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'My mum died... is there a way to lessen this unbearable pain?'

  • Posted by Moderator: Biju Mathew
  • Published 14:45 April 9, 2013

A reader asks: I lost my mother to cancer in July 2012, one week after my 24th birthday. Words fail me when I start describing how painful it was and it still is.

My mother suffered for three years and I was her sole care giver. I saw her suffer each day and I suffered with her too. Nonetheless, we still managed to go out and watch movies, do shopping, eat out and do many more things.

We shared everything with each other. I was her only daughter and we were as close as any mother and daughter could be. She was the centre of my life and now she is gone with nothing left behind. The last three months were the worst and those days still haunt me. I am unable to sleep and whenever I close my eyes I see everything flashing right in front of my eyes. I just can't bear the pain anymore. Watching my mother's vibrant face without any life was the worst that could have ever happened to me.

My life has come to a standstill. I am unable to do anything. I just don't have the will. My day would start and end after looking at her beautiful ever-smiling face. But that face is nowhere to be found now.

Everything reminds me of her. I miss her an awful lot. It's hard to imagine my life without her. I cry a lot but even crying doesn't make me feel better.

People said time heals everything. I say it doesn't. My relative's attitudes towards me made things harder. I just have friends with whom I can share my feelings. But eventually they will get tired of me.

I have one elder brother who is my biggest support. My life has no meaning now. Earlier, it revolved around mum. But now it's just useless and meaning-less. I feel tired all the time in spite of not doing anything.

I haven't left the house except for visiting my grandmother and my mother's grave. Instead of talking to her like before, I talk to her grave now. I wasn't like this before but then my life wasn't like this before. I had my mother by my side and that was enough for me. But now that she is gone I just don't have the will to do anything with my life. I just don't have any energy left. I really don't know what to do.
Is there a way to lessen this unbearable pain?

Carey Kirk  (M.Ed, Counseling Psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia, Dubai) replies: My heart goes out to you for the loss of your mother - it is clear that she meant the world to you. It is never easy when someone in our life dies, especially when that person is so close to us. Even if we know that person is sick, we can never truly prepare ourselves for what life will be like without them.

The experiences you refer to in your letter: being unable to sleep, not having the will do to anything, crying, isolating yourself, feeling tired all the time - these are all common reactions to grief. Other common grief reactions can include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty remembering things
  • Loss of interest in things we used to enjoy
  • Feelings such as shock, anger, guilt, loneliness, confusion, and relief
  • Having moments when we believe we hear the person (their voice, the sound of their footsteps, etc)
  • Treasuring objects that belonged to them
  • Wanting to avoid places and things associated with them

It takes a lot of energy to go through grief, so you will feel tired. Your entire world has changed and energy is required to adjust to this. People often don't realize that - when someone dies - we don't just grieve for them as a person. We also grieve for the memories we shared with them, we grieve for the future that we had imagined with them, and we grieve for all the roles they played in our life - the role of confidante, of comforter, kindred spirit, motivator, problem solver, the person we could share everything with, the person who would love us unconditionally.

After the death of someone as significant as your mother, it will take time and effort for you to 'recalibrate' because it is not just your world that has changed. You have changed too. For many individuals who become the sole caregivers of people in their lives - whether it is a parent, spouse, child, relative, or friend - this caregiving role can become a central part of their identity. Who they are. Caring for your mother was part of your identity and everyday life for three years. Now that you no longer have this role acting as an anchor in your life, it makes sense that you would feel lost - cut adrift from when life made sense and had purpose. Your priorities in life may have also changed since your mother died, so may have your outlook on the future and your perception of other people and the world. It takes work to adjust to all these changes that have happened all at once.

Like you, I am similarly against the platitude that "time heals everything". Time in itself does not heal. It is what you do during this time that is the deciding factor in how and how much you heal. Over time, a cut can become infected and heal badly if we do not pay attention to it, clean it, and provide it with the things necessary to heal properly. 

So how do we heal the wound left by the death of someone we love?

  • First: We try to wrap our heads around the fact that this has really happened. This, as you already know, is no easy task.
  • Second: We give ourselves permission to grieve. Grief hurts. Everything hurts. We are exhausted. That's ok. Grief is a natural reaction to death. Don't fight it, just give yourself some space.
  • Third: We give ourselves permission to laugh. It is ok to still laugh at jokes you think are funny and at stories or traits about your loved one that make you smile. Laughing and smiling in the moment does not mean that you have forgotten them or that you are grieving any less.
  • Fourth: We try to adjust to our new world and our new self at whatever pace we need to. This time frame is different for each individual. There is no "this should have taken longer" or "you shouldn't still be sad." It takes however long it takes.
  • Fifth: We acknowledge that we never have to forget our loved one. 

One of my least favorite things people say when it comes to grief (besides "time heals everything") is that people can or have to "get over" their grief. Let me be very clear: there is no "getting over" grief. There is only getting through it. We hurt so much because of how much we miss them and how much our world and ourselves have to change without them. And we will always experience grief on some level throughout our lives because we will always remember them and carry a piece of them in our hearts. We do not have to forget them.

Your mother will always be a part of your life and just because she is no longer physically present, it does not mean that you can no longer have a connection to her. There is a lot of research indicating that people who find ways to stay connected to their deceased loved ones are able to manage their grief in healthier ways. You mentioned in your letter that you go to your mother's grave and speak to her. This is one way you can use to continue feeling connected to her. Talk to her, continue sharing things with her, consider how she would advise you in various situations.

Grief is a painful experience in itself, but it is often made worse when the other people in our life react in ways that leave us feeling hurt or unsupported. I am sorry to hear that your relatives' reactions are making things harder for you. You also noted that you are worried that your friends will get tired of you and your grief. It can be difficult for people who have not gone through grief to understand the depth of our pain and the time it takes to adjust ourselves to our "new normal".

What helps many people in this situation is talking to others who know what it is like to lose someone close to them. Sometimes we can find these people within our own network of friends and family. Sometimes we cannot. When we cannot, I encourage joining a grief support group. This type of group provides an opportunity for people meet others who know what grief is truly like, hear how others are managing their grief, and to work through their process of healing at their own pace in an environment without judgement or imposed time lines.

If you are interested in learning more about joining a grief support group, I encourage you to contact Raymee Grief Center. Raymee Grief Center is located at The LightHouse Arabia clinic in Dubai and is the first of its kind grief center in the UAE that provides no cost grief support groups for children, teens, and adults whose loved ones have died. These support groups take place twice a month and are open for people to attend for as long as they find them helpful. To contact Raymee Grief Center, you can email raymee@lighthousearabia.com or call +971 4 380-9298. You can also find out more information at www.lighthousearabia.com/raymeegrief.html

My thoughts will be with you and I hope that you find something in this letter that can provide you some solace.

Write with your concerns to inmind@gulfnews.com and selected questions will be answered by a panel of qualified psychiatrists and psychologists. Your contributions will be modified for length and appropriateness, and will be open to other Gulf News readers to comment and suggest solutions. Let us know if you would like GulfNews.com to withhold your name from your letter should it be published.

Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of psychiatrists are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.

Comments (10)

  1. Added 10:45 April 20, 2013

    I know exactly what you are feeling because everything you said, I can relate to. I lost my father to cancer also more than a year ago just two months after he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. I was the caregiver alongside my mother and like you, I get flashbacks. I cry a lot, I went through times of anger, despair, and then back again. The stages of grieving aren't stages you graduate from after going through one... you bounce back and forth. I have no words but to say that you are not alone and that somewhere in this world I am like you. We need to be strong and to remember our parent without hurting as much as we can. I'm still trying to come to terms with the way I lost my father. I feel like he died in a car accident because of how fast his health deteriorated. I feel that I haven't really truly accepted that he's gone and sometimes I'm scared I might be ruining my other relationships because of my grief and my trauma from losing my father is hindering my future growth. I was the last person to be with him in his hospital room the night until morning his health deteriorated. I watched the doctors scramble to save his life and then perform CPR on him. I blamed myself and replayed it over and over my head because there must've been something I could have done to save him. But it was out of my hands... I want to a grief support group...Lighthouse Arabia sounds wonderful but I live in Abu Dhabi.... All the best and I wish you healing. Please go to the support group. You dont have to go through this alone and I know how it feels when nobody understands the depth of your grief.

    Grieving Daughter, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 13:01 April 19, 2013

    Dear Sister, it is clear that you shared beautiful relationship with your mother which several people may take life to realise the worth. You saw her suffering during her cancer phase. Nothing can be undone now but just remember that she is relieved and released from that pain. And she would be living a beautiful life up there. We all have to face death at an appointed time and from something; accidents, illnesses. Her time had approached. The important thing for you is that think about your mother how she would love to see you during these days. She would be happy to see you going through this phase bravely and successfully and achieve the best in your life. Complete your studies, work with your potentials and marry someone who you think is the best for you and start a lovely family. Enliven the beautiful upbringing with your babies the way your mother cared for you. All physical as well as mental fatigue will subside themself only once when you realise these things. One thing I want to tell that do not wish for a long life for someone who is terminally ill and can not be treated. That pain is only known to that person. I wish you the best in your life. Your smile will make your mother's soul smile and your sadness could make her suffer.

    fans, dubai, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 16:19 April 13, 2013

    my poor girl,you must be so heartbroken,i lost my dad to cancer a couple of years ago its hard to believe but you do start to feel better over time just carry on thinking of her always,cry about the sad things smile at the nice and funny things,you've obviously still got so much love to give i'm sure someone will notice that and help to heal your pain and make you feel happy and like life again.there will always be people like me that think of people like you,bless you my love,god be with you

    mark smith, london, United Kingdom

  4. Added 11:43 April 12, 2013

    What you need now is someone to guide you and help you with the grief and grieving. So follow up with: This Raymee Grief Center, you can email raymee@lighthousearabia.com or call +971 4 380-9298. You can also find out more information at www.lighthousearabia.com/raymeegrief.html

    raymond, santa clara, United States

  5. Added 09:23 April 11, 2013

    My dear, Your words ring in my head the same pain of losing my mum to the fateful disease. I felt crippled and since I am a mum too, my boys were t source of my reason to move forward. Whilst, I say that let me also tell u something, your mother would have never wanted u to be in pain ever. And if she's there n she can watch you, she will want u to be happy, successful and at peace. not for anyones sake but for her, u will have to move on, as a tribute to her effort of brining u up with so much love n care, u will have to work hard and make her upbrining worthwhile. You have to be brave for her sake and her peace as well. God Bless u sweatheart

    Anuja, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  6. Added 17:12 April 9, 2013

    Three words answer 'BECOME A MOTHER'

    Shahab, dubai, India

  7. Added 17:01 April 9, 2013

    Your each and every word exactly describe my feelings. My mum passed away of Cancer too last year in March. Even for me its soo painful when i recall her condition that was deteriorating day by day. I too remember her bright glowing face but her body getting weak and weaker day by day, She came on bed, could not move, talk, eat and sleeps the whole day and finally that day came when she was shifted to ICU and left uu. Cancer is so painful for the patient as well as for the family...Our home miss her..! She went through the painful procedures but still had a smile on her face and never gave trouble to any doctor and nurses. She was much appreciated by her doctor and the nurses on duty. We can pray for her now as much as we can, give charity with the intention that the reward goes to my mum. I know its difficult to imagine life without her but if you continue to be unhappy, then she will get hurt. Try to move on in life and pray for her which will give you immense peace.

    Mehwish Ali, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

  8. Added 16:48 April 9, 2013

    I was 13 when my mother passed away due to cancer, since then I've been missing her but can't share with any other as it only becomes the matter of talk. Really, today reading this reminded me of my mother, I always wish if she is with me. I always become jealous, seeing others' mother and question myself how does it feel to have and cared by mother. Anyway, U should take it as a lesson rather than giving urself pain.

    Anonymous, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  9. Added 16:18 April 9, 2013

    My Dear Friend, I relate to your article and understand exactly how you feel and for a moment it flashed back everything that I had gone through while I lost my mum. Also having no sister makes it even more difficult to go through. The bitter reality of life circle is everything has to die and usually our parents leave the world before we do. Alhamdullilah I have overcome the grief by accepting the bitter reality but even today, the memories hit back real hard and you cannot do much except to be patient and pray. The positive outcome of the incident is that it will gradually make you a emotionally stronger person in years to come. May Allah rest her soul in peace and give you strength to cope up with the loss. Please allow yourself to give time to heal from this grief and life just not ends here.. it just began!

    Shazia, Jabbar, United Arab Emirates

  10. Added 16:03 April 9, 2013

    Hello, I read this issue this girl is going through post there mother death. Well what i feel is that life is all about moving on, nature doesnt wait for anyone and so does life too. Infact the best way to cover the loss is that use the memories as oxygen for living for the future life & believe me every morning if one thought or conversation with our loved ones is remembered in our morning time and sleeping time, it really make a lot of change. As far as freinds are concerned, i dont think at any given point of time friends get tired of the real friends in there life. WE just have to open our eyes for the right token of friendship. I hope this piece of email might be of some help.

    haresh kheskani, dubai, United Arab Emirates

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