9 deaths in 4 years - Reflections of a volunteer

Today it is exactly 4 years ago that my dad’s body was laid to rest, Two weeks before that I had traveled to Holland to spend a week with my parents. My dad had come home from hospital to further recover from a mild heart attack. All went well until he suddenly took a turn for the worst. It was his wish to die at home, and my mum and sisters were able to look after him in his final days with help of carers and his GP. When your parents get to a certain age your head knows that there will come a day when they will die. but nothing prepares your heart for when it actually happens.

I will never forget the moment my dad breathed his last breath,
If grief is a journey, that is where my journey began.

When my dad died, the feeling of deep sadness and loss was something I had never experienced before, not even when my grandparents had died many years ago. My dad and I had always been very close. I was his first child and he had always been my rock. For my mum his death was even more devastating. They had met when she was 16 and she had never been on her own. She was younger than him but had always had health problems and in later years had become more and more dependent on dad. My sisters and I did our best to support her as best as we could, but despite all our efforts and the professional help she received, she became more and more depressed. It was hard for us to properly grieve for the loss of our dad because we concentrated on her. In a strange way, roles had reversed and instead of her helping her children, her children had o help her. Twice she had a fall and both times she broke a hip. The second time she developed complications when she was in a care home to recover after surgery. When nothing more could be done for her we found a place for her in a hospice. I was with her in the ambulance when she was taken there on her birthday, The care the hospice team gave was fantastic. Mum died peacefully about 10 days later.

Losing both parents was the end of a chapter. It really hit me that from now on I was no longer a child and that I no longer had a family home to go back to. My sisters and I had 6 weeks to clear the house. I am so thankful we could do this together. Many tears were shed as we went through not just belongings, but so many memories. We wanted to make sure everything went to a good home.

In the last 4 years 7 other people I knew have died:

two aunts (widows of my dad’s brothers; a dear old Dutch friend;
one of my cousins in America;
a lovely lady who was like an aunt when I lived with her during my nurse training;
my next door neighbour;
one of my best friends who had moved back to New Zealand a few years ago;
my mother-in-law.

Most of them had reached a good old age, but three of these people were about my age and their deaths were very unexpected.

Looking back on my grief journey, here are some of the things (in no particular order) that have helped me:

being able to say goodbye;
receiving cards and messages ;
the love and support of family members, especially my sisters;
the ongoing support of a few good friends;
weekly phone calls with one of my sisters;
for my dad: choosing the plot for his grave;
for my mum: writing a tribute and reading it at her funeral;
the love and support of my husband and my (teenage) son;
support from my GP and my employers when I needed to take time off;
reading posts on this site and a similar site in Holland;
a bereavement drop-in cafe at my mum’s hospice;
listening to music;
attending the funeral;
putting together life stories and (online) photo albums.
My list would not be complete if I did not mention my Christian faith
(I am not talking about church or religion here, but a child-like trust in God and his Word),

The things I listed above were not always there for each of the people I lost and made it harder;
Some other things I found hard:

the number of people who never mention your loss again;
feelings of regret for not having spent enough time with the people I lost;
seeing the effects of disease on the body and mind of loved ones;
unrealistic expectations of others;
bursting into tears at the wrong moments, like in a shop;
the effect of grief on my health (lots of small things, nothing serious);
people’s first question usually is: how old was he/she, as if old age makes the loss less hard.

Many of you will probably be able to add to these lists from your own experiences.
When I became a volunteer on this site bout 1 year ago I had lost 4 people and felt that I had reached a stage in my grief journey where I could possibly give support to others.
I hope that I have done and will continue to do so.

Finally, I would like to end by reflecting on a few things I have learned (and am still learning):

Grief comes in waves, and all I can do is to let the waves wash over me until they calm down;
Life is precious - I must make the most of every opportunity I have to spend time with those I love;

Thank you for reading my reflections.
Jo

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Thank you for this beautiful, heartfelt post Jo. I found this site one long, lonely, sleepless night almost three years back, after the sudden death of my precious, beloved younger Sister. I never felt such confusion, lonliness and despair (even after witnessing my lovely Mum succumb to lung cancer 6 years prior). After our Mum passed my Sister & I held each other up, and grew even closer. We were each other’s world, and even shared mutual friends. Then the unimaginable happened and she was also diagnosed with cancer. We faced it together, and I attended her chemo treatments and Dr. appointments. All of our friends also rallied around her, and things were going well. My Sister remained strong, positive and looking forward to a future with me, and her close friends. The prognosis was “not curable, but treatable.” We were given hope. Then one tragic night 2 days before her birthday, she took a sudden turn, and died within hours of getting to the hospital. I stood by helplessly as I watched my best friend, my sweet, vivacious, funny, warm and loving little Sister, take her last breath. She coded, and I still cannot erase that image of the clinical team working fervently to bring her back, finally looking at me and shaking their heads. Life has never been the same since. I have another sibling, however she estranged herself from the family off and on all of our lives, thus I could not depend on her for any support or understanding. Friends have been caring and can share in my pain, nevertheless they do not share the life long history I have with my Sister. I lost not only my present & future, but also my past with my Soul-Mate, my Sister. I have found that very few people grasp the impact the loss of an adult sibling has on the sibling left behind. Our society tends to minimise this type of grief. That being said, I advocated for a “Sibling Loss” section on this site. I still have the birthday gifts & card I never got to give her, I mourn her, and all the plans we had. We always said we’d grow old together. My Sister was also a very faith based (not religious) person, and she helped me to find my faith. I call on it now, it seems to be the only thing I have left. Thank you for listening. Your post inspired me. I wish you and all of us Peace & Healing. Xxx :broken_heart:

Dear Sister2,

Thank you for sharing the story of your precious sister with me and that you have been able to make something good come out of this tragic loss by successfully advocating for a ‘sibling loss’ section on this site that is hopefully helping others who lost a sibling find healing and peace.

xxx Jo

Thank you Jo. And thank you for channeling your grief into volunteering here.
God Bless.

Thanks Jo for this post and my sympathy for all the loss you’ve been through.

My husband was Dutch and its an additional thing I am missing… my sister in law (in NL) is struggling too as my mother in law and father in law died and now her brother (my husband) so I can suggest it to her too, think I may look for a Dutch bereavement site too as that would help but it hadn’t occurred to me thankyou.

The Dutch site I found and used before I found this one is called:

Wie troost mij?

It means 'Who comforts me?" and has 2 sections, one where you can post your story and one where you can post a question. Your sister in law may find it helpful. If you ever want to have a chat in Dutch or talk about Holland, do let me know. Feel free to send a private message as for everyone else on here it would be double Dutch.

Jo

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