The grief journey
Death is still a taboo subject in our society. Nonetheless the vast majority of us experience the loss of loved ones. Hopefully we can learn from these experiences, instead of locking them away.
Death and dying have so much to teach us. There is so much we can share that will not only help us to deal with grief but help those around us as well.
We all will face our own death one day.
In the last six years I’ve lost six loved ones. Five of these were expected. It’s not any easier; but it gives you the chance to say goodbye… My dear wife Rosie, following a 16 year journey with breast cancer; three elderly relatives, all approaching 100; my very dear friend Jilly, whose life was tortured and punctuated by suicide attempts, inevitably succeeded.
The sixth was totally unexpected. My beautiful little granddaughter, born with serious health conditions, lost her fight at only 3 weeks old.
One day, I’ll write about this grief journey, and capture things I have learned, but that is for another day.
Rosie’s mum, who we lovingly called Mumma, passed away two weeks ago on 24th May 2021.
She was approaching 97 years old, a vibrant, caring woman with an unshakeable Christian faith, who touched many peoples’ lives over many years. As age began to take its toll on both her body and mind she was moved into high level care four years ago. Confined to bed and a layback couch, with encroaching dementia, it was clear she was ready face her own death; she had told a number of us in her lucent moments “I want to be with the Lord”.
The phone call came from Baxter Village on the Sunday morning. Mumma was fading; it was time to gather the family. These calls are always a shock, but fully expected too; it’s only a matter of time. The family were by her side constantly for the next two days and were able to say their final goodbyes. She passed away very quietly and very peacefully on Tues evening with Janet, John (daughter and son) and myself by her side.
The grief of losing Mumma brings back into painful focus the grief of losing Rosie and my other loved ones. But I also feel relief and joy. Mumma is no longer living with greatly diminished quality of life and it bring me joy to picture her reunited with Rosie, hugging, laughing and crying, together once more.
We held Mumma’s funeral last Friday at Bunurong Memorial Park, and amidst our sadness, celebrated the life of this amazing woman…
The service was streamed online as only ten people could attend with current lockdown restrictions.
Janet outlined Mumma’s life in the eulogy. My daughter Merryn gave a beautiful reflection from a granddaughter’s point of view. Both Janet and Merryn included some of the hilarious family stories that Mumma both told and was often the subject of. The service was indeed a “Celebration of the life of Nancy Mae White”.
To watch the service
If anyone would like to watch the service it is available for a limited time at:
(If you are asked for a password use: white31052021)
Press the play icon to start the video. To go straight to the start of the service move the slider to the 12:30 mm:ss point.
I also gave a reflection sharing the last two days of Mumma’s life and the moment of her passing…
For those online I’m Nancy’s son-in-law, Ian. My wife Rosie, Nancy’s eldest daughter, passed away from breast cancer six years ago. While the grief of losing Mumma brings the grief of losing Rosie back into focus once more, it also brings the joy of knowing Rosie and her mum are together once more.
Janet and Merryn have reflected on who Mumma was, how she lived, and what she meant to us. I’d like to share with you her final two days and the moment of her dying.
The Village rang Janet and I on Sunday morning to say Mumma was fading and it was time to gather the family. We arrived at the Village to find Mumma still responsive but no longer speaking or able to focus. When we spoke to her one on one she would move her head and mouth and at times tried to form a smile.
Mumma had been due to go to hospital to have a painful tooth extracted and was being given medication to keep the pain under control. Each time the medication started wearing off she would move her hand up to her mouth. The staff would give her another dose and she drifted in and out of a mostly peaceful sleep.
Knowing that hearing is the last sense to go we put Mumma’s hearing aids in. We wanted her to know she was surrounded by family, and hopefully understand what we were saying to her.
“Mumma, we’re here with you, you’re not alone.”
“We love you so much.”
“Mumma, we want you to know you’re free to go. You’ve lived a long and happy life but you’ve told us many times you want to be with the Lord.”
“Mumma, we’re so excited that you’re going to be with Puppa Ed once again. Rosie will be there too, also your Mum and Dad, and your brothers Col and Les.”
On Monday morning Mumma was still with us. Janet had slept by her side on Sunday night to make sure Mumma was not alone if she passed.
Most of the immediate family were able to visit on Sunday or Monday. The Manor staff looked after us very well, providing sandwiches and offering drinks. Sometimes the room was fairly crowded and we appreciated the staff not enforcing any limit on numbers in her room.
We took turns to sit by Mumma’s side and hold her hand. Janet and Liesel sang to her a number of times.
Mumma’s breathing had slowed noticeably but remained regular, and she stayed peacefully asleep the whole day. The one exception was when Merryn, who was in NSW, spoke to her via video chat. Mumma stirred noticeably and responded to Merryn. It was a very special moment as a tearful Merryn spoke out a beautiful message of how much she loved Mumma and thanked her for the things Mumma had taught her. I think Merryn captured what the rest of us were wanting to say but had not found the words for.
Mumma’s Final Moments
On Monday evening the family progressively made their way home leaving Janet, John and myself around Mumma’s bedside.
We were telling funny stories and laughing in typical family fashion, when around 10:30pm Janet looked at Mumma and said, “I think she’s stopped breathing!” We stopped and listened and watched. Mumma had indeed passed away very quietly and very peacefully.
It was as authentic a family moment as it could be when Mumma left. She always enjoyed being surrounded by family. Funny stories and hilarious laughter have always been part of the family fabric and Mumma was often the teller or subject of these stories.
Mumma chose to go with her three children, Janet, John and myself representing Rosie, by her side. I think that’s how Mumma wanted it to be. It was a sober and sacred moment for all of us.
Do we grieve losing Mumma? Of course we do. But relief and joy sit alongside our grief. Mumma’s final years had taken their toll. She is now free of that diminished quality of life. And we feel joy picturing her hugging and laughing with Ed and Rosie and her many friends and family gone before.