Why is death such a hard thing to talk about?

With the first anniversary of my mother’s death approaching I am publishing a post written several months ago of my experience of this great loss. I will write a happy memoir to follow.
Mom: A life force that lives on within and around me.

Mom: A life force that lives on within and around me.


There is something in our society that makes death one of the most difficult topics of conversation. < I recently listened to a radio interview on Q with mortician, Caitlin Doughty about just such topic > We pretend it’s never going to happen and then when it does happen we pretend it away. I have had the unfortunate reality of losing two very special women, too early in life. My grandmother and my mother both died at the age of 59. They both experienced liver-disease symptoms. They both died within eight weeks of becoming ill. It was twenty-five years after her mother’s death that my mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.

Losing a loved one is never easy. A sudden death gives no one time to take care of unfinished business, no time to say goodbyes… a long term terminal illness can present new opportunities to right wrongs, take care of business, say goodbye… it also often comes with suffering and pain. My mother’s experience was somewhere in the middle. She knew she would die. She thought she had more time than she had. She began the work of settling her affairs. She said goodbye to most of her closest family and friends.

My mother had no regrets. She lived life just as she wished to, taking opportunities as they came. She became sick too rapidly to follow-through with everything she wished to take care of, unable to return many of the calls of those who loved her and had wanted one last talk and laugh with her and her exuberant spirit. Mom suffered. And we were all thankful that the suffering did not last longer. In her final days she was ready for the suffering to end.

I am still unable to talk about the event of her death much. My father was her main caregiver after she became ill. I provided him, and then mom as well in the end, with all of the support that I could. It was difficult seeing the changes that she was experiencing and the independence she had to gradually, but eventually entirely give up.

I have experienced a great deal of pain in my life, both emotional and physical. But you don’t know pain until you watch a loved one suffer. Until they are no longer able to tell you what they need… Until you are absolutely uncertain that she/he aren’t in a terrible pain that you might have the means to alleviate… if only you knew.

I could never have imagined the helpless feeling I had when I no longer knew. Would one more injection of morphine be enough? Or was this even pain? Perhaps she was trying to tell me something? Maybe it was involuntary and not a sign of anything?

The night we lost mom, we’d already discussed amongst us that – after seeing how the night went – we may need to bring mom to the palliative care room at the hospital. We simply couldn’t make her endure our uncertainty if someone else would know what to do and when.

Mom was a very private woman and while she was comfortable with the care my father, my sister and I provided her with, she was also indignant. She was both discouraged and angry that she had to allow us to step inside of her very private personal space. And she was sorry that she needed to put us through it. All I could do was ask mom to allow me to return the gift of care she had always provided me throughout my life.

On my 37th birthday mom was not doing well. She was confused and mixing things up, forgetful and unable to process what we were saying to her. She was also very aware of this. She was frustrated. And she was apologetic for saying and doing things that were unlike her, and for forgetting things she has never once forgotten. Mom forgot my birthday that day. Dad reminded her, and the moment that she saw me and registered who I was she wished me a very heartfelt happy birthday and apology for forgetting. She had no idea what time of day it was or how long she’d gone without wishing her first born a special day.

The rest of the day was very difficult.

The next day became even more so.

She died one year ago on the night after my birthday, before I had headed to bed to leave her in dad’s care. (I had made a practise of giving dad a couple of hours sleep and taking care of mom’s late night needs, as the night was far from restful for either of them.) The memories of mom’s struggles have now faded a little. I know the visions of her suffering will eventually be gone from my mind. However the experience of not being able to decipher mom’s needs in those final hours and minutes is etched in my mind for the rest of my days. I cannot imagine ever forgetting that feeling of despair, just as I cannot imagine ever forgetting the joy or wholeness of holding my children for the first time.

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About Trish

family legacy curator, social justice advocate, blogger, amateur photographer, reader, cyclist, runner & swimmer, mom of two