Losing a friend. Losing a mother

My blog today is personal. It is about losing a friend. And a mother. And finding time to grieve.

It is a situation we are all likely to face in life. Maybe you have faced it already. Maybe that is yet to come.

Last week a dear friend died. Her children, living on the other side of the ditch, jumped on a plane to see her and got to spend the last day of her life with her.

Her funeral was organised three days after her death. The children flew home late the following day.

There were several things about my friend’s passing and funeral that I wanted to share and talk about.

I thought of the children racing to get to Australia to say goodbye to their mother. Leaving their own children behind to make the dash to see their mother. They lived a long way away. Communication was often tricky and relationships were not always ideal. But at the end, they rushed to her side and spent time with her. A precious gift from them to her and for them also.

Many years ago I remember another friend trying to get from a remote Asian island to Australia to be with her dying mother. She left her children at home and just took her youngest, a baby, with her. The Aian airline system at the time was in disarray. It took her three days flying from place to place, baby in tow, before she was able to connect with a plane to Australia. She was able to spend a few precious hours with her mother before she passed.

I too made a journey many years ago from Europe to Australia to be with my dying mother. I left my family in Europe to make the lonely trip back.

The long journey you have no control over is a time of great anxiety. Will mum still be alive when I get there? Those who have had to get on a plane and desperately dash to be beside their dying parent can relate to that fear and anxiety.

The next stress is being so far away from your own children and home. Having to stay in strange places and negotiate systems that may not be familiar to you. In the case of my friend the systems were totally unfamiliar to her children.

Because my friend’s children had to return home and there was no other family here in Australia, they had to pack up her house in the few days they had after her death. They needed to empty the house to hand it back to the landlord.

These young adults didn’t even have time to grieve for their mother. They could take time out for the funeral, then they had to get back to packing up the house. They had no time to sit with what had happened. To sit with their mother’s belongings.

They had to work day and night to pack them up to dispose of them. They had to identify important documents, sentimental things and what was to go. They had to find where to send all that to.

On top of all that, it was Mother’s Day and they were hours away from their own children.

When my mother died, it was Mother’s Day and I was on the other side of the world from my own children. Mother’s Day is forever linked to memories of my mother’s death. It will be the same for my friend’s children.

When someone you love dies you do what you have to do. Often that involves having to put aside your own grief, the shock and disbelief, the devastation, to attend to the tasks of living. That usually means the funeral, the clearing of the house, all with a deadline.

The tasks you have to attend to after a loved one’s death don’t allow you time to sit with your grief.

So what do you do? You do what you have to and then you take time to be. Make time to be. Just be with the loss. You need to allow yourself time to feel and process this. There is plenty of time later to get on with life. But once you have attended to the immediate post death tasks, the time is right to feel and process.

What about losing a friend?

I miss her so much. We had busy lives and didn’t see each other much. But we always knew the other was there. We could arrange coffee together, or send each other messages. Now that will never happen again.

I was so shocked when I heard she had died. I was out and not in a place where I could just sit and cry and be with the news. So later in the day I took time out to just sit and paint. This is my favourite way to process my emotions. To honour what has happened. My favourite medium is water colour.

I made time to go to her funeral with a mutual friend. We were so glad we went. It was so special to say goodbye. We could have skyped the funeral, but going in person felt so much more important. We were lucky we could go.

I sat down that evening and painted again.

Then I travelled again to my friend’s house to bring home all her books to find homes for them. Being in her house. Feeling her there. Bringing her books into my home. I felt she was still there. I was still holding on to her.

Today I knew it was time to let her go. So I had a small smoking ceremony to release her and I painted another painting.

I will always miss my friend. I have such dear memories of her. I know from experience that it was important to honour her in my way. It was important to sit with my feelings and allow them to be there. It was important to honour those feelings, which I did with my paintings.

People have other ways to do that. My dear friend’s children are going to have to find time to sit with their feelings. To honour them. To process them. They will do that in their own unique way.

I am sure that every Mother’s Day I will remember my mother’s passing and my dear friend. And there will be many more paintings.

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