Losing A Parent At A Young Age

Anna Friel

*TW: Discussion of loss and grief*

I was 13 when my mother died. She was diagnosed with a brain tumour just after I turned one, and then Multiple Sclerosis a few years after that. Consequently, I grew up as a young carer, and Mum being unwell or in and out of hospital for countless surgeries was normal to me – I had never known any different.

That didn’t mean that her death wasn’t a shock though; Mum had always been ill, but she had also always pulled through. She had spent long periods of time in hospital before, and then always came home, but this time she wouldn’t. This time she came home for the last time.

I remember it vividly. Me and my brothers came in from school on the Friday to find my dad and my mum’s best friend, Debbie, waiting for us. Debbie said she wanted to talk to me and took me to a coffee shop in town whilst my brothers stayed in the house with my dad. I can’t remember much of what she said in that coffee shop, but I remember the crucial phrase as she looked at me tearfully and said,

“You know it’s going to happen soon, don’t you?”

I did not know.

I answered yes but I remember thinking in my mind, surely, she doesn’t mean she’s going to die, does she? I felt panic rise in me, but I was in a public place, and I didn’t want to cry. When I got home and saw my brothers sobbing, I immediately knew that Debbie was right, Mum was going to die, so I went upstairs and cried hysterically.

I have never felt any pain quite like it, and I hope I will never feel anything like it again

We all agreed that we wanted her to be at home with us, so a hospital bed was set up in the living room for her to stay in and lots of my family came to be with her as well. She passed away late on the Sunday night, and I have never felt any pain quite like it, and I hope I will never feel anything like it again.

I think one of the hardest things is how to go on as a family, because nothing would ever be the same and we were all so young. My mum had only turned 45 two weeks previously, my dad was 44, and my brothers, who were about to sit their GCSE’s and A-Levels, were 15 and 17. Looking back, perhaps we should have taken more time away to deal with what had happened, but we didn’t want to miss everything so all of us took one week off school and work and were back the following Monday.

Naturally, with three kids in the same school/sixth form, news of what had happened spread like wildfire. Although most people treated me normally, you could see it in the way they looked at me. They knew, and they were unsure of how to be around me, or whether they should even talk to me, so most watched from afar.

I wish that we had counselling, but we never did 

I do not like to cry in public, but sometimes everything got a bit too much, so I mastered the art of crying silently. I vividly remember being sat in an IT lesson staring at a computer screen with 30 other kids sat all around me whilst I had tears streaming down my face. I did not look at anyone and I didn’t make a sound, so nobody noticed.

Suppression of grief is never good though, and I wish that we had counselling, but we never did. The deputy head pulled me aside once in the first week to ask me how I felt and that was it. Perhaps, looking back, we resisted speaking to our teachers about it, and they definitely didn’t know whether we wanted to talk about it either.

University posed a different challenge entirely as, suddenly, I was meeting multitudes of people who did not know me and did not know my backstory. This has never been an issue and I don’t exactly introduce myself with facts about my family, but sometimes it will get in the way.

People ask me what I’m getting my mum for Mother’s Day, whether my parents (always pluralised by default) are [insert any question about family], or, if I do ever talk about home or simply reply to their question with an answer about my dad, I see their puzzled faces before they ask “so how come you live with your dad and not your mum then?”.

Honestly, none of this bothers me in the slightest. I do not take any offense whatsoever to people assuming that my mum is alive, I mean, why wouldn’t you? And I do not mind simply saying “oh, my mum died when I was younger”. It’s their reactions, which are normal and completely fine, that sometimes make me cringe.

They often look back with a face of sheer horror like they’ve just shot me before apologising profusely. I assure them, usually whilst smiling and laughing a bit to show them I’m not about to break down in tears, that it’s fine and not to worry about it. Most people, however, still end up feeling terrible and look at me like I’m about to break down, as if they’ve just unearthed seven years of suppressed grief.

With every passing day it becomes harder to picture her face and remember what her voice sounded like

The hardest thing, though, will forever be living without my mum. She was, and always will be, the greatest person I have ever had the privilege to know, and the knowledge that I will never see her again is devastating. Her intelligence was clear, her humour and wit were second to none – I like to kid myself into thinking I have inherited some of that – and her resounding positivity and strength in the face of extreme hardship and illness undoubtedly shielded me and my brothers from further pain.

With every passing day it becomes harder to picture her face and remember what her voice sounded like. Occasionally I will dream about her, which I love, because in my dreams I see her clearly and she speaks to me as though she is still here.

Whenever something good happens it is slightly tinged by sadness because all I want to do is tell my mum. I want to be able to call her, like my friends call their mother’s, and tell her about my day, my week, everything. I want her advice, her support, and I want her to be proud of me. I know she would be, and my dad tells me this very often, but I will never be able to hear it from her.

Humans run away from pain, it is only natural, and grief is possibly the worst pain someone can feel

The only words I can offer others dealing with grief is this: It isn’t something to get over. It will never be easy, I am sorry to say, not ever – but it will get more manageable with time. Do not run away from grief. Humans run away from pain, it is only natural, and grief is possibly the worst pain someone can feel; the sense of loss and despair will seem insurmountable. But, if you run away from it, you will never find healing either, so let yourself feel it.

Surround yourself with people that you love. I am very fortunate to have friends that I love dearly, and they will never know quite how much they mean to me, or how I may have fared had they not been there. Your family will hopefully also be your rock. You will face difficulties as a result of loss, I have faced many, but an unspoken bond will also form; they know your pain, they feel it too.

There will come a day where you no longer feel overwhelming sadness every time you think of the person you lost, but instead happiness. Happiness as you think of what an incredible person they were, the love you have for them, and the memories that you were able to create with them. Try to find joy in your life, you know they would want you to.

Anna Friel

Featured Image courtesy of Safar Safarov via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

In-article image courtesy of Anna Friel. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.

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