by Corinne Lamoral, a freelance writer and media consultant, practicing corporate communications three mornings a week. She lives with her husband and three children on a koppie in Johannesburg where she pretends the distant hum of traffic is the ocean.
My Mom passed away nearly ten years ago, 2 days after my first daughter was born and I have missed her with a sharpness that did not ease until about seven years ago. By that stage I had three children, we had moved house, I had grown up and all my memories of her were of a time in my life that no longer resembled my reality. I stopped looking for her in stranger’s faces and I stopped dreaming of her. I hardened myself and could talk about her with love but detachment. Then this month, on my birthday, I waited all day for her to call.
The grief I felt when I realised what I was hoping for brought me to my knees. I thought I had gotten over her loss. I thought, although she would always be a part of me, I had accepted her untimely death. I was not prepared for the reality that the pain would come back to me. I still miss her. I am still so sad that she left before she got to know her grandchildren, for the loss of her laughter in my life, the loss of her love and caring for me. The loss of her beautiful self.
With this sadness came the gift of compassion for someone I know going through a loss. It reminded me of what really helped in those nightmarish weeks and months after my mom’s death. I remember wanting to tell people how to approach me, how to deal with my loss. Don’t ignore it. Don’t pretend nothing has happened, if you feel awkward a simple, heartfelt, “I am so sorry for your loss,” is all that is sometimes needed.
The kindest thing you can do for someone who is mourning is to acknowledge their pain, to hear their sorrow, to offer your empathy and then to just stand on the sidelines, making tea, bringing meals, waiting for them and walking away when necessary. Talk about the person they have lost and reminisce about all the things they said and did, all the reasons you will remember them. Let them talk. Let them say nothing. Don’t tell them not to be sad, don’t tell them it will be OK, because in that moment it feels like the world has ended and no one but you knows it.
When I meet people who have faced death there is a haunting in their eyes that I recognise. There is an understanding that this world is far more random and vulnerable than you could ever bear knowing. I remember panicking if my husband didn’t call to say he’d be home late, or if the phone rang at an unusual hour, imagining all the worst scenarios. I still do that sometimes, it takes supreme trust and belief that ‘what will be, will be’. I cannot control the fate of those I love, and I cannot keep everyone safe. I have to let go of my children’s hands at some point and tell them to go out there and have fun! Just like my mother used to tell me.