• Jevita Nilson

Writings on Grief

Updated: Sep 8, 2019

In the weeks and months after mum died, I found writing to be therapeutic. About six weeks after her death I got this awful feeling that someday I might forget what happened, and what I felt, around the time she died. Probably a lot of people would wish to forget such details, but I felt it my duty to remember. And so I wrote...

6 June 2018 (6 days before she died)

The previous few days were difficult for mum, she'd been declining rapidly and the nurse finally put her on intravenous medication. She was now bedridden.

I left my son with my best friend for a few hours and headed to see mum. As soon as I saw her, I was shocked. It had only been a couple of days since I’d seen her last, but the change was confronting. She looked disheveled, curled up in bed like an old lady, not able to open her eyes fully or talk properly because of the pain medication.

I showed her a video of my son that I’d taken that morning. He had made a card for her, and he was explaining what he had drawn. At the end of the video he said “I love you Nana”. I tried to hold back my tears but I couldn’t, mum said she loved it but she seemed emotionless, I guess that was the medication.

I had to leave the room to pull myself together. I didn’t want mum to see me get upset, I wanted to be strong for her, but it was such a shock to see her slipping away. A few days ago I had sat across from her on the couch and we’d talked, she was breathless but alert. She’d got up and walked, albeit slowly, to the kitchen to get herself a drink, she wanted to keep doing things for herself for as long as she could. It was a very different thing to see her bedridden, knowing that was where she would stay until she took her last breath.

I visited mum a number of times over the next week, sitting with her and chatting while she was lucid, then spending time with dad while she was resting. Every time I saw her, I wasn’t sure whether it would be the last time. I made sure I gave her a hug and a kiss each time I left, just in case.

12 June 2018 (The day she died)

My daughter and I had spent the day with mum. I remember when I walked into her room that day and said “Hi Mum”, she looked up at me and said “You’ve got such a beautiful smile”. That compliment meant so much to me. Even in her final hours she knew how to make other people feel special.

All things considered, she seemed good that day. She was able to communicate with me, although the conversation was very slow and at times confusing. The morphine level had been increased again so she was very drowsy and needed frequent rests, but she had sat up in her bed and eaten some soup for lunch.

She was asleep when we left that day. I didn’t get to say goodbye and give her a hug and a kiss like I had on other days, not knowing I wouldn't get the chance again.

That afternoon, mum became agitated and confused, the nurse came to give her a sedative and my brother went around to help dad. Mum was still very agitated that evening and the nurse had to be called again. We were told that she wouldn’t make it through the night.

I began packing my bag ready to drive back to their house when my brother rang again. “She’s gone”, he said. It happened so quickly, she was calm after the nurse had given her the sedative and then she just stopped breathing. Dad and my brother were with her when she passed. I broke down in tears as I heard the news and relayed it to my husband. Then survival mode kicked in and I pulled myself together, I had to drive now and I couldn’t do that safely through teary eyes.

When I arrived, everything was so surreal. Mum was laying peacefully in bed, her body present in the room but she wasn’t there. As soon as I looked at her I knew there was nothing left of my mum. When someone dies, they don’t look like what is depicted in movies. No actor could accurately portray the emptiness once a person’s soul has left their body.

I had some time alone with mum. I looked at her chest, expecting it to rise and fall as it always had. I lay my hand softly on her, expecting to feel something, movement, beating, anything. Her lifeless body lay in front of me and I spoke to her, not to her body, but to her soul wherever it was. I told her I loved her and I missed her. I asked her again to come visit me if she could, and then I left the room.

The next few hours were strange, sitting around waiting for the funeral directors to arrive, greeting them and receiving the obligatory condolences then watching as they wheeled her body out of the house and into the waiting van. I held myself together better than I thought, I felt like I had prepared so much for her death that I had already grieved in the weeks and months leading up to this moment. I was now in business mode, ready to start planning the funeral and getting on with what needed to be done.

13 June 2018 (The day after)

It felt as if there was no time for grief yet, there were kids to manage and a funeral to plan. I left the kids with my husband and went to help with the funeral plans.

After our meeting with the funeral directors, we came back to dad’s house and started on the mountain of tasks ahead - notifying family and friends, writing my death notice for the paper, choosing songs and readings for the funeral, organising readers. I am a natural organiser, but I'd never experienced anything like this before. It was like trying to organise a wedding in a week, at the same time as trying to process my grief.

I spent a number of hours staring at my computer screen trying to write my death notice for the newspaper. Dad had written his before mum died so that she would be able to read it, and my brother had written his the night before when insomnia struck. My brother was just like mum, he had a poetic way with words, but I didn’t inherit that gift. Trying to express what mum meant to me in a few sentences was impossible, I could write a novel and even that wouldn't be adequate. I burst into tears when I finally finished writing the notice. It was far from perfect, but it would have to do.

Then there was the wake to organise.

We had discussed previously that it would be at my place, but the weather was looking terrible for the day of mum’s funeral and I was worried that there wouldn’t be enough space for everyone if people couldn't go outside. I tend to do that – worry about things out of my control. So we started discussing alternative arrangements, and that’s when everyone’s emotions started to overflow. Before I knew it, we were in a heated discussion about the wake venue. There was shouting, swearing and tears. I remember thinking to myself “is this what life is going to be like without mum?” She was always the calming factor, the thread that held us all together, and we were coming apart without her.

J x

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