By Cathy Spooner
When I lost my mum to cancer five years ago it felt like the world had been ripped from under me. It was fast and we weren’t ready to say goodbye. But no matter how much time you have, you’re never ready for goodbyes.
The grief started before Mum was even gone, the prognosis brings on this knee–jerk reaction that replaces hope with sudden grief. It didn’t feel like there was enough space to hold that grief, the fear of losing her and also supporting Mum and Dad in whatever way I could, but then realising I had three little ones who may not actually remember their Nanny. My youngest was just 9 months old when mum left this Earth plane. I remember sitting with Mum one day as tears filled her eyes “I just wish I could be here to watch them grow up”. Me too Mum, me too.
As a mother, that’s perhaps one of the biggest pains of losing someone you love, is knowing that not only you feel the deep emptiness of the space they used to be, but that your own children will soon understand that emptiness. Grief takes on a whole new level when you have to hold that and navigate it alongside your children.
Over the years as the kids have grown up they have begun to understand the realities that come with someone’s passing. They understand the unfathomable concept that we won’t ever see or speak to Nanny again, and for little people, that hurts just as much as it does us. I’ve learned you don’t need to know someone or have experienced a lifetime with them like I did with Mum in order to feel deep loss.
Our kids are grieving the loss of their Nanny even though it’s photos and snippets of memories or stories they have been told. They have grief for what could have been. Because that’s where grief comes from. It’s the possibility of what might have been but never was. It’s the memories we won’t create. It’s the conversations we will never have.
Grief isn’t when we remember that time mum laughed so hard she was snorting like pig, or the time 2 year old Harry locked us out of the house and she had to climb through the high–set window because at 34 weeks pregnant I couldn’t. This is love and tenderness and joy from connecting into those moments. Grief is the loss of what could have been. And the kids feel that because they too are understanding what they have lost.
I’ve always been open with my grief in front of the kids. They may see me crying and I tell them I’m just missing my Mum. They are so compassionate and are on me with a huge hug. Sometimes they cry too and I don’t shush them and tell them it will be okay. I tell them I know it hurts and I know they miss Nanny. I tell them I know because it hurts me too and we don’t ever want to wish the sadness away because it comes from love.
It could be easy to think they don’t understand because they never knew her, tell them to wipe their tears and get on with reality. But they do understand because kids feel everything. They haven’t fully developed their emotional brain, so what they do until then is tune into feeling and energy. They look to us to make sense of what feels so hard to understand. Because for kids, their people that love them are their constant and making sense of why they aren’t going to be here anymore is a lot for them… it’s a lot for all of us.
Losing my mum so quickly when I was just in my thirties still feels like it’s so unfair. Why do we miss out on her being here for all the special moments with the kids and us? Why did we all get robbed of that experience with her? I’ll never understand. Losing someone never gets easier, it just starts to feel familiar. You know the pain intimately, most of the time you know what will set it off. But sometimes, the grief surfaces out of nowhere, unexplained yet needing to be felt and honoured.
I know Mum is always with us, I know she isn’t missing out as much as we feel that we are. It was Mum’s 5 year anniversary of passing just last week and that morning I felt the twinge of sadness coming on, much stronger than I had anticipated. These milestones every year feel different and this year the little girl in me was really missing her mum.
As I felt that sadness creeping up within my heart I am trying to hold it “Just keep it together until you drop the kids to school, they don’t need to start their day like this”. I’m doing all the mum things, making school lunches, prepping breakfast and quickly putting on mascara all whilst waging an internal battle to keep my emotions at bay, just for now. Then I hear Ruby call out “Mum, the angels left me a white feather”. The tears just flooded from within. It was Mum, in that moment just letting us all know she was here. I told the kids it wasn’t just an angel but Nanny that left that feather for us to let us know she is here and loves us. Harry decided the best place for the feather was beside Nanny’s photo we have in the lounge room.
Since that morning, the kids have been collecting flowers to leave at Nanny’s photo, a beautiful new ritual of love created from grief. And I guess it’s these little pockets. Showing them, and ourselves, that grief can reside alongside love and memories. Reminding ourselves that there is no time frame on grief and it is ever evolving. It does not work to concepts that the longer they are gone the easier it gets. Experiencing loss of someone you love is a beautiful spiral in and out of the loss and love. As a mother, I wish I could bring mum back for us all, and especially for our kids. But my role is teaching them about her, honouring that loss and that it’s okay to feel sad and to cry those big heavy tears. Most importantly, I teach them that nothing will take away that love because it forever has a home in your heart.
Cathy Spooner is a Motherhood and Self–Embodiment Coach and Author who lives on the Central Coast with her three children. She offers 1:1 support, group coaching, online courses and her new book Conscious Motherhood is available online. www.cathyspooner.com.au Instagram @cathyspooner_author