After three days unconscious, my Granny finally let go and stopped breathing. My Mum, aunt and I had spent those days together with her and her husband. We wore the same clothes all week, slept on the floor of my Granny’s living room and survived on tea and biscuits, gin and crisps and hospital fried breakfast. We had laughed, cried, talked and hugged. We were hollow with exhaustion and grief and dried out and stiff from hospital air and our vitaminless diet. Slowly and painfully over the course of a few months we had lost a mother, grandmother, supporter and friend. And we had bonded deeply through this experience. I learnt three tenets of coping with grief:
- Stick together. Being close to those you love is vital. Being close to children with their different perspective is particularly reassuring.
- Feel however you feel. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
- Do something life affirming. We are reminded that life is short and we need to feel alive.
Life affirming for us meant walking. A few weeks after the funeral we signed up to do a walking marathon for Macmillan, who helped me through my cancer experience, together this summer. There were lots of reasons not to do it. Walking wasn’t something we’d done together before. While walking is my life and work, my Mum and aunt don’t have any time to do mad walking challenges. This length of walk was a daunting and excessive challenge. However, it was the right thing for us to do and there have been radical benefits for each of us.
When our mother’s die, we step into the psychological gap between us and death. My mother, the eldest, felt that her own life had become more finite. She looked back on what she had and hadn’t done in her life. She decided that she wanted to have the health and fitness into old age that her mother didn’t. My Granny had no truck with physical exercise and she would have disapproved of us taking on this crazy mission. In training, walking has become a new way of life for my Mum. We started with a walk in the cold rain in January, feeling resistant to being out. At the end of that walk we were riding a natural high and feeling full of ideas, optimism and strength.
Walking has become a way for my mother and aunt to engage more with their local area and connect with the seasons. We are feeling fitter and stronger. Walking is simple and easy to include in every day life. It has also become a way to grieve. A time to think and reflect and be mindful. It has become a continuation of the bond we formed through mourning. We are tackling a new challenge together and while walking we keep moving forward even when we feel overwhelmed with sadness. We are walking for my Granny, who we know would be shaking her head in disapproval, and for us.
Do find out more about our Macmillan marathon walk here.