Losing a parent and losing yourself

A mother and daughter hugging

19-year-old Shannara's mum was cared for at our Leckhampton Court Hospice. Here, she writes candidly about the grieving process and how she has come to accept that life will never be the same without her.

Sunday 21st May marked five months since the loss of my Mum; five months since my life was turned upside down, then shaken about some more. A cliché, but true.

Many of the people close to me, and close to others who have lost parents, will be blissfully unaware of the mental journey you embark on – at no fault of their own. How can you explain to someone how lucky they are to have their mum nagging at them to clean their room, or their dad grounding them for a month. Because that isn't lucky, is it? It is.

Another sickening cliché is 'You don't know what you have until it's gone' – I know, it's so overused that people don't even think to explore its meaning; one of those sayings that goes in one ear, out the other – but it couldn't be more true. I hope anyone reading this is happy when they next have their parents 'annoying' them, because how lucky are they?

I can wholeheartedly say, no one could be more shocked at how I've felt these past few months than myself. Because I pride myself on my independence and strength of character.

At least, I did.

Strength and loss

It is so strong to keep things to yourself and fight things alone, isn't it? It is as if I actually believed this; as if there were medals for suffering in silence, and I could wear and carry this medal proudly in the form of a fake smile. Well, trust me, there are no medals for suffering in silence. You do carry something, however: an enormous weight that drags you so far from yourself that you no longer know who you are.

When people talk about losing a parent or a loved one, they often fail to mention losing yourself too. Because you do lose yourself. You are ripped from your former self, and that is putting it romantically. You are ripped from your life as a happy-go-lucky teenager with no understanding – and ashamedly no sympathy – for mental health, and you are merely a shadow of your former self.

Suddenly, you are dropped right in the thick of the type of situation you previously had a short fuse with others for being in. Yet you are the only one who knows it, and the only one who you would let know it. You spend so long convincing others that you are okay, you build some sort of parallel world; a world in which everything is fine and no one has died.

But the reality is, they have – and there is little scarier than facing reality; facing a reality you cannot put right.

The weight of losing Mum

A mum to most people is the one person who can right all the wrongs in their world. And this was true for me too. There was honestly very little that could not be better by morning, or in a week's time.

But losing a parent cannot be better in a week's time or ten years' time. It is not something that can be better. It is not something you ever get over; you just have to get through it.

In life you carry a mental rucksack, and if you are lucky you don't have much in it. But losing a parent adds a massive weight to the rucksack. It is a weight that you will always have to carry – and a weight that, I hope, you can learn to carry. It will always be there, and it will always be heavy, but you will learn to carry it.

I'm not qualified to give out this advice, or perhaps false hope, because I have not yet learned how to carry the weight myself. But I am learning – and dividing out the weight with close friends and family, so I don't have to bear it alone. Some days it's heavier, but that's okay.

Don't suffer in silence

I was originally going to write about the sheer devastation losing my Mum has brought on my life. But to me this needs no explanation – it is something people who don't understand can try to empathise with. And although they will never even come close to understanding, they can try to imagine.

However, losing a part of yourself when a parent dies is something I feel needs more attention, as does mental health in general. This is coming from someone who, a few years ago, had absolutely no time for mental health issues – something I am not proud of.

Of course, the closer you are to someone, the more of you goes with them when they go. Something that has helped me get through is coming to terms with the fact that, even if things could be okay, I wouldn't want them to be – and why should they be? Of course, my world should never be the same because my Mum has gone, and it would not be normal for my life to remain unaffected.

There are so many people who do suffer in silence, maybe not with the loss of a parent but with other weights in their rucksack... Exam stress that has become no longer just stress but anxiety. Relationship troubles. Eating disorders. Social anxiety. Everyone has things in their zipped-up rucksack; things you cannot be aware of unless they let you in. So if you take anything from this post/blog/general expression of feelings, be kind to others. But more importantly, be kind to yourself.

The pain of losing my Mum is something that has not eased, if anything it has greatened. I still find myself searching to fill a gap that, of course, cannot be filled, because I cannot cope with such a huge loss hanging over me. I still find myself coming home to tell my Mum about my day, or going to text her.

And whilst I cannot imagine or comprehend anything else worse to have happened in my life, I also cannot imagine or comprehend anything better than being blessed with my Mum for 19 years.

Please reach out

If you, or someone you know, have been affected by bereavement, please talk to someone.

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Shannara McDonald
Shannara McDonald