I can’t bring myself to get rid of it.

I don’t know if I am not coping or if I am doing better than people can usually expect to.

I feel like I don’t have a function anymore. I am back at work and I am actually writing this at my work desk – even though I know I shouldn’t – but I can’t focus on anything right now. I cried a number of times during the past week, and a couple of times at work in the bathroom. I don’t know if I am not coping or if I am doing better than people can usually expect to. I did a lot of crying in the months leading up to Mum’s passing, as we knew she was at end stage COPD, and I once thought that I would be cried out come her funeral. But the tears still came.

Now, I just feel empty. No interest in anything. I know there is no clock on my grief, even if the world expects me to get on with things, and I am just going through the motions. But she was my mum – my best friend. She meant everything to me.

If I want to tell anyone anything it is this: don’t ignore adult single people who lose their loved ones. I know I am a very atypical case, but I am a living, breathing human being who is hurting like hell right now. It is beyond painful when you are surrounded by people at the funeral of a loved one but you might as well be a million miles away, and they don’t want to engage.

I miss my Mum. I miss my Mum. I miss my Mum.

 


If you are struggling with a bereavement or just need someone to talk to during a tough time, Samaritans are here 24/7, every day of the year. You can call their free hotline on 116 123 or email them at [email protected]

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4 Comments

  1. I’m so sorry Connor. I’m in the same boat. It sounds like you were an amazing son to her and that you had a very special relationship. I don’t know many people who would dedicate so much time to caring for someone for so long (taking her to the hair salon, bringing her breakfast). You’re probably a very patient person. She was blessed to have you in her life, you were both blessed.
    While I can’t make the pain go away or fix things, my heart breaks for you and I wish I could be there for you. I’ve been there , kind of, walked down a similar road. It doesn’t get better per-say it just becomes less pressing. Like a stone you forget you have in you pocket and then you reach in and there it is again. I hope you have support from your siblings and friends, and maybe some friends who have also lost a parent. They’ll understand better. People who haven’t gone through it yet sometimes say the stupidest things.
    Hang in there.
    Love from Canada.

    1. Hi Corrie,

      Thank you for your kind words. So sorry for your own loss too. I hope you have love and support surrounding you there Corrie. It’s comforting to know that there are other souls out there who can say “been there”. I was blessed to have her as my Mum. The month’s mind is coming up this weekend so it’s the first major landmark since her passing so to speak. I will say a prayer for you and your family Corrie and will light a candle for you.

      Best regards
      Conor

  2. Hi Conor, i felt so sad when i read your post that i started to tear. Dad passed away on 18 May 2020 after a 3 month battle with rectal cancer and as an unmarried child living all my life with Dad, the parting is unbearable as dad was a friend, companion, advisor, guardian and so much more. Things seem pretty meaningless at this stage close to 3 weeks after his passing and there is pain that never seem to go away. I wake up every morning and wish it were a nightmare and will see dad downstairs having breakfast. No matter how old one is (l’m 47.5), its traumatic to loose a parent. I just have to care better for my mum.

    We have been blessed to have such wonderful parents and loosing them makes you feel like a part of you died with them.

    How are things on your side and how are you managing now that a year has passed? I still live day to day without much expectatitons.

    1. Hi Gary – Many thanks for your kind words. I am so sorry to hear about your Dad passing. May he rest in peace. I hope you and your Mum are holding up in these difficult times. I think I know exactly what you are going through right now. My Dad passed away back in 2001 but having Mum to look after made it a little – just a little -easier. To tell you the truth Gary you never really get over it especially if, like yourself and myself, you don’t have a family of your own. I am not given to tearing up but I did today.A few years after losing Dad we made a new life in a new town where my brother and his family lives so it gave both of us a new leash of life. I am working from home due to COVID 19 so now every where is a memory of Mum. I am grateful that Mum didnt live to see these times as she was very sick in her last few days and due to the nature of her condition it would not have been possible to visit her in hospital. (I don’t know if you feel like this Gary but I hate to see anything changing in my town – a business closing that Mum would frequent or a new building going up that changes the structure of a street that Mum and I would walk down. I still want things to remain the same or as much so as possible!) All i can say to you Gary is that your surviving parent becomes even more precious to you. Your Mum is lucky to have you there and let me tell you as lonely as it can be at times there is nothing wrong with being single at our age – if at the end of the day we cant look after our own mothers we wont be much use to any other lady. Look after yourself Gary and thanks again for your kind and thoughtful words. You will be in my prayers.

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5 Things No One Tells You About the Loss of a Spouse 0

In our Your Stories series, people who have lost a loved one share their unique perspective through essays, poetry and artwork.

 

My husband Brad and I used to joke about who would die first. It was a strange thing to joke about when we were in our 20s and had our entire lives ahead of us, but that’s how far from reality death was. It was laughable. Something that happened to other people. Something that, when it did inevitably happen, would happen much later in life. 

We finally compromised and decided that if we couldn’t simultaneously die in our sleep when we were in our 90s as planned, then I could go first. We both knew Brad was much better equipped to handle the aftermath of losing me.

But I didn’t die first. Brad beat me to it. After an unexpected and grueling 100-day battle with kidney cancer, I became a 33-year-old widow.

No one can prepare you for becoming a widow or widower. It is one of the most difficult losses you can endure. However, here are five things I wish I had been better prepared for:

1. The paperwork

 I never realized that with death came a mountain of paperwork. Paperwork that in some cases would linger for years. Medical bills, creditor notices, estate documentation – I was completely naive to the logistics of death that go beyond the memorial service.

At a time when all I wanted to do was grieve my loss, I had to go to court to validate Brad’s will. I had to cancel credit cards and bank accounts. I had to transfer real estate and phone bills and Netflix accounts into my name. I had to argue with the IRS over student loan bills. The contents of my mailbox shifted from travel magazines to daily reminders of my loss. It’s been over two years and I am still dealing with the paperwork and logistics surrounding Brad’s death.

2. The shift in your relationships

This will happen both immediately and slowly, over time. In my experience, people are uncomfortable with grief. They don’t know what to say or how to handle it. Most are unable to sit with you in the pain. It brings up their own grief and they are unable to handle both their grief and yours. So, they avoid the pain and discomfort, and ultimately, you.

You are living most people’s nightmare. You are a reminder that this could happen to them too. That reminder is difficult to handle. Usually, it’s not intentional – often people aren’t even aware they are feeling this way. But it’s real. Especially if you are the first in their life to go through such a loss. Oftentimes, friends and family you expected to show up end up avoiding you in order to continue living in the comfort of blissful ignorance.

But it’s not always the fault of others. When Brad died, I couldn’t handle living in the same home, in the same city, with the same friends, without him. It felt like my world had stopped and everything around me continued as usual. Every person and social situation was another reminder that Brad was dead. So, I ran away. I spent months driving around the country, avoiding the life left behind. And when I came back, people understandably had moved on.

Losing your partner will test not just you, but all the relationships in your life. Your social circle will shrink. And the ones who stick around – who continue to support well after the memorial service – will be share a bond with you for life.

3. The secondary losses

Losing your partner doesn’t mean just losing your spouse. With it comes the loss of the future you planned together. The loss of intimacy. The loss of income. The loss of security. The loss of health. The loss of your social circle. The loss of your breakfast companion. The loss of the recipient of your jokes. The loss of your jar opener. The loss of your dance partner. The loss of your road trip companion. The loss of your best friend.

There isn’t a single part of your life that is untouched by the loss of your spouse.

4. The grief ambush 

Grief is not linear. It doesn’t happen in a neat forward motion. It’s messy and unexpected. You will be triggered without notice, at the most inconvenient times. When you look in your fridge and realize the A1 sauce – and all the other condiments that only he used – will sit there, untouched forever. When a certain song comes on in the grocery store and you break down in the middle of the cereal aisle. When the dentist asks how your husband is doing and tears start streaming down your face with his hands still inside your mouth.

You will think you are doing better, and you will be ambushed again. Eventually the triggers become less frequent and less hysterical. Eventually you will learn to manage them better. But there is no timeline or finish line to cross where the ambushes stop.

5. You will learn to balance joy and grief

It’s hard to see that in the beginning, when the loss feels so dark and heavy. And the initial joy will probably be accompanied by guilt – guilt for laughing or being happy when your person is no longer able to laugh or be happy.

But the joy will come. And that doesn’t mean the grief has disappeared: it just means you’ve learned to balance both. You’ve learned to expand and feel more than you thought possible before. You’ve learned how fragile life is and that creates a sense of urgency to live.

Carrying grief gives you a perspective on life that others who have yet to experience such a loss won’t fully understand. Grief is hard and it constantly tests you, but you will find your strength – and joy –  again.



Dana Frost is a writer and the founder of the Forced Joy Project (http://www.forcedjoyproject.com). She is a big believer in sharing our stories of both grief and joy and an even bigger believer of kitchen dance parties. You can find her on Instagram @ForcedJoyProject.

 

Rachel’s Story: “Your Heart Doesn’t Close Up When Your Person Dies” 3

Rachel Brougham with her husband Colin and son Thom

In our Your Stories series, people who have lost a loved one share their unique perspective through essays, poetry and artwork. One year ago, Rachel Brougham’s husband Colin died in a cycling accident at just 39. Here, she talks about life, love — and dating  — as a young widow.


As I walk down the sidewalk, the sound repeats itself behind me. There’s a stomp, a crunch and then laughter. Sometimes I hear, “Ooh, that was a good one,” or “That’s a big one right there!” Then it starts all over again.

It’s March in Minneapolis, Minnesota — the time of year when all that snow melts during the day then refreezes at night, creating chunks of ice and giant puddles on city sidewalks and streets.

The stomp is my 10-year-old son Thom, and my boyfriend Matt, slamming their feet on chunks of ice. When it crunches and breaks apart, they laugh. I’m walking ahead of them and smiling — not just because the two of them sound like a couple little kids having fun — but because it’s the same thing Thom and my husband Colin would be doing if Colin were still alive. I’m smiling because despite what has happened to Thom and I over the last year, we can still feel happiness. I’m smiling because I know everything is going to be OK, even though there are moments it feels like the grief is overwhelming.

I’m the luckiest unlucky person.

In April 2018, just hours after Colin was killed in a cycling accident on his way home from work, Thom asked me if I was going to get married again. Colin had been dead less than two hours, and out of all the things Thom could ask, he wanted to know when I was going to shack up with some other dude.

I mean, what the heck?

In retrospect, Thom was just grasping for something to make life seem a bit normal in what was now uncertain. Of course any new guy wasn’t going to be a replacement for Colin, but it would offer some sense of normalcy. So, Thom and I started talking about me dating again very early on after our loss. I made it clear to him that I wasn’t going to bring any guy into our lives that didn’t deserve to be there. I knew I was going to be very protective and nobody was going to meet my son unless I knew it was super-duper serious.

A month after Colin died, I felt restless. I wasn’t ready to be in a relationship, but I did want to go out and have a meal and conversation with a male who wasn’t my son or one of our friends. So I did what every other normal widowed person would do — I consulted Google. When is it too early to date after losing a partner, I typed in the search bar.

“Widowland and dating is great because if you start dating too soon, people will certainly tell you about it.”

Widowland and dating is great because if you start dating too soon, people will certainly tell you about it. It’s also great because if you don’t start dating within a certain timeframe, people will certainly tell you about it. There’s no winning when it comes to dating in Widowland, because people who have no clue what they are talking about like to put you on this magical timeline for grief.

There is no magical timeline.

I went out on a date a month after Colin died. I was still dead inside, but I enjoyed the conversation. He walked me to my car and tried to kiss me and I turned my face and his wet mouth ended up on my cheek.

I had been out of the dating scene for nearly 17 years and this is what dating is like these days? Gross!

Over the next couple months, I went on a handful of dates with other guys I met through mutual friends or found on a dating app. Dating as a widowed, 40-year-old mom felt like too much work. It was hard to coordinate schedules, find a babysitter, pay for a babysitter. It didn’t help that my responses to these guys were basically, Nope, No way, Next, and Nice, but no thank you.

I did go out a couple of times with a father of three who was going through a nasty divorce. We bonded over music, have the same sense of dark, sarcastic humor and enjoyed telling each other stories about our kids. While I knew he wasn’t the one for me in the long term, the month we were together was exactly what I needed to show me things were going to be OK and that I could feel happiness with someone else.

And that’s when something clicked — I stopped comparing everyone to Colin.

Matt and I began dating four months after Colin died, but the truth is that we’ve known each other for years. We worked together, ate lunches together, traded text messages late at night when we just needed to talk to someone. I got him and he got me. It feels like we’ve been together for years.

One night, several years ago, Colin and I were talking about who we would date if one of us died. Colin would date 90s rocker Liz Phair. I said I’d date John Cusack or Paul Rudd (line Colin, Matt, John and Paul up and you’ll see I clearly have a type). Colin looked at me, and without hesitation said, “What about Matt?”

I’m not saying Matt and I were supposed to end up together, but I’m not not saying that. Life is just really weird sometimes. Nobody knows how the universe works.

“Your heart doesn’t close up when your person dies, it just makes room for someone else. Your love for your dead person isn’t diminished by loving someone else.”

Matt knows he’s not a replacement. Matt knows it’s not a competition. Matt knows he isn’t a consolation prize and he isn’t jealous of the love I still feel for Colin. After all, Colin is dead and Matt is living. I could choose to be with anyone, or no one, and I choose to spend this second chapter with Matt.

A couple months into us dating, Matt said one night, “You know, I love you. I love Thom. And I love Colin.” That’s when I knew Matt was the one — the one I told Thom I would make sure deserved to be in our lives.

Your heart doesn’t close up when your person dies, it just makes room for someone else. Your love for your dead person isn’t diminished by loving someone else. There is no limit on how much love we can have. You can love two people at once. Heck, I have a button on my jacket that says, “I love Colin” and I don’t give a frick if it makes people uncomfortable.

Loving someone else should be a testament to your dead person. It should say that you loved your dead person so much, you want to experience that again. Whether that’s one month out or 10 years out.

Love is not a finite resource. And while I’m extremely unlucky, I’m lucky to get another chance.

Rachel Brougham is a writer and editor who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She enjoys awkward conversations, crying during long walks and tacos. You can find her on Instagram @rachbrougham and Twitter @RachelBrougham.