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“Don’t lose what you have, to what you have lost.”
~ Lucy Hone, TED Talk, 2019.
This year (2020) I nursed my mother at my home from February until she passed away on the 9th of June. Alison Ann Blair was just 58 years old and an incredibly loving person, who we miss so damn dearly.
The hole that an adoring mother/grandmother leaves in your life is vast and painful, made sadder by the thought of her grandchildren missing out on all she had to share.
Mum was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer in 2015 when I was pregnant with Charlotte. She had conventional treatment – a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation at the time. However, it unfortunately came back in September 2019 and treatment options were very limited. Mum chose to have no treatment after a short stint on oral chemotherapy. She did half-heartedly try some alternative cancer treatments but this was mostly to appease me.
I was desperate to save my mother’s life and learned so much through this process – about cancer and about letting go of what you cannot control.
It was difficult for me let go of the idea that I could save her.
I grieved a lot over the months that I was caring for my mum, and feel grateful that we had the opportunity to say all that we wanted to say to each other, and spend that precious time together.
She was so generous and gave me the money I needed to start my business and get this website made. She was proud of me. I will be forever grateful for the monetary support – I only wish she could’ve seen the fruition of her generosity. A Nourishing Notion will always be part of her legacy.
We shared a bed for a good chunk of time, something that was equal parts annoying and beautiful.
We had great chats. I was open and honest, and shared with her my views on spirituality and what happens when we die. This brought great comfort to a woman who was open-minded, yet never had spiritual beliefs of her own.
Weird shit the mind does to try and make sense of a situation…
I thought about ‘sudden death’ vs ‘death by illness’ and tried to figure out which was better! Such a silly thing to do! But I truly felt gratitude for the cancer allowing us the opportunity to realise how special life is, and how much we need to cherish our time here on Earth. Gratitude for this time together allowed me to cope with my grief better too.
At times I felt myself blocking out the situation or spending a lot of time being “busy”, and had to consciously check in with myself. This was all part of self-preservation – shielding oneself from uncomfortable emotions; plus when you allow your emotions to be felt…it can be so damn tiring!
I probably didn’t spend as much time as I should have with my mum out of my own discomfort, in general I find it hard to sit down during the day so it was even harder to go and lie down with her for any length of time. But mum understood and had no expectations of me, just lots of thanks and love (and the odd demand…ok many demands – dying people can get very particular!!).
So many times I had to choose to “lean in” – something I often do with my children during challenging times as a parent. You want to run far far away from the pain, but growth comes from closeness and feeling, so it is worth “leaning in”.
On top of the usual intensity of caring for a dying loved one, my mind was full to the brim with worries – mum’s health deteriorated at the beginning of when New Zealand went into complete lockdown – throughout that time I was so afraid she would never see her friends or family again – her elderly mother in particular.
Courage and Vulnerability
Brené Brown describes how vulnerability and courage go hand in hand. At a time when material items no longer meant a thing, I could be courageous and vulnerable for mum so she could leave this world in an authentic and easeful way.
Brave to the Bitter End
Her ability to rapidly accept her situation and death was incredible. She was scared, yet brave and selfless, – she did not want to worry her loved ones, and remained staunch to the bitter end.
Life will never be the same, but I am determined to keep enjoying life, challenging myself, and showing my children that it is ok to be sad and deeply miss your loved ones, yet at the same time carry on living a vibrant life.
I feel mum near, she is our guiding light when darkness is upon us.
You may have heard of this “framework ” – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance (DABDA) are known as the 5 Stages of Grief. These stages are not meant to be complete or chronological.
Reactions to illness, death and loss are as unique as the person experiencing them. Some people’s grief may follow this framework to a tee, while others jump around or only experience a couple of the stages.
This was certainly true for my mother when coming to terms with her fate, jumping from denial to bargaining, and then to acceptance relatively quickly. And to be honest I don’t even know where my grief fits within the DABDA framework, and that’s ok!
People keep telling me how strong I am, but ‘strong’ doesn’t sit right with me, I don’t believe it is strength so much as resilience. The following is a summary from Lucy Hone’s TED Talk on resilience in 2019:
Resilient people get that shit happens; suffering is part of life. When tough times come along they seem to understand that suffering is part of human existence. Knowing this stops you from feeling discriminated against when the tough times come.
Negative vs Positive Emotions
We are good at focussing our attention on negative emotions. Positive emotions don’t tend to predominate in the same way. The focus on negative emotions was helpful from an evolutionary perspective, as we were paying attention to things that would’ve killed us. We now live in an era where our threat focus and stress response is permanently dialled up, and our brain treats threats (which occur all day everyday!) as if they were putting us at risk of imminent death, even though they typically are not.
3 strategies for resilience in times of adversity:
- Being selective about where you direct your attention. Resilient people have a habit of realistically appraising situations and typically focus on the things they can change, and accept the things they cannot.
- Not diminishing the negative, but working out a way to tune into the positives. Find things that you are grateful for – an intentional, deliberate and ongoing effort to tune into what is good in your world.
- Checking in on yourself: “Is the way I am thinking and/or acting helping me, or harming me?”
Three Good Things
The “Three Good Things” study (a practice of noting down 3 good things about your day, on a daily basis, for 6 months), showed significant improvements in resilience, and mental and emotional wellbeing. Gratitude truly does go a long way in building resilience.
Willingness is all you need…
Resilience is not a fixed trait that only some people have. All anyone requires is a willingness to give these strategies a go.
If something happens to you and you think “there is no way I am coming back from this” lean into these strategies for support. It is not easy to think this way, it doesn’t remove all the pain, but it allows you to realise that you can live and grieve at the same time.
Thank you for reading,