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Mother's Death

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During my senior year of high school, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. That was in 2008, the beginning of the end, though we didn't know it yet. I was 18 and lived alone with her and our dog. She started working part-time, then not at all as the chemo treatments progressed. I cooked, I cleaned, I walked the dog, I did the grocery shopping, I went to school, I applied to colleges, I had a part-time job, I took her to doctor's appointments, I tried to have a social life. I feel like I failed at each and every aspect of it. I wasn't very good at keeping house, I had some of the worst grades of my academic career, I hated my job, and I fought with my mother, even in her time of greatest vulnerability and pain. I was an awful caretaker.

But then the summer arrived, and I was off to college. She was too sick to come with me, so I went with my older brother. It was exciting, on the other side of the country, I was free to be young. And then my grandfather died. A month later, my grandmother died. Two months later, my mother was re-diagnosed.

This time, the cancer had spread to her liver. One surgeon she met with refused to do the procedure- it was too risky, and she had blood clotting in the area that would make it even trickier. Without the surgery, she would have a year, at best. We found another surgeon. He felt it would be difficult, but doable, and worth the risk. She made it through, and began a second round of chemo soon after. I flew back to college.

It was an incredibly academically rigorous school, and I struggled to keep up. By the middle of my second semester, I decided to leave. I was depressed, never having fully given myself time to grieve for my grandparents, I felt out of place, I felt like I wasn't focused enough on anything to be learning. I decided to take a medical leave of absence, and return home to live with my mother.

She was still in her second round of chemo, and though physically weak, her spirits were strong. She was glad to have me home. I worked 2 part-time jobs, and took care of the house and her, as I had in high school. She seemed to be getting better, and our relationship felt a little better too (we'd had a history of being very contentious housemates- I was the angry adolescent and she the overbearing mother). I decided to go back to school that fall.

For me, it was disastrous. I hadn't spent nearly enough time dealing with my depression before returning to school. I developed extreme anxiety, and struggled to leave my apartment to make it to class. I barely slept or talked to anyone. But I made it through.

Spring semester, I went abroad. I lived at sea for 6 weeks and did oceanographic research, and finally was able to enjoy being alive for just a little bit. I came back to a warm, happy summer spent living at my brother's house, with frequent visits from our mother and the dogs.

Then, in August of 2010, they found more cancer. It was all throughout her body- her liver, her lungs, her lymph nodes. They weren't sure what they could do. We weren't sure what we were supposed to do. We just had to keep going. I went back to school, and my brother moved back home to be with her. In less than two months, she was gone. I made it home in time to see her, but she was already unconscious from the morphine when I arrived. 45 minutes later, her breathing stopped. And my world came crashing down. She was 59 years old. I am 20 years old. There was so much about my mother that I hated, that drove me crazy, but I cannot let her go. It's been almost 3 months since she died, and I have barely had time to grieve. Because my father is not part of the picture, my brother (who is 22 and in graduate school) and I have had to deal with funeral arrangements, estate planning stuff, lawyers, life insurance, taxes, and a house full of stuff, our house full of our childhood, full of our mother. And we both have to be in school. There' s just no time. I don't know how to make time for this. I am devastated. I am lost. I am terrified. I am so profoundly sad. And I feel like the biggest failure ever. I am wallowing in my school work- stressing out about it, but not actually doing it. I am afraid that I am going to fail out of school. But I want so badly to be in school, to finish it and graduate. I just know that I can't stop, because if I stop I won't ever get going again. But if I don't stop, I don't know that I will ever find time to grieve. I can't schedule "grieving time" into my daily planner. It doesn't work that way. It shows up when you're in the library, working on a problem set, and you have to suppress it, lest you become that girl who cries in libraries. I have a couple friends here who know what I'm dealing with, but even they tend to forget, as I would expect them to. They are just living their lives as normal college students. Other than my therapist, nobody really knows. I just feel like such a failure, like I can't possibly do what I need to do to be a functional human being, to heal, to grow, to learn. I just want my mom back.

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Hi AlmostErin,

You're going to find that there's a quite a few of us on here at the moment who lost our Mums to cancer around about the same time - mine was Nov 2010...So you're absolutely not alone. If you read back through posts you'll see that everyone is attempting to deal with this horrendous pain, in very different ways, all of which seem to be totally normal. Not that any of us feel remotely normal. I completely got your sentiment of not wanting to be the girl who cries in libraries...I've done so many things since I first realised Mum was really dying that I totally cringe over, feel like I've become someone I don't recognise & loathe...

College is a probably a good thing, as long as someone there knows what's going on with you.It's too big a thing to hide & there's probably someone there who can give you some support. If your work is affected remember it's the grief doing that, not you. These are just my thoughts though, & there are lots of people on here whose advice is much much more tried & tested.

I'm really sorry this has happened for you & your family too.

Big hug

Becka XXX

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Dear almostErin,

I'm so sorry to learn that you lost your mom to cancer, and what a wonderful daughter you must be to have cared for her so selflessly. I simply cannot imagine how you managed to keep all those responsibilities on your plate at once. How overwhelmed and exhausted you must have felt! And now here you are in a world that's been turned upside down, struggling to keep your mind on your studies, at the same time feeling devastated, lost, terrified, profoundly sad ~ and surrounded by friends "living their lives as normal college students." Yikes.

It's good to know that you're working with a therapist (who has experience in grief counseling, I hope) ~ but I also want to point you to National Students of AMF, an organization whose mission is to support college students grieving the illness or death of a loved one. Its services are specifically aimed at young people who find themselves in circumstances similar to yours:

"Students of AMF campus chapters provide direct support to college students coping with the illness or death of a loved one-- a large group of students, in serious need. 22-30% of college students have been grieving the death of a loved one in the last year. College provides an extremely difficult environment to cope with loss. Students often experience a decline in GPA, social anxiety, and feel 'alone, helpless, and guilty.' Students of AMF campus chapters use a collaborative, community-based approach to supporting college students coping with the illness or death of a loved one through three components: Support Group, Service Group, and Angels program (faculty/staff mentoring). Students of AMF chapters connect students to other peers who 'understand' through a Support Group, provide opportunities for all students to raise awareness and funds for important causes through the Service Group, and opportunities for faculty and staff mentors (Angels) to provide support to members of the Support Group."

See this page especially: Grief Support. You can sign up for the AMF newsletter here, Newsletter Request and you'll find AMF on Facebook here: National Students of AMF Support Network

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AlmostErin, I am so sorry to hear about your mom. I too am grieving for my mom, who passed in November from lung cancer complications.

You are not a failure. You took great care of your mom and I know she appreciates and loves you very much. You've got a lot going on right now. Is it possible to lessen the number of classes you're taking? That might ease your stress level and also give you more free time to focus on yourself and your loss.

I'm new to this site, but already I feel some relief knowing other people are dealing with the same issues I am. Please keep reading and posting here as it may help to get things out of your head. I also started a journal and write to my mom every couple of days or whenever I need to. It's hard, but I also think it helps to get the thoughts out of my head and onto paper.

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almostErin I'm so sorry for your loss especially because you're so young and it's not fair. You seem like you've had to grow up from a very young age, I am 21 I was 20 when I lost my dad, I didn't have to sort out all the funeral stuff because there was family around to help but I also feel like I have to look after everyone now and grow up before my time. But it's so much worse for you because you were a main carer!! I know what you mean about finishing studying, I was in the middle of my degree, luckily the times worked out so I was able to take off a few months but I just didnt want to drag it out and come back to it later so I decided to finish and thats what I'm doing now. Lots of people say "I wouldnt have come back if I were you" and you're totally right with the not having time to grieve, first it was like yeah wanna keep busy wanna get it out of the way but because I'm away from home I would feel helpless and just cry sometimes out of nowhere and stuff in class made me feel bad sometimes because it was a lot of bereavement related/health related. But now it's been a few months, I am glad I cam back because I'm looking forward to finsihing, but I have exams and sometimes you think you're ok and then you just break down. Anyway I'm just saying this because if it's possible maybe take a few months off when you're at the stage where you cry everyday? And then later it will become less and it'll be good to come back to studying and although it's so difficult to stay focused if you let them know about your circumstances and just do as much as you can but dont push yourself

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I am so sorry for the loss of your mom. It is totally not fair to lose a parent or both but, at such a young age - It's just not right. I tried to reply a couple of times but, couldn't because it hits me too close to home. I can't help but think of my own children going through such a horrendous pain. Granted, I'm still young but so was your mom. It's scary on a whole new level. My heart just breaks for you, Almosterin.

You had a tremendous amount of things on your plate. I commend you for having the responsibility and trying to get it all done. I am so sorry that you had to handle all of that AND the funeral arrangements. That must have been hard. I was lucky that my parents handled all of their own arrangements after they retired. All I had to do was pick the flowers, mass cards and the date. I thought that was hard until I read your post. You should be proud of yourself for doing all of that. You have to handle the estate and all by yourself? Do you have family or a close friend who can help you? Dealing with the grief is one story dealing with the legality of it all is another. You can't possible handle that all on your own. My parents died 10 months apart and they, my brother and I live in 3 different states. My brother and I had a hard time dealing with the house, its sale, its contents, etc. We didn't have that much time because of the distance so we had to make quick decisions. Some I can live with, some I regret. But I think, along with the unbelievable pain and disbelief of it all, comes regret of some kind for all of us. It is hard to work through but hopefully we'll all get there. If you can, try to just focus on one thing at a time. I know that is easy for me to say but, if you can, that might help.

Of course you feel devastated, lost, terrified and profoundly sad but, you are NOT the biggest failure. You have been plunged into the depths of pain and grief at no choice of yours. That is a lot for anyone to handle. You did and are doing the best that you can. That is all that any of us can do. You know what? If you become the girl that cries in the library - then so be it. You have to do what you have to do. No one can feel what you feel. Please take your time and take a deep breath. As far as the few people who know and have gone on with their lives, unfortunately, that happens at all ages. I am 40 years old and people have done that to me also. Pretty much if you have never experienced this kind of loss for yourself, it is impossible for you to understand at any age. I put on a "face" in front of people most of the time but, deep down I am broken. It's a lonely place to be. This web site helps, though.

I wish I could offer more words of encouragement. I want to say so many things but, just can't find the right words. Please just know that we are all here for the same reasons - we lost a dear loved one. Please keep sharing and reading other peoples stories and hopefully you will realize that you are not alone in this journey.

I am sending you a huge (((((((hug))))))).


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Becka, thank you for your kind words; they truly mean a lot to me.

I completely relate to the idea of cringing over things you've done since acknowledging that your life is changing in scary and devastating ways...I find that sometimes I let myself play the victim (oh, look at what the cruel world has done to me!), and then hating myself for acting as though my suffering is somehow noble, profound or special. You're right that it's probably best not to hide what's going on, but I struggle with finding the balance between wanting everyone to know that I'm going through a Difficult Time and simultaneously hoping that no one will notice at all...to be pitied or to be stoic? It's hard. I don't really know who to be (or how to be).

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I know what you mean about growing up before your time...dealing with death, particularly a parent's death, seems like something you're not supposed to deal with until much later in life. But, of course, things happen as they happen, regardless of what you think is supposed to happen.

Being at school has, overall, definitely been a good thing these past couple months. I know that I need to finish my degree, and I know that I want to. Also, being around students so focused on the future is helpful when sometimes you just want to wallow in the past, in your should-haves, could-haves, and if-onlys. You just have to keep going, because you can't really put life on hold.

I want so badly to be normal, to feel normal, so for now I'm pretending that things are normal. As much as I want to stop and just curl up in a ball and absolve all responsibility, I know that it would just make getting back into real life even harder in the future. I tell myself that once I graduate, I can take some time to just be, I can pause and breathe and grieve. But that's both so far in the future (a year), and also so soon, and there's so much in between now and then. I'm exhausted. But I hope that because I've made it this far, I can make it just a little bit farther. I just wish I could figure out a way to do it where I don't hate myself every step of the way, where it doesn't feel like I'm just barely doing "good enough". I don't want to have to scrape by, but I have never, in the entirety of my academic career, felt that I am better than just okay, because I've never felt like I've ever tried hard enough. These are obviously problems that extend beyond the loss of my mother, but I feel like her illness and subsequent death have just amplified my belief that, yes, my circumstances suck, but really, I just suck. I suck for not dealing with her death better, I suck for not being more efficient at grieving, I suck for not being better when she was around, and I suck for being such a baby about it all. I know you said not to push myself, but I feel like if I don't push myself, I won't do anything at all, and I don't want that to happen. I just don't know how to be okay anymore. <br>

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2sweetgirls, thank you so much for your support. It's so helpful to be reminded that I can take my time. I know that I shouldn't be so hard on myself, but I'm afraid of making rash decisions and regretting things, but as you said, I think that regret is inevitable. Things can never be exactly the way you wish they could be. It;s hard, but you're right- one thing at a time, one day at a time. Thank you again for your kind words.

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hi almostErin,

I'm so sorry for the loss of your Mom and for all that you had to go through. I can't even imagine, I lost my Dad suddenly without warning.

I'm sorry you have to deal with so much now, just the stress and pressure of college added to more than enough already.

I wish I could say more but I'm struggling at the moment. I just hope you will find a little peace here knowing others can relate to some of what you are going through.

wishing you much peace and comfort,



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When you say "I suck for not dealing with her death" from what I can see that is so far from the truth, you're still there you're carrying on you've decided to stay and finish. My aunty who lost her dad stayed at home wallowing not looking after her children properly and feeling sorry for herself now that in my opinion is not grieving efficiently. And you say for being a baby but you know that's not true! You've had so many responsibilities think about other kids our age I dunno about you but around me all they have to worry about is partying, socialising nothing else. You deserve sympathy from other people this isnt just an everyday occurence and thats what you need to remember!

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