Grief doesn’t flow in a linear manner, nor does it pre-warn you. No, grief hits you in the face like nothing else, and you can’t hide from it. It can come unexpectedly, anywhere and at any moment and when it does you cannot hold it in.
It has only been two weeks since my mother passed away, and I missing her more and more every single day. In the beginning I was just a bystander in a safe bubble. I watched people cry and wasn’t fully aware of what was going on. But now, the painful realisation that my mama is gone, forever, is a completely different level of sadness. My first public teary outburst was when I saw a beautiful mother and her daughter of about my age giggling on the tube. All I wanted to tell them was to please cherish every single moment of what you are having right now. Lately, when I see beautiful elderly women who look like my mum, I just want to hug them so badly. This must all be a part of the start of my grieving.
We are born with our mothers, there is no time before that; usually, we don’t know life without our mother. For that reason the most mundane things are missing already. Every morning her text would be the first thing I read, ‘Morning darling how did you sleep? What are your plans today? I love you.’ Every morning. We lived in different countries for the past nine years, which was never easy. She was a single mother and I an only child, but there wasn’t a day when we wouldn’t call or text constantly. These are little things that one has to get used to. When I hear the ping of my phone, I still, two weeks later, think it is my mum. It now feels as if no decision was ever made without my mum’s opinion or approval first. From silly things such as “which shirt should I wear today?” business decisions, relationship advice and health advice—basically anything. I miss her constant caring and love from the other side of the phone. I realise that this is just something I will have to adapt to over time, or find someone else to annoy with such questions. It is more the realization that I will never ever be able to hug her again, never be able to listen to her, never smell her beautiful scent, or touch her beautiful blond hair again. She always told me “never say never”. But that was a sweet lie. I will never be able to do that again.
All the self-pitying aside, my biggest difficulty to digest is the sadness I feel for her. I don’t know if it is a waste of time to pity someone who has died. But this idea makes me crave to know everything about death and the afterlife, if there is such a thing. Her unrelenting desire to live makes me so sad for her. We saw the cancer as a temporary inconvenience, and she still had plans that went unfulfilled. Reading her diaries from the last year, showed me how grateful she was for her life, the cancer, and the opportunities it gave her. Even though she was very ill she still truly believed that she would eventually get well enough and be able to help other people with cancer to show them a way to be positive and live each day. To take each step with consciousness, and to take each breath with mindfulness. All this was coming from what used to be an impatient, busy woman who worked 3 jobs just to save extra money for some time in the future. Following her diagnosis she dropped all her work. The cancer aroused the mindful positive being within her and made her burst with more love than ever before.
It is ironic that she was so grateful for the cancer. It made her realise that she needed to be more self-loving, that life is not all about making money, being busy and worrying about essentially unimportant things. Don’t get me wrong, she nurtured herself very well, she was the most knowledgeable, healthy wonder woman—but only from a nutritional and physical point of view. The one important thing that was missing was to nurture her soul. She lived for others, she lived for me and she never thought about her true desires. Not until she was diagnosed with cancer. In some ways it was a blessing in huge dramatic disguise, but she and I saw it as a blessing nonetheless.
I never like the discourse people use when speaking about cancer: “battle,” “fighting,” “terminal” etc. Yes, cancer is terrible and it is the reason I don’t have my mother any longer, but this discourse only allows for negative connotations, thoughts and feelings. I believe that cancer also has a beautiful side and experiencing closeness to someone with cancer reduces you to a humble being, it brings you closer than ever to the foundation of our existence. Her heart became more full and open, we both became more vulnerable to every precious moment, and the moments during that time together were authentic and unforgettable. These are beautiful things brought in the wake of the cancer. It is the beauty within the beast.
People usually tell me try and remember her the way she was before the horrible cancer diagnosis and forget about the painful time during her illness, but I disagree. The chance to look after her was so fulfilling, I never experienced as much positivity and warmth as when I looked after her and helped her in every little aspect. She couldn’t walk or go to the toilet by herself anymore but it brought us even closer. My role had rapidly shifted from daughter to carer. I miss her healthy busy self, cycling on her Dutch bike from job to job through the German Black Forest, and I miss her vulnerable ill self who was so mindful, grateful and radiant with love and positive energy.
Towards the end of her life I began to realise that a beautiful circle was closing. All the knowledge, love and gratitude she taught me throughout life, I was now giving back to her. The way she passed is just a confirmation of our closeness. The day after I returned to Germany, she passed away. She said she had been waiting for me. She asked me to stay by her bedside, something she usually never asked, and I remember being annoyed at first because I had so much work to do which I would usually do whilst she slept throughout the day. I had no idea she had started what one calls the dying process. Fortunately my intuition told me to stay with her and I lay on her bed with her for 5 hours until she died in my arms. Her last words were “I love you so much, and I want to get better”. Words that make me so grateful for such beautiful deep and unconditional love and also sad that her wish was still to get better, that she hadn’t accepted that her time had come. In some ways I hope she only said the latter for my sake and that she was fully aware that her time had come. I will never know.
Throughout the past year since her diagnosis the idea of her dying had crossed my mind. My mind occasionally started wandering and was intrigued by the challenge of loss. It is something I had never experienced before to such an extent and I could feel how thinking about the unbearable idea of losing her enthralled me in the notion of how in the centre of fear and heartache one can find grace. It hasn’t all been terrible since she died, I have laughed, spent quality time with friends, enjoyed working on developing my brands further and I have become closer than ever to those that are left in my immediate family—my aunt and cousin and her daughter. I am experiencing a new level of consciousness, one that shows me to really live my days one by one.
Mama had so many more plans, we had plans! I had imagined giving her so many more hugs over my lifetime, I had imagined that she would be the most fundamental pillar when I become a mother one day myself. I had imagined she would be there at my wedding. I had imagined so many things. But her being gone just proved to me that it can be over so quickly. I wish I had given her more hugs, told her I love her more, that I had chosen to go on holiday with her rather than staying at work because of the number of holiday days I had left.
These things can’t be changed, but were a wake-up call, and hopefully not just for me, but also for you. Give your loved one an extra hug and enjoy the beautiful moments between the two of you. I can keep hold of wonderful memories, but her smell is fading so I have put her things in plastic bags, hoping they smell like her for longer. I have also kept all her voice messages to remember her voice. The most wonderful thing is, she has been alive in every single dream I have had for the past two weeks. I now look forward to going to sleep, so I can be with her. Her hugs feel real and her smell is there too. Waking up to the realization that she is not there is intensely painful, but I ask myself will this deep sorrow rule my life or not? I will not let my pain for her loss narrate my day. It wouldn’t help me, it won’t bring her back and most importantly she wouldn’t have wanted me to. I have to make my own story. I become grateful and full of energy when I realize what beautiful people I have in my life and what opportunities lie ahead of me and I become more positive and am excited about my day ahead. I hope my grief doesn’t get worse than how it currently is, but that being said it has only been two weeks…
I know I will never fully be able to stop missing her and I know it will be especially hard in the next year or so, but I know I will be able to fill the big void that has been carved into my life with a lot of love and gratitude. Filling that emptiness will be the process of healing. If the past year hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have been able to see and feel things the way I do now and for this new state of awareness I am eternally grateful to my beautiful mother. She was so brave. I will carry on with her dreams and aspirations.
Love, Zoe Lind van’t Hof
Contributor, SERENE Social
Zoe learned about health and nutrition from her mother, who has been in the health food industry for over 40 years. This knowledge and motivation has led her to start up her own business. Having travelled with her mother to Sri Lanka to experience and learn more about Ayurveda, Zoe learned about turmeric and its benefits. The following year she went back to Sri Lanka to establish a partnership with the suppliers of our most crucial ingredient, Turmeric, and begin her journey to starting WUNDERWORKSHOP. She also recently launched BOOBS’ESSENTIAL. An essential oil blend targeting breast cancer awareness in order to shift the focus to prevention rather than cure.