Two

Dear Mum,

Today, almost to the minute in fact, is two years since you passed away. Two years since I last heard your voice. Two years since I last kissed you, hugged you. Two years…

A lot has changed in two years. A lot that I know you would have wanted to be part of. There have been holidays, new jobs, new homes, birthdays, celebrations, heartbreak.

You have a new little grandson and he’s perfect in every way. You also have another little grandchild on the way. I’m sure the two of them will get up to lots of mischief, encouraged, of course, by their big brother and cousin, otherwise known as the co-conspirator. I’m also sure that you would egg them all on… if only you were here.

When Rocky was born, we had to do the shasha without you. We spent the day laughing at the memory of making the shasha for Liv. The memory of running around the big glass dining table putting all the lollies in the bags, rushing to get it all done before the children descended on the house. This time, we put more people to work. As I sat, with Liv by my side, putting the chocolates into the bags, all I could think about was how much you would relish being there. You would be head of the table, bossing us all around, giving us jobs.

A lot has changed… and yet so much has stayed the same. Eerily the same. And I find it strange how life can go on so normally following such a trauma. There are days still when my heart hurts so much that I can’t just pick up the phone to hear your voice. I don’t anticipate that ever changing. I don’t believe you’re ever too old to need your mum. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of you.

Every day I miss you more and more. It’s harder on days like today. Days where the heartache is so crushing that you feel like you are drowning in a sea of rocks. And yet it’s just as hard on happy occasions, things to celebrate. Because you would be front and centre… if only you were here.

Yet every day, I hear myself sounding more and more like you. And while that’s heartbreaking in itself, it brings me comfort to know that you’ve instilled in me so much of you.

It brings me comfort to know that so much of you will be passed down to my baby. My baby who already knows the sound of its nana’s voice. And whenever it hears you, it does a little dance. I hope it has your loyalty, your vivaciousness, your protectiveness. And I hope that it will feel your love. Because I know you’re never that far away.

 

The manifestation of grief

Grief manifests in very strange ways. And you never know when it’s going to hit.

It’s been an emotional rollercoaster of a month for me.

I’ve been working very hard on our pancreatic cancer awareness initiative #PurpleOurWorld and that always stirs up some feelings. I spoke to a lot of my mum’s students in the week leading up to World Pancreatic Cancer Day and it was a very difficult presentation to give. These were students who have been impacted heavily by my mum, she cared for them, educated them; for the eight hours that they were at school, she treated them as her own. The outpouring of love the school demonstrated was exceptional. Her ex-students went to great lengths to honour her memory, as did the staff she worked with.

Last week, I learnt something new. That for the rest of my life, grief can creep up on you, no matter what day or time. Something as small as the realisation that you won’t have access to a car for a weekend, while hours away from home, can send you into a tailspin.

Halfway through my panic attack, as I slowly understood why the tears were falling, I realised that no matter how old I get, there will always be a first time that I experience something that mum will miss. There will always be something that will make you remember, that will made you sad. Something you had no idea would affect you. There will always be some sort of reminder. And you never know how it is going to hit you. It could be the scorching heat that suddenly makes you anxious – all because she loved to swim. The shortness of breath could start just because you hear a song on the radio. Every time I hear Moondance on the radio, a flurry of emotions follows. It can all go downhill very rapidly, because you visit a place you last visited with her.

The day before mum’s birthday, I was watching our favourite show, Gilmore Girls (side note: why I’ve chosen to start re-watching every episode of a show dedicated to a mother-daughter duo, and a show my mum and I adored, is beyond me). I was already starting to tear up at random things, knowing the next day was going to be exceptionally hard and sad. And without so much of a warning, Thank Heavens For Little Girls blasts out through my television speakers. When I was little, my mum would sing this to me. Until she passed away, the song served as my ringtone whenever she was on the other end of the phone. The tears welled. Yet at the same time, a smile formed on my lips. Ever so slight, but it was there. I didn’t actually know what I was feeling but in hindsight, I guess it was a mixture of incredible sadness that I’ll never hear her off-tune voice sing out to me (never thought I’d say that), and a tinge of joy.

Because, when you lose someone, I think the scariest thing of all is to forget.

I’m petrified I’ll forget her voice, forget her touch, forget her smell. I’m so scared that I’ll forget the little things we used to share.

I think even though it may hit me at the most random times, without me even suspecting it, for me, the tears and heartache are a blessing in disguise. When I cry, and hopefully my tears will continue to be accompanied by the sliver of a smile, it’s only because I’m remembering her.

I don’t know why I worry though, my mum truly is unforgettable.

Grief

Grief is a strange process. Some people expect you to be fine after a week, some a month, some a year. And some don’t understand how you can’t be ‘over it’ after five years. The thing is, everyone grieves differently and everyone copes differently.

And the truth is, one never truly gets over the loss of a loved one.

It seemed fitting to me that one of the first books I read after my mum passed away was one by Jodi Picoult. Mum and I always shared a love of Jodi’s books and would often debrief following a read – ‘did you pick the twist?’ ‘Did you expect that to happen?’

I didn’t read the blurb about Leaving Time before downloading it. Turns out it’s about a daughter searching for her mother after she disappears under mysterious circumstances. It’s also about the way elephants grieve.

There was a paragraph that really stayed with me, long after I’d read the final page:

“I think grief is like a really ugly couch. It never goes away. You can decorate around it; you can slap a doily on top of it; you can push it to the corner of the room – but eventually, you learn to live with it.”

Some people say that grief is a subjective state – a feeling that arises after a significant death. Whereas mourning is a set of rituals or behaviours according to your culture. In some cultures however, there is no difference. Some languages don’t even have a word for ‘grief’. Personally, I will be mourning and grieving for the rest of my life. I will mourn the loss of my mum, yes. But I will also be grieving for everything else that she will miss and everything else that we won’t be able to do together.

Cultures respond to death differently. In Islam, traditionally a person mourns for three days and then they must accept Allah’s verdict. For her husband, a woman mourns for four months and ten days.

In Hinduism, mourning lasts for 13 days. For Catholics, the length of mourning depends on the relationship with the deceased but three stages of mourning are distinguished – heavy, half and light.

While most animals have no qualms about leaving the weak to die alone, elephants often stay with their loved one for an extended period of time, watching over them and ensuring their body is safe until they can bury them.

In Judaism, there are stages of grief designed to help the mourner re-enter society. The shiva period – the first seven days after burial – where mourners are not allowed to do anything for themselves, sit on the floor or low stools, do not work and do not do things for comfort or pleasure. Mourners wear the clothes that they wore at the funeral and prayer services are held at the place where the shiva is held.

For me, the shiva period is a blur. I don’t know who came or went. My husband and I were camped on the floor of my mum’s study. I don’t know what I ate or how I even moved around the house. But those seven days came and went, and following, I was expected to return to some sort of normalcy.

The sholoshim marks the end of the mourning period for siblings, parents and spouse of the deceased. This lasts until the thirtieth day after burial. During this time, mourners can go back to work and their daily routine but cannot attend parties, shave or cut their hair and do not listen to music (among other things).

For a child of the deceased, mourning continues for a year.

In July, it was a year (according to the Hebrew calendar) since my mother passed away.

It’s been a hard year, there’s no doubt about that. They say that the first is the hardest but I’m not sure it’s ever going to be easy.

It was a year of firsts – first birthdays without her, first anniversaries without her, first holidays, first holy days.

And I’m not sure I’m quite ready to let that go. Because the thing is, you never stop grieving for the loss of a loved one. You grieve for the loss of memories created, you grieve for the loss of the laughter you would have shared, you grieve for the loss of hugs and kisses, coffee dates and dinners. You grieve for the questions that go unanswered. There will always be something you’re grieving for.

But there are also moments where you realise just how far you’ve come and how strong you’ve been.

Since mum passed away, I’ve quit my job and gone freelance, my family and I have launched an awareness campaign for pancreatic cancer (#PurpleOurWorld), we sold our family home and my dad bought a beautiful new home – one where we will make the most magical memories together as our family grows. We’ve been on two wonderful family holidays together, where we cried because she wasn’t there, yet still managed to laugh and enjoy ourselves. My husband and I continue to build our own home together, one where my mum will forever be present. My sister and brother-in-law found a new home for their little family and my nephew continues to grow and develop into a spirited and special little man.

The thing is, I will never come out of mourning. The official period may be over but like Jodi said, you just learn to live with it. You learn to see grief for what it is, deal with it when you have to and adapt when you can’t. Cry when you want to and smile when you can. Because when you’ve lost a person who shaped you, who loved you and cared for you, who raised you and taught you everything you know, finding your way out of the darkness is all you can really do.

Facing Mother’s Day

Dear friends,

I know you’re looking forward to Mother’s Day. If you’re a mother yourself, I know this day is doubly as important.

But when you’re talking and planning and sharing, please spare a thought for little old me – the girl who’s lost her mum.

Everywhere I look there is a reminder that mother’s day is approaching. Signs, cards, emails, reminders that I should be buying my mother a present because she is wonderful.

Buy her a mug with your face on it. Buy her some comfy pyjamas. Buy her a beautiful frame of you and your siblings so she can wake up to it everyday.

Everywhere I look there is a reminder that mother’s day is approaching.

And everywhere I look there is a reminder that my mother’s not here to celebrate.

I wish I could buy her a present. I wish I could shower her in cheesy gifts to show her how much I love her. Because she is the most magnificent mother a child could ever dream of having. And she was taken way too soon.

Just remember friends, that this year will be my first mother’s day without her. Know that I am dreading it.

Please understand that I have no children of my own so there truly is not one single thing to look forward to.

Don’t worry, I’ll listen as you tell me of your plans. I’ll smile and tell you to have a good time. I’ll tell you to hug your mum a little closer. Tell her that you love her just that one extra time. Remind her that she is beautiful and that everything you are, every fibre of your being, is because she made you that way.

Yet understand that secretly I’ll be so saddened that you get to make those plans. I’ll feel a sense of loss that I can’t make those plans too. There will be a touch of jealousy. And I’ll be upset that while you’re out smiling with your mums, I’m at home weeping for mine, because no matter how old you are, there will always be days when you just need your mummy.

Know that every day I ache for my mum and today will be so much worse.

Know that today is a reminder that there are so many things in my life I wish my mother were here to share.

Understand that you should never take any moment for granted. Be there with your mother. Be totally and one hundred per cent present – mentally, physically and emotionally.

Remember that no matter how long my mother has been gone, my bond with her is unbreakable. Yet today, is a reminder that I cannot physically see her, touch her or talk to her.

Also know that this doesn’t mean you have to hide your plans from me. All I ask is that you recognise that I’m hurting. Hold my hand a bit, give me a smile and that little nod which shows me you’re thinking of me.

Don’t try to tell me that you understand. I know you mean well. You know I’m broken. You know that my heart is falling into a million pieces. You know how sad I am.

But the truth is, you don’t. Nobody knows. Even if you have lost a parent, you don’t know how I feel to lose my parent. You’re not me losing my mummy. My incredible mummy who taught me so much. My best friend.

Everywhere I look there is a reminder that mother’s day is approaching. And every time I’m faced with another email or another card display I just want to throw my computer at the wall or smash the billboard with my very own hands. On Sunday, I’ll face my first Mother’s Day without my mother. And my first Mother’s Day without my nana. And I’m heartbroken.

We never really put that much importance on any particular day to celebrate our parents. Every day is mother’s day and every other day is father’s day.

Remember friends, cherish every moment with that fabulous woman you call mum. Because now I wish, more than anything in the world, I had taken advantage of every mother’s day I had with her.

Because I’ll never get those Sundays back.

And I’ll never again get to wake up, pick up the phone and say ‘Happy Mother’s Day Mum.’

 

This post first appeared on Essential Kids.

My nana

I am so lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful women in my family. Yes, they are grandmothers and aunts, but to me, they are so much more than that. In my eyes, I have several mothers, as each woman has treated me like her very own daughter.

NanaTwo weeks ago, I lost another mother …

My beautiful nana Margaret.

To me, she was invincible. Despite several falls (literally and metaphorically), nana bounced back after each one.

When faced with adversity, she looked it straight in the eye and vowed to fight on, even when other people would have turned around and given up. She had her days, everyone is allowed those, but she was definitely one of the strongest women I know.

And I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.

I take comfort in knowing that her final day with us was a happy one. We visited her at home to help her move some things around her newly renovated apartment. Just like his mother and I before him, her great-grandchild frolicked on the balcony and driveway calling out for his big nana to ‘watch this’. She took great pleasure in giving him a tour of her home, telling him which room his nana slept in and showing him all the pictures of his mummy and me.

And then we kissed her goodbye, assuring her that we would grill the meal she’d lovingly prepared for us and that we’d see her tomorrow for dinner.

And then just like that, she was gone. Taken way too soon from a family that only nine months ago, lost so much.

I will forever be thankful for the time I was given with her. I know I am so fortunate to have had 28 years with my nana. And I know that I am so lucky to still have three more grandparents with me today. But still, life just doesn’t seem fair.

I will cherish the memories of cooking with nana, from the time I was little on Friday afternoons helping her prepare for Shabbat, to just a few months ago as she helped us prepare for Rosh Hashanah. I will hold close the recipes that she has passed on to us and every time I stir the curry or mix the spices, I will think of her. She has certainly made her mark in my kitchen.

I will say ‘awafi’ as my family enjoys their food and I will always call my children my ‘abdulakanahs’ – the loves of my life. And when they ask me why, I will tell them stories of their nana and big nana. I will make sure they grow up eating her food and when they ask me what it is, I will tell them stories of how I grew up eating my nana and big nana’s food. They may not know her touch or kisses, but they will know her love and devotion to her family, they will know her name and her smile. She has left a loving family behind who in times of both joy and crisis binds together as one big, crazy, devoted bunch of people. A family who already miss her so much.

Nana and mumLife just isn’t fair sometimes but in my eyes, it’s quite simple really … my mummy needed her mummy. And they’re together now, watching over us all. And probably arguing … a lot!

 

New adventures

Today I embark on a new journey. I spoke to my mother a lot about taking control of my life. It was something she supported vehemently. It was something I believe she wanted to see. But I waited too long.

I always planned that I would someday throw in the towel and try to make a living by freelancing. I have always dreamed of writing. I relish the investigation, the construction of a well-researched piece. I love to spit my thoughts on a page and take my time, reading over and over again, changing sentences, chopping words, swapping paragraphs, until I’m 100% certain that it’s the best it can be.

My mum always believed that I could make a living out of writing. She urged me to take the chance. To resign from my 9-5 job. To set my home up as my tranquil domain where I could sit peacefully and write.

I always planned that when I grew up I would be my own boss, floating between my parents’ house, the local coffee shop, picnic blankets in the park, restaurants overlooking the beach and my own serene study. The thing is, I always planned to have my mum by my side. I always planned to pick up the phone and tell my mother where I was going to be that particular day, demanding that she meet me for coffee so that between typing, sips and bites, we could gossip the day away.

I know she’s proud of me for taking this step. I believe there was a moment when something in my heart clicked and insisted that I make the decision. I believe it was my mother pushing me in the right direction.

I have faith that I’ll succeed.

Because I know she’s right next to me as I sip my coffee and bite into my toast. I know she’s right next to me as I type these very words. I know she’s right next to me, guiding me along on this very scary but exhilarating path.

I have no choice but to succeed.

I made my mother a promise and what my mother wants, she gets.

Home

We recently returned from our first family holiday without my mum.

Coming back to what will come to be known as our normal life was exceptionally difficult.

Here, at home, while she is constantly in my thoughts, there are a myriad of things to distract me from what my reality now is, a myriad of things tearing me away from dark thoughts. On the ship, cruising in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do but think, read, sleep and eat, my thoughts were always with her, every minute, every hour, every day.

Pacific IslandsThere was no escaping them.

She would have loved everything about that holiday. She would have grabbed every show, every quiz and every activity by the hand and participated in the lot.

She would have indulged in the food, and eaten all the milky desserts and the cheese that was on display, despite being lactose intolerant – because who the hell cares when it comes to enjoying life.

She would have been immersed in the water, trying to escape the uncomfortable heat.

She would have scurried after her two-year-old grandson as he took control of the baby pool, declaring it his and his alone where no one else was allowed to slide down his precious dolphin slide.

She would have been the first on the sand, commandeering our spot before rushing into the clear, blue water to float on its surface.

But most of all, she would have relished in the fact that her beloved family was together, 24 hours a day.

Every moment, I thought of how we needed this holiday. How horrific the past two years have been for us all. How terrifying it is to settle thoughts of life without her. Yet every moment I thought of how she needed this holiday. I thought of how we needed this holiday with her.

I know there will be hundreds of holidays without her. I know there will be loads of memories that we’ll have to create without her. I know that there are a lot of things that are coming my way that I’ll have to handle without her on speed dial. And while ‘normal’ life here keeps me constantly distracted, there’s no running away from that.

I miss my mother every day. And I will continue to miss her every day for the rest of my life. Perhaps what was most hard about our holiday is that family holidays are meant to be taken together, with the whole family in tow. For us, someone was missing.

Happy birthday

Baby mumToday is mum’s 58th birthday. Normally, I’d get up and go to work, call her first thing and sing away. I’d probably call her four or five more times during the day and after I’d finished work for the day, head to her house to smother her in kisses. We’d head out for a family dinner and then on the weekend, she’d have her friends around to celebrate.

This year, we have to do it all without her. I can’t pick up the phone, even though I haven’t been able to delete her number. I can’t smother her in kisses. There’s no birthday present to hand over.

Today is another reminder that she’s not here.

Someone walked past me the other day wearing her perfume. My stomach contracted as the punch ploughed through. I was on a plane and in a confined space. For the next hour and a half I couldn’t escape the smell. And it hurt.

I forced myself to take three very big and deep breaths and closed my eyes.

I could see my mum spraying the perfume on her wrists and neck, and I could feel the smell moving its way through the house as she floated from room to room, changing handbags, putting on her shoes, lining her eyes with eyeliner and her lips with dark red lipstick. I could hear her voice asking whether she looked ok and I felt myself looking up at her, smiling and saying ‘yep’.

It’s amazing how something so small as smell can shatter your heart into a million pieces.

Today is mum’s 58th birthday.

Today, instead of celebrating with her, we’re celebrating for her.

We’ll spend the day brunching with her friends, playing with her grandson and having dinner as a family. Because my mother always celebrated everything and today is no exception.

Today we will celebrate my mum with food, friends and laughter. We’ll go for walks and pamper ourselves. We’ll spend the day together.

Because she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Purple our world

Purple our World FULL4

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

Until March last year, I had very little understanding about pancreatic cancer. I even remember asking where the pancreas is and what it does. Since then, my family and I have been living and breathing everything pancreas.

In August this year, we lost my beautiful mother. She fought a very brave and very long battle against this horrible disease. So, we’ve decided it’s time to turn our world purple and hopefully make a difference!

Until high profile people such as Patrick Swayze, Steve Jobs, Ian Ross and Peter Harvey were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, awareness surrounding the disease was minimal.

Yet, more than 130 Australians die on average each week from pancreatic, liver, biliary and foregut cancer. Most succumb within six months of diagnosis.

Statistics:

  • Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality of all major cancers – less than 5% of patients reach the five-year survival mark.
  • Survival rates for pancreatic cancer have not improved in more than 40 years and two-thirds of pancreatic cancer patients die within the first year of diagnosis.
  • In 2014, it was expected that approximately 2890 Australians would be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
  • By 2020, this is expected to rise to around 3460 Australians.

We are trying to change these statistics.

Thursday 13 November is World Pancreatic Cancer Day and we are asking Australia to pop on some purple, snap a picture and share it on social media, using the hashtag #purpleourworld to raise awareness for this horrible disease.

This is not about raising money; it’s about raising awareness and giving a voice to a silent killer.

We are hoping to show the decision-makers how many of us care, how many lives this prevalent disease has touched and that it’s time to stand up and do something.

We’re putting a bit of colour back into our world.

For all media enquires please contact:
Jessica Abelsohn
E: jessica.abelsohn@gmail.com
Ph: 0417 062 543

Bullshit

Whoever coined the phrase time heals all wounds obviously never lost a loved one.

I call bullshit…

I doesn’t get easier. Nothing about this situation will ever get easier. You just learn how to manage the heartache.

I miss my mother more everyday. Because every day the reality of life without her sinks in just that little bit more.

I can’t bring myself to take her number out of my phone. I have picked up the phone to call her more times than I can count – wanting to ask her a million questions. How long should I cook the beef for? What shoes should I wear with my new dress? Wanting to tell her a million things.

But I can’t.

And that hurts… every day. It will continue to hurt… every day.

In fact, the hurting gets worse. There are so many things I’m yet to accomplish in life. And I’m going to have to do it all without her.

There are so many things we planned to share together. There are so many things that are yet to happen – exciting things that I planned to share with my mum. So many things that I thought I would be able to lean on her for.

Now I have to go it without mum. And that hurt, that heartache, that horror will never go away.

Time doesn’t heal any wounds. I will carry my wound with me for the rest of my life.

I will learn how to deal with my wound. I will learn how to bury it when I want to and deal with it when I have to. Slowly, slowly I will learn how to manage the hurt and the pain, and I will learn how cope. I will learn how to patch my heart.

Occasionally the wound will scab over. But then something will happen, something amazing will happen, and that wound will start to ooze all over again. Because for the rest of my life, someone … someone who was my whole world … will be missing.