When you’re at rock bottom, only option is up.
You don’t really think about it. You go through the funeral, you get through the day, you get through the week. Eventually you’ve got through a month. And now it has been a year.
September starts feeling like a countdown. My sisters and I sleep in Mum’s room with her, wondering if that night would be the night she passed away.
I am christened on the 7th of September. This is the last day where Mum is conscious. My Godmother helps Mum to say the Lord’s Prayer. She smiles so much when I am christened. Relief floods my body because I think “we’ll be in heaven together now.” The thought of not being in heaven with Mum was one of those weird thoughts that was keeping me up at night.
Mum’s birthday is the 8th of September. On the morning of the 8th, Katie says happy birthday and reads out her birthday cards to her. Mum tries to smile, but for the rest of the day she is solely unconscious, breathing through her open mouth.
We ‘celebrate’ by having croissants in Mum’s room by her hospital bed. I feel like Mum’s guardian; too afraid to leave her alone, sitting next to her bed reading, hoping that she knows I love her. There is a sadness cloaking everything I do, and an exhaustion deep in my bones that will not lift for months to come.
My mum passes away at 11:25pm on 09/09/18.
I don’t remember so much of September. It was a whirlwind. But I remember thinking that this is the ‘easy’ bit: we’re going through Hell, but everyone cares, everyone lets you talk about your person. We’re allowed to cry randomly when we see Mum’s car in the drive. I initially cope with everything by buying a locket to put a photo of Mum in.
For me, this is the month when people from my year went to university after I deferred. I feel like an afterthought, a reject, lost, alone and small.
This was also the month where my little family experienced the first birthday without Mum. My eldest sister turns 29, and we go to Ullacombe Farm for breakfast.
When September rolled into October, I remember thinking “this is the first change I have experienced without Mum.” My sister and I begin to go for walks on Sundays, and we begin to laugh again.
My nights a wrought with either insomnia or night terrors, and I struggle with feeling like a burden on Katie.
I start a course on Homo Floresiensis, and discover a passion for early human evolution.
Katie and I carved pumpkins, bought sweets for the trick or treaters, and experience our first Halloween without Mum. Katie made a toad-in-the-whole, we watch Netflix’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch. We open the door to all the trick or treaters, one of them steps on my pumpkin and burns it.
November holds the first birthday I have without Mum; I think the lack of the inked smiley face at the bottom of my birthday cards will always hurt. Katie and I got funding for a mini break at a spa; it was just what we needed.
It was also the month I saw my favourite band, Mumford and Sons, with Katie and our friend. I cry all the way through ‘Ghosts That We Knew‘, and have ever since. The band play in the same city where I would be going to university. Whilst I was walking around the city, I felt the loss of Mum not walking these streets with me now, but also the fact that I wasn’t walking them as a student, either.
I begin to take up photography, partly because I was so afraid to lose any more moments, but also because I wanted to try something new.
I read a book on dinosaurs, and realize I want to try to learn about the Earth’s history from year dot ‘til present day.
I begin to get ill, and frequently have night terrors.
I plan a massage for Katie for her birthday. I wanted to try to make it special, but in the run up Katie cries and says she just wants it to be another day. I cancel the massage because she doesn’t want to do it alone. All she wants to do is go to where Mum is, and go to counselling.
Christmas is Mum’s favourite time of year. I have a night terror on Christmas Eve. I feel awful, and every time I have a night terror, I hate myself a little bit more. Katie has panic attacks when I scream, and we stay up together looking after each other.
I feel so stupid for expecting Christmas to have a sparkle or some kiss of magic. Christmas was okay, but tiring. It was like we were all playing a part in a play, each of us trying to fill Mum’s role. It is a hard, hard month.
I feel a small amount of hope that 2018 is behind me on New Years, and I begin to look forward to spring.
I start to write again. It feels weird to be so indulgent in my thoughts and feelings, and sometimes the things I think about scare me. I feel validated when I put my pen to paper, and I feel like I have a voice again. I try to write poetry, and most of it is bad.
When I go out on nights out with my best friend, Sophie, I feel young. I remember feeling nervous when I went to see her again. I wonder if I could be friends with another 19-year-old. She accepts me with open arms, and we talk for hours updating each other on everything we had missed in each other’s lives, for the past couple of months.
After counselling sessions, I am sometimes bedridden with migraines.
I begin to plan for my trip to Granada, and Katie begins her internship. Less people come to see us now, apart from those unexpected, golden people.
I can’t sleep one night and send messages to my best friend asking if it would be a good idea if Katie and I start a blog to try to help people with grief. I tell Katie in the morning and she comes up with the name “The Grief Reality”.
I do a course on the Six Big Mass Extinctions, and I finish counselling. I also fail a driving test, but I didn’t mind because I was impressed that I had even got to this standard, with all the crap I’d been wading through. We were overjoyed that I had tried.
My night terrors slowly stop, but I begin to worry that I will have night terrors when I’m in my flat in Spain, and my doctor prescribes me with amitriptyline.
I get laryngitis which means I cannot fly to Granada for another couple of days, I have a temperature of 40 degrees. Katie buys my new flights, and I feel a deep shame and the sense of burden thickens.
The first time I felt happy that I had not given up.
I remember getting on the plane and not caring what happened to me now. I sit on the plane at take off, and I feel empty until the plane flies. “You’re free” echoes in my head.
I didn’t expect to enjoy myself so much, I kept saying going to Spain was just something that was going to happen to me.
People smile at me, unknowing of my past. I make friends. Frequently, I take trips out with just my camera. I struggle with what I am feeling, because I have forgotten the name for it.
I had to read out who was in my family in Spanish and their age, and I held in tears for the rest of the day.
“Joy.” I write a poem, and I finally realise that I had been feeling joy. I meet more amazing people, the sorts who you know have changed your life, and people other than Katie and my best friend think I’m funny.
I want to dance and sing in the streets. I feel so happy I’m giddy. Music sounds even better now.
I remember feeling incredulous that people could like me. I am surprised that I don’t feel depressed. Katie calls me on FaceTime and she’s in a difficult place. I wonder how I can feel happiness when she is so sad. I begin to worry about coming home, but I know I have learnt so much in Granada, and it’s the right time to come home.
I thought I saw Mum in a tour bus on the main street. Sometimes I play music loudly so I can cry.
Almost fell off my bike because I thought I saw Mum. I miss Granada.
I begin to get more and more ill, suffering from glandular fever, tonsillitis, and depression. I can’t do anything apart from watch TV shows, try to sleep and take medicine. I end up in hospital for a day. I go in on myself, and shut myself in my room a lot.
I struggle with anger and am not sure how to deal with it, but I learn to deal with it. I went from having all the freedom in the world to struggling to eat, getting exhausted from going down the stairs and my family having to give me medicine. I feel like I am useless, a burden, and my thoughts are rarely positive.
I think people expect us to be “okay” and “over” Mum.
I am sure that I will be ill forever.
We experience betrayal like we never have had before. Katie has to become the main and only executor of the will; yet more responsibility for 2 grieving daughters was pushed on us, and almost tore our mental health apart. Katie’s mental health took a huge, unforgiveable step backwards. We realize that for some people “family” is just a word to be thrown around. I have my first night terror in 4 months, and insomnia comes back into my life.
I go to Berlin, and it was an incredible time. There, I heard Fields of Gold from a busker, which played at Mum’s funeral. It was the first time I had heard it since. Grief hits me brutally. But most of all, in Germany I just smile, and my soul is happy. This is the second time I am glad that I never gave up, and this feeling never leaves. I wear my heart, and my scars, on my sleeve.
I go on a road-trip with Sophie, exploring my own country and realise that I can be happy in England now, too. Sophie and I laugh so hard that she runs a red light at one point. Sophie and I make people laugh in the traffic jams because we dance, and I scream, to ABBA songs.
I start a course called Health and Wellbeing in the Ancient World, and Katie leaves for a trip away in Ibiza, and decides she finally wants to do the Camino de Santiago.
Katie does the Camino de Santiago.
We go to St Ives when she is home and laugh so, so much I feel so happy because when I look at her, her eyes look clear, and her laughter feels fresh. I booked the cabin for us, and I feel silently happy that Katie, for once, didn’t have to organise anything. We experience the best fish and chips of our lives and I buy a pint of ice cream. We watch Love Island with prosecco, and I edit my photos in the ads.
I cry to myself because I thought Katie was gone forever. I vow that I want to take a picture of her laughing so I never forget. I am constantly grateful that she came out of that dark place. I never truly admitted to myself how terrified I was.
I read a lot of Greek mythology, my favourite myths are of Eros, Tantalus and Oedipus.
Katie and I go to local festival. We had to borrow everything to do with camping from our friend. We let loose, and act our ages. We sneak into an after party and drink champagne from the bottle. We feel young.
We decide to put the house up for rent. We begin to clear out Mum’s house, and let go of a lot of things. It’s okay because this year has made me realize home is where the heart is. We give Mum’s clothes away, but still keep a few things, and now my days are spent cleaning walls, carpets, cupboards, and everything in between. But, I’m doing it with a renewed smile.
We empty all our old money boxes into a plastic bag and take our bag of 2ps to an arcade. We spend about £10 in 2ps on a 2p machine and win 4 prizes. Katie feels guilty for it, but we forget to feel bad because we get lost in competition. I know Mum would be laughing with us.
I begin to feel proud of myself for never giving up. I feel like myself again, and I haven’t been ill in a month or so. The future seems bright again, and I cannot wait for, what Mum would call, “my time”. University seems to hold so much promise for me. Sometimes I laugh for no reason, and my smile is never fake now.
I love and value myself, and everyone in my life. Katie and I talk in depth about how grateful we feel. Katie gets a new “big-girl” graduate job, I’m going to university, and we have realised that in a sink or swim world, we chose to swim when that was the last thing we thought we were able to do.
We hit 400 followers on the blog, and Katie and I talk a lot about how important this blog is to us. Without it, we are not sure what we would have done. I am thankful for it every single day, and I am thankful for you reading this right now.
One year of grief. Part of me cannot understand where the time has gone, but another part of me doesn’t understand how only one year has passed. Everything has changed, and everything will change in the year to come.
I am so glad I saw this year through. I want to say something beautiful and poetic, but I can’t. I am just so unbelievably glad I am here today.
The sun is still in the sky and shining above you.
Thank you for coming on this journey with me.
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