Wednesday 21 August 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'Grief really is very odd... there's one nice-ish thing that has occurred since my mother died'

Dr Ciara Kelly. Photo: David Conachy
Dr Ciara Kelly. Photo: David Conachy

With all the relentlessly positive, New Year, New You stuff that's out there at the minute, I thought I'd buck the trend and talk a bit about bereavement and grief, just to bring you all down. You're welcome!

As some of you may know, my mum died last May which, for lots of things, is a long time ago but in grief terms is relatively recently. Yes, if you went on holidays last May it would seem like a lifetime away and something that you can barely remember now. But the weird, slow journey of processing your feelings after a loved one dies moves at a snail's pace in my experience. So I think I'm only just getting glimpses of what it means to me now. It's like there's a veil over the loss that my mind has thrown up protectively and I only pull it back occasionally and briefly - and look at and feel the sorrow in small bite-sized manageable chunks.

Christmas, however, was one of those times. It was quite hard. Now I love Christmas and I always look forward to it but somehow it seems to heighten emotions as you try to have a perfect Christmas with your family and provide special memories for your kids.

And I am the first to say perfection is never the goal, in fact it's the enemy, but you do keep hearing about the wonderfulness of it all - having all your loved ones around you - and it's very hard to ignore the fact when some of them aren't.

So I noticed the absence of mum in a way I don't normally at work - or of a Tuesday afternoon while doing the grocery shopping. She's not supposed to be there then. She was supposed to be there at Christmas. And oddly the sadness I felt around all of that made me wish she was there to comfort me about it and that made me sad too. I simply missed her.

And a couple of times I found myself crying completely unexpectedly and occasionally very inappropriately! But I'm not big on decorum anyway so I was mostly OK with that.

I did say I'd tell you about my travels through grief from time to time when I first wrote about it in that numb haze back when it first happened. And I'm happy to report that one nice-ish thing that has occurred is I find the memories of mum that are now asserting themselves, are not the ones of her death or her illness over the last few years of her life. My mum had dementia which is a peculiar way to lose someone as they slip away from you for a long time before they go, so death isn't a shocking bolt from the blue but rather the loss is a slow burn that creeps up on you in layers of defeated acceptance - no, the memories coming now are from long before that time.

They are of us laughing 'til we cried in New York after she couldn't work the mobility scooter I had hired for her - so she shouted at people in a panicked voice to "GET OUT OF THE WAY" on the sidewalks as she didn't know how to stop!

They are of her rolling down her car window to berate a teenage girl for her clothes - thinking it was me - it wasn't. "Why are you wearing that!?" she demanded. And in her embarrassment on realising her mistake, just rolled the window up and drove off, never explaining to the poor confused girl why she'd said it!

They are of her practically moving in when I had my first child whom she more or less refused to put down at any point in the day, saying he liked sleeping on her shoulder more than in his cot. It was true - he did. They are of her comforting me when I was upset about something and giving me her own combination of kindness always mixed in with a "you know you can do this" theme.

It's nice that these are the ways I am remembering her now. But it's also sadder. When I was remembering her in the nursing home, unwell and confused, I understood that it was good she was released from all that. I understood it was her time to go.

Now I kind of wish I could just have her back. Old her. Not recent her. Because there really is no one like your mum at any age. And I wish she was here to comfort me about that too. Grief really is very odd.

@ciarakellydoc Ciara presents Lunchtime Live weekdays on Newstalk Radio, 12-2pm

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