Monday, 9 May 2016

How to deal with a friend who's Mum just corked it.

Death and grief are very personal, we all feel differently, we all hurt differently and we all cope differently. I don't pretend to know what other people need to get them through the dark days, but here are some "do's and don'ts" that I wish I'd written down and sent out to my friends and family before my Mum died. Maybe they will help you to be a better friend to someone in the future, maybe you've already done/not done these things for a friend who is in their own particular grieving period, and you can congratulate yourself on being fucking brilliant, whatever, I felt they were worth noting down and sharing.

Do's and don'ts of supporting a friend who's Mum just corked it.

Do... Visit, call, write, text, email. Yes, I know you don't know what to say to me, I don't know what I want to hear, but contact is better than no contact. Recite poetry, tell me about your shitty day at work, let your kid/cat/dog chat down the phone to me. It helps to know that people are thinking of you. And think about how close you are to me to decide on your method. Close friend? Come and see me. Not so close? Call. Not close at all? Email. You get the idea.

Don't...Expect me to respond. As lovely as it is knowing that you are thinking of me, the idea of having to talk someone through what the "current situation" is (pre-death) or how I'm feeling (post) scares me more than clowns. I started up a WhatsApp group as my Mum entered her final weeks, with my partner and my closest friends, then I left it, which meant that Stevie could update people as and when there was something to say, all in one big group text. It saved me repeating myself and meant my friends did't have to constantly ask what was going on.

Do...Confront the elephant in the room. What you don't realise is that my every waking hour is taken up with thinking about my Mum. She is still (6 weeks after her death) the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about before I go to sleep. So you mentioning her name or asking after her does not suddenly make me think about her. I already was.

Do...Let me talk. No, really. I WANT to talk about my Mum, I NEED to talk about her. The only time I feel that I still have a connection with her is when I am talking about her. You may find it boring, but I don't. I may need to re-tell you the same thing several times like a drunk trying to put forward an argument. I'm sorry, but I need to do that too, you see, I'm still trying to make sense of what happened, and telling the story of her death over and over again is my way of doing that- and also my way of reassuring myself that I did everything I could at the time. You can help by telling me that too; it's so easy to start feeling guilt- did I spend enough time with her? Maybe I should have called more? Did I make the right decision for X? I did, I know I did, but I need some validation here, please.

Do...Feed me. In the lead up to my Mum's death I was so grateful for people feeding me. In the days after she died, we went out to eat a lot- It's so hard to get excited about cooking when you feel so low. And food options for relatives in hospitals are so terrible that I'm surprised I'm not a stone heavier  right now. When the shops/cafes are open there is a very limited choice, and then come 5pm, everything shuts and unless it comes out of a vending machine, it's not going in your mouth. I single handedly raised the volume of sales for Wotsits this March. Whether it's dropping off lunch to the hospital or putting food in my freezer so that when I am home I can just heat something up and eat without the hassle of cooking, it is massively appreciated.

Don't...Make me angry. I am more sensitive right now than you will ever see me again. Leaving the toilet seat up is likely to send me into a rage state. I will probably be a bitch to you over nothing. A lot. Every feeling I have is heightened at this stage, so I'm afraid you're just going to have to give me a bit of lee-way. Not too much, just enough to avoid me doing time for murder.

Do...Go to the funeral. I need every bit of support that I can get, just seeing you standing there when I walk in will mean the world. Staying and getting bladdered with me at the wake will mean even more.

Don't...Hold back from mentioning your Mum (if you still have one); It won't make me sad, I'm grieving but I don't wish this feeling on anyone, so, believe me, I am happy that you DO still have a Mum. Just be aware that I may struggle seeing you together; never is there a better slap in the face than having what you would give your right arm for played out in front of your (weepy) eyes.

Don't...Make me make decisions. In the final few days of my Mum's life, deciding whether to have white or red wine was a decision too far. I spent every waking moment making tough medical decisions with (early on) or on behalf of (the latter days) my Mum, so the last thing I want to do right now is decide whether to meet you in Croydon or Redhill- you decide, let me know where to be and when. Oh, and don't make it Croydon, for the love of God.

Do...Avoid platitudes. No, I do NOT feel like she is "in a better place"; the "better place" would be here with everyone who loved her. Yes, of course she's out of pain, but she's also been incinerated into tiny bits of ash- this does not give me the comfort that you hope for. Just say what you really feel, avoid the cliches. 

Don't...Say you understand. Because, unless you have lost your Mum, you don't. You losing your Grandmother when you were 12 does NOT compare to this. Saying that you understand is arrogant and insensitive

Do...Tell me of your memories. I will never have the opportunity to make new memories with my Mum, so you sharing yours with me is precious. I can't spend time with my Mum, but I can get to know other sides to her through you, her friends, colleagues and family.

Do...Help with the practical side. Turn up to clear out my Mum's house. Offer to call her utility companies to let them know that they can turn off the supply because ain't no amount of heat going to warm her up now. Help with moving furniture, putting the house on the market etc. I am already emotionally and physically drained, and this next bit is tiring. I need help. But remember to offer specific support "can I help?" only leaves me with a decision to make (see point 9)

Do...Remember that I am still me, I am not my Mothers' death. I may be a little less likely to go out dancing on tables, I may be a little more likely to cry on you, but I'm still here, I just need to get through every day, one day at a time; and you can help me to do that.

Do...Buy shares in Wotsits.