Losing my mum


It is over 9 years since my life was shattered by the passing of my beloved mum, Penny. 

Every day without her is agonising, but birthdays, Christmas and anniversaries intensify the grief – a reminder, perhaps, of a gaping wound that will never heal.


I could never have imagined the impact her death would have on me. Despite her terminal lung cancer diagnosis, I felt wholly unprepared for her rapid deterioration, her subsequent death and the sheer desolation I would feel still feel years later.

Her death had a more profound effect on me than anything before or since.


Mum had been suffering from lung cancer for some months, having finally been diagnosed accurately after an earlier misdiagnosis. She’d busied herself throughout her illness shielding my father, my sister, and me from the seriousness of her condition. She would frequently play down her illness and forbid her sister (who had accompanied her to her hospital appointments) to tell the rest of the family the gravity of the situation. This stoical, selfless attitude was typical of her, but her reticence and unwillingness to disclose the facts and accept subsequent help was extremely frustrating for the rest of the family.

We knew she was seriously ill, but a combination of denial and blind hope ensured we desisted when she deflected our questions and constant probing about her condition. We would have done anything for her to be well, and in our hearts, we wanted to believe that her condition wasn’t as bad as we feared.

Being ill had caused my mother immense frustration, and she found the inconvenience of being breathless and unable to continue her frenetic daily activities almost unbearable. Even though she was retired, she chaired numerous committees and had various voluntary roles, and was an all-round, tireless busy-bee. There was certainly no time to be ill, and the fact that the relentless march of her illness eventually slowed her down forcing her to reduce both her work and leisure activities had infuriated her. Being viewed as anything other than capable and formidable was more than she could stand, and she had fought her cancer’s unyielding march with every ounce of strength she could muster. 

Much to her annoyance, she had not been able to shield us from the terminal diagnosis she was given, just a fortnight before her death. She knew that she had to share with us that she was dying – no doubt so that we could prepare ourselves for the horror that would ensue.

She delivered the news in an unemotional, matter of fact fashion, displaying unwavering courage and fortitude. The damage to her lungs was so extensive that nothing further could be done, and the cancer had also spread to her liver. Her bravery was both remarkable and inspirational, and I wondered how anyone could be so strong faced with such devastating news. Conversely, the rest of the family fell apart.

We had thought - hoped - that she would have many months, and even years to live.  Sadly, it was not to be. She contracted pneumonia, and her lungs were too besieged with cancer to withstand it. Saying goodbye to her as she lay clinging to life in her hospital bed was torturous. I couldn’t find the words to do her justice and to convey how much I loved her and what she’d meant to me. I panicked as she slipped away, unable – and unwilling - to comprehend being without her. For the first time, I faced the harrowing reality that my life would never be the same again. I was distraught.

Her descent into a painfully thin, frail and vulnerable lady was terrifying. Just days before her death, she’d chaired a community health council meeting, oxygen canister and all. Despite her defiance and determination to pretend she wasn’t ill, the initial difficulty she’d encountered with diagnosing her condition made her succumbing to it inevitable.

That pernicious, spiteful illness seemed all the crueller because my mother was not a smoker; the chances of contracting lung cancer isslim in non – smokers, and I suppose she was just unlucky. There is no point in being bitter about it, but despite my best endeavours I still find it immensely difficult to come to terms with the fact that she was misdiagnosed. There is no doubt that precious time was lost, but I try not to dwell on it.  

And that was it: the ghastly realisation that she was gone forever overwhelmed me. Every fibre of my being wanted to stay with her, holding her hand; the horror of life without her too difficult to contemplate.  How could I leave her alone in this hospital side-room, I thought? I eventually had to be prized away from her. I had never felt such desperation, such torment.  

I felt a debilitating fear of life without her; the safety net that she provided - the safety of her love – had been brutally ripped away. I wondered how I’d cope.

It seemed unspeakably cruel that my then 17- month- old daughter, would grow up without her nain (grandmother). How it tears me apart even now to know how Annie’s life would have been enriched had my mother lived longer; and how she would have nurtured her adoringly as she did with me. I grieved for my daughter’s loss as well as my own. How my heart bleeds for my sister, whose two children never met their nain. I felt a bitter, boundless fury at the unfairness of it. 

Words can’t express how much I miss her, her warmth, her smile, her good-humour.  She was affable, funny and generous - and had a razor- sharp intellect. She had flaws too, of course, not least her impatience.  She huffed and puffed her way through life, cursing queues, traffic jams, and any other enforced delays. 

The loss of my mother has changed me, of that there is no doubt. The grief, the searing pain, endures to this day. I look on enviously as other women my age enjoy the company of their mothers, but console myself that I was lucky enough to have a wonderful mother for 34 years.  

I could burst with pride as I remember how upbeat she was, how supportive and inimitable. And despite my grief, I will smile today as I reflect on how lucky I was to have a mother like her.