29 days, one day for each year I’ve been alive. From diagnosis to the day my mum died, 29 days, that was all the time we were permitted. When you lose your mum, it comes with a dreadful feeling of isolation. No matter what age you may be, there’s nothing in this world more heart wrenching than to watch the person who made the very fabric of your soul, that one person who watched you take your first breath, to have to watch them take their last breath. Death has never been so real in watching my mum die. You get this feeling that you are now truly on your own in this world. As I write this, I hear the clock tick by, and with every tick, my mum’s memory is disappearing into the past. With every tick, like a scavenger I search for memories of her, searching for the sharpest memories that I can put into the permanent parts of my mind. My mum lay on her hospital bed, propped up with pillows at either side and she asked me to do something for her. It was to plan her funeral with her and as much as I didn’t want to talk about planning her funeral I could see such dignity and strength in a woman not afraid of death. Her words where “You are my son, take this loss one day at a time and allow grief its space, cry when you need to, you have to live the best possible life for me and you because you’re my strongest” and that made me realise, how can I not make her final wishes a reality. Having to face death is most certainly the last thing I thought I would be facing in university, it changes all features of your life.
“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.”
My mum died so unexpectedly and so suddenly through second year, that I didn’t get time to process her cancer diagnosis. University had been great with extensions and their continued support while I dealt with the funeral process. It had been an extremely devastating time for my family and me. But it was also very important to my mum that I commit myself to finishing out my second year and continue into final year. It has been six months since my mum passed away, and I can tell you that at present, I miss her beyond any comprehension. The last six months have brought me so many different emotions, some of which I can’t tell if it’s sadness, angry or happiness. What I do understand, as I experience this journey, is that for every person I’ve met who’s experienced a great loss, his or her grief is unique to him or her. For me though, I had switched into autopilot, because I had to think academically and also think about planning my mum’s funeral and executing these plans. The emotions that accompany grief intensify for a long time after the death has taken place. For myself, I had to grieve after the funeral, as per my mum’s requests. I received my student loan in April and used it to cover the cost of the funeral; one thing I learnt is that death pays for itself, there’s no need for Marketing or Public Relations. I’ve read tons of different articles about how some bereaved students may suffer academically; there definitely is a sense of bewilderment about thinking academically and feeling the full weight of grief. Compounded in my grief, I still needed to sit two exams and considering how delicate the situation was I passed them two exams with firsts.
”Just because you can’t see my internal pain, doesn’t mean its not there”
Grief is perhaps, one of the most invasive feelings; it touches every aspect of your life and shakes all your foundations. After University had finished, I spent the summer in bed. I replayed the events of what just happened, recalling every conversation with every doctor and nurse that crossed my path during my mum’s short battle. I felt I was silently imploding, I felt I was dying myself, because I couldn’t let my mum go yet. I begged and pleaded for resolution from the grips of grief. For myself the fog is lifting and I was very accepting of my mum’s death from early on but I did have extreme anger at the forces that surrounded the death of my mum. At present I allow myself the space to grieve when I need to, I wear grief on my sleeve because I believe it’s vital to express myself. What I am learning about the process of grief is that there isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve a loss, and no amount of accelerating of the process will fix it. No person should tell you how to grieve, the only person who can do that is yourself. No wound is as mentally as large as losing your mum. The mental pain however is beginning to become bearable, which is allowing myself to concentrate in final year. Grief to me is as simple as this; it has no rules or regulations in how and when it chooses to consume all corners of your mind, body, and soul! Grief to me is life experience. Grief to me is a mental and physical journey every single individual will take, no matter how much wealth or health we have, it’s a must do journey.
Kevin Doonan is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found at: Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/irishcuchulainn/ ; Twitter – @KevinODunain ; Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/irish_cuchulainn/ ; LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevin-patrick-doonan-54749056/