Finding out your mother is going to die is nothing anyone can prepare you for. Not when you’re 16. Not ever. Not when you have no idea what the diagnosis ‘end stage COPD’ even means.
It’s a disease that you have to explain to your friends. You tell your close friends and they don’t have a clue what it is, or that ultimately it means the person doesn’t have much time left. The difference between cancer and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), is that cancer can be cured in some cases, whereas COPD cannot. It’s a progressive lung disease that mainly affects the elderly, but my mum was only 52 when she received the prognosis. They said she had two years to live. Flash forward three years, she’s still here, fighting.
The uncertainty crushes you.
Doctors have given her two months to live now, but this is still an estimate. The clock feels like it’s ticking, but realistically, there is no ‘certain’ clock. Although she can no longer walk, or stay awake for longer than a few hours- sitting by her in her hospital bed, listening to her stories of hopes of an afterlife and her childhood memories are what brings me comfort in difficult times.
Being away at college can make you feel even more alone.
No matter how many friends you make once you go to university, you still feel ashamed to tell them your mother’s dying- and often don’t tell anyone. It’s unlikely many of your close friends are in the same situation, so you feel the need to not say anything at all.
But your life isn’t going to come to a standstill during her illness.
Although I’m now 19 and in university, the pain from the day I found out the prognosis still haunts me. I’m constantly overwhelmed by a guilty feeling, that I’m living my life at university, unable to see her as frequently as I wish. But it’s important to know although you need to make as much time as possible for your loved one, you can’t put your life completely on hold.
You fail to acknowledge her body is giving up.
The pain she’s in when she can’t breathe, the constant delusional states from endless medication, and how you no longer feel surprised when the hospital ring to say she’s been rushed to A&E, are all things a 19-year-old should never have to experience.
You don’t feel so hung up on things that mattered so much before.
Breaking up with that guy you thought you really loved and petty arguments with friends seem trivial now; only recently I feel that I have pulled myself together, and started telling my mother how much I love her. Finding out a loved one’s dying releases emotions you never though you had.
You’re not the same person you were before, but it makes you stronger.
Of course, you won’t always feel strong, especially if you’re already struggling with your own mental health problems. You aren’t the same person- you’re numb to what’s happening, but you cope. Yes, you may feel like you’re falling into a deep black hole at times and it’s okay to cry- but ultimately you stay strong for that amazing woman who brought you into this world. For years I thought the day my mum dies, will be the day I die. But it’s not about me anymore, it’s about the woman my mum wants me to be when her body leaves this earth and her spirit remains with all of us.