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Last Lesson from My Mum

By Carol Duncan - 5th June 2010

Firstly, I'm a journalist, not a psychologist.  I am, however, a mother and a daughter.  My sons' introduction to grief, big earth-shattering loss, was also my own.  On Boxing Day 2007, two days short of her 70th birthday, my mother suffered an enormous stroke and literally dropped dead.  In my house.  At the feet of my sons - then aged 4 & 6. 

I was alerted by my youngest son's cry of, "Grandma! Wake up!"  She never did, but that's a story for another day.  The entire scene was calm.  I gently told the boys that Grandma had fainted, and to pop upstairs and turn the telly on while I took care of her.  Resuscitation attempts.  Paramedics.  Ambulance.  To hospital.  Where I told the doctors to stop.

A few hours later, I returned home to my boys who asked me how Grandma was.  I knelt down with them and explained that Grandma had gotten very sick, very suddenly, and that the doctors hadn't been able to help her.  That Grandma had died.  And we sat in a little huddle on the floor, and we cried a little, and I assured them that Grandma would have been very proud of them for 'taking care of her when she fainted'.

So how have we dealt with it?  We talk about her quite often.  Sometimes we cry.  We admit that we miss her.  But we talk about what she did, what she liked, what she loved about them.  Her secret names for them, her favourite colours and flowers and flavours.  Things she had taught me or that I remembered from when I was little.  Sometimes we're sad, but often we smile.

Just a few weeks ago, we took her ashes to scatter as she had made very clear over many years.  I hadn't taken the boys  to the funeral, I felt they were too young to deal with a room full of grieving adults!  And although it might have taken us two and a half years to fulfil her wish, we did it together.  We wrote her name in the sand and decorated it with shells and bright green seaweed.  We laughed about how much she hated swimming!  I talked with their teachers, made sure they knew what had happened, asked for any concerns to be passed on to me.

My sons know their Grandma.  They know she loved them.  They know what she liked and what she found funny.

I know their memories of her will fade over the years, but hopefully the love will remain because we talk about her.  We acknowledge her.

I was their age when her father died.  My grandfather.

I have no memories of him at all.

Comments (6)

CarolDuncan's picture


Oh Jodie,

I read the story of your sister just a day or so ago ... losing a child is our greatest fear, isn't it.

Yes, keep talking. Your 8yo is on the money about the apple!! In no way are my boys 'bombarded' with talk about my mum, but anecdotes about her, her thoughts, her habits, her whatever, are included just the same as when we talk about those that are still alive. Like my father.

My eldest brother lives in Dubai, the boys *adore* him ... and he is included in conversations just like my in-laws whom they see every couple of days.

Of course you 'know' your sister! Your parents made sure of it. Yes, sometimes it's difficult, but I know it's the right thing for my family.

As for scattering mum's ashes, it is what she wanted. It took me two and a half years to do it (!) but it was a good day - a few tears, but not too many, mostly a feeling of satisfaction that her wish had been granted.

We drove past that location today and the thought occurred to me, "I wonder how far her ashes have roamed since then?"


Jodie at Mummy Mayhem's picture


Carol - I have never read the story of your Mum's death before this. I think I started reading your blog around the time you scattered her ashes. So beautifully written - and my heart goes out to you that you had to go through that.

Your sons are so fortunate to have had their time with your Mum, and I'm quite certain they will have gorgeous memories of her. My sons hardly see their grandparents, especially my parents, because they are in their 80s and they all live in Perth. However, just yesterday, when we were washing an apple, the 8yo went to polish it with the tea towel, and said, "Remember how Grandma always does this?" She did it ONCE for him, years ago in Perth, and he remembers. I can't tell you how heartwarming that was for me to hear him say that.

My sister died at the age of 17 when I was about 6mths old. So, even though I didn't, in theory, know her, I feel as though I do, because my parents - my Mum especially - always spent time talking about Valda and telling us funny stories and the like. I could describe her as though we had grown up together. I think that's really important. To keep talking about them after they die. Some people find it difficult, but it's so very important to do.


CarolDuncan's picture

And thank you ...

Oh Nomie ... I hear you. Sudden and shocking or long and lingering ... none of it is good.


In the depth of your grief, know that there will be an other side to this story one day, and you will get there - with your children. How do you want them to remember this time in 20, 40, 60 years from now?

We can't control much in our lives, but we can try to leave memories, experiences, precious things that REALLY matter.

My thoughts are with you and your children as you go through this.


Nomie's picture


I read this with the very recent words of my Dad in my ears... his last gift to my children, is teaching them about dying with dignity. Something he will be doing within the coming months.

As hard as it is to know he will not be here, I know he will live on in them. As will your Mum in your boys in more ways than can be known.

CarolDuncan's picture

Thank you. We talk about mum

Thank you. We talk about mum often. We have quite a few of her belongings and so on, but Mr 8 knows that he has Grandma's fine blonde hair and a birthmark on the nape of his neck that is identical to hers. Mr 7 knows he has Grandma's blue eyes. They think of her whenever there is a full moon (there was an enormous full moon and thunderstorm the night she died).

Mum died a week after we moved into this new home ... here, in this house, about 20 minutes into her first visit here. On the way in, we briefly waved and said 'hi' to the Scottish neighbour - a woman about mum's age and very similar in appearance.

We have come to love her a lot over the last two and a half years, the boys spend lots of time with her, being spoilt by her, filled up with junk food by her ... all the things she doesn't get to do with her own grandchildren.

I said to her recently, "You know, the boys are going to grow up thinking Grandma had a Scottish accent ..."

And I'm happy about that. If they can't have their Grandma, they have a wonderful surrogate who loves them as if they were her own.

How long will we live on

Someone (I can't remember who) once wrote that we live on as long as the people who have know us live. In your mum's terms she will love on for the life of her grandson's. They have her memory, your written and photographic memorials and your love for her to keep her living on.

The first time you told me the story of your mum, I cried Carol. I still cry because I know how much you miss her.

See her in your sons' eyes every time you hug them.


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