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Pitru Paksha

Earlier this month, from Monday 20th September to Wednesday 6th October, I participated in the Hindu ritual known as Pitru Paksha. This is a mourning period where Hindus pay homage to their deceased loved ones. This process is to help the souls of the departed to achieve moksha, which is when the soul no longer goes through the process of reincarnation, and so suffering is ended. I never paid much attention to this ritual as I was never particularly close to any family members who had passed away, and last year I felt unable to partake as it had not been that long since my mum passed away. However, this year I decided that this was something I wanted to do, to ensure that mum is having a good experience in her next life.

The rituals involve giving different offerings, such as food, water and charity. I think this is definitely an inspirational ritual as it allows you to help others, reflect on your loss and continue to move forward without trying to forget who you have lost. Even though this is a Hindu ritual, I personally think that the messages behind this mourning period can be beneficial.

Each morning I would offer water and I would use the time to think about everything I have learned from my mum. It was a time for me to acknowledge that whilst she is no longer around, her teachings are still present. As I was told once: my mum had so much to offer; she had so much wisdom that it was time for her to pass on her knowledge to other people in a new life. I like this way of thinking as it brings me comfort to know that, if reincarnation is true, she is out there helping someone else in the way that she helped me.

This is, for me, the best way to remember someone. To use what you learned from them to help others, to remind yourself that in this way, the person you miss is still with you. As long as you continue to share the memories and knowledge of the person you have lost, they are never truly gone.

It’s Better in the Movies

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It is a bit of a cliché to say that everything looks better in films. Films always seem to have that happy ending, they dramatise the moments that are not so dramatic in real life and play down the more serious moments. It seems important for us to remember that television and cinema is there for our entertainment and, more often than not, we cannot learn exactly how life will play out from watching films, just occasionally life lessons.

However, more and more television programmes and films are using their platforms to discuss hard-hitting and taboo subjects.

When my mum was told that her cancer had spread to her brain and that the next course of action was whole-head radiotherapy, she became really invested in Coronation Street. In particular, Sinead’s storyline where she was dying of cancer. I remember asking her why she was watching the episodes leading up to and including her death, as I thought they would just upset her. Looking back I think she may have been watching to think about what death might be like, and to feel less alone.

It was excellently done by Coronation Street, showcasing the reality that cancer does not win because the victim didn’t fight hard enough, but because it is a cruel and unforgiving disease which knows how to take over your body. Of course, TV shows cannot showcase every detail and the exact harsh reality that comes with a disease like cancer, but what they can do is educate people and spread awareness of the different circumstances we can find ourselves in.

There are other examples of film, television and literature that are excellently conveying important messages through their work. It is great to know that people out there want to tackle the issues present in society and this continous effort will help to reduce the taboo surrounding death, grief and other subject matters.

A Degree of Compassion

I was in my final year of my undergraduate degree when my mum was diagnosed with stage 4 NSCLC. As most people undertaking an undergraduate degree will be familiar with, a dissertation or thesis is an integral component of your degree, and it is essential that you perform well in it. It was, naturally, very difficult for me to focus on both writing up my dissertation and caring for my mum simultaneously. Some of the lecturers on my course were sympathetic and compassionate when dealing with my situation. However, I had one lecturer in particular who was not so understanding.

I was very upfront with my ongoing situation with the superiors on my degree, so that any dip in performance or request for extension did not come as a shock. However, this did not work in my favour. I requested a couple of extra days to write up a draft for my dissertation, as I had been at the hospital with my mum and had not had time to write anything. I was told I had to submit what I had, but no matter how much I pleaded for even one more day, I was told to submit a draft. I remember writing some gibberish and handing it in, only to be told how awful my work was.

When I received such feedback, I explained again the situation I was in. The fact was, I was not trying to make excuses. I am not work-shy, and nobody who is trying to explain their situation is being lazy. But what was I told when I explained my situation? I was told that “we all have problems to deal with”.

That just broke me.

Who in their right mind would actually be using cancer as an excuse to not hand in a piece of work? I was just trying to explain the difficulties that I was facing and that I was struggling. Schools, universities & workplaces should be more empathetic and more understanding of the personal circumstances of those attending their establishments. It is not surprising that people struggle to talk about the issues they face when these are the sorts of responses received.

But we need to talk about it more. The more we are open about our difficulties, the more we can begin to educate other people about the correct way to deal with situations and the importance of being sympathetic and kind to everyone.

It has not been all bad for me, though. During my postgraduate degree, my lecturers were more sympathetic and empathetic when I informed them of my mum’s passing, and gave me the opportunity to interrupt my studies and return the following year after having time to grieve. They were also sympathetic about me not attending university events or meetings during difficult moments, such as my mum’s death anniversary or birthday. And this is the way it should be. Nobody should have to struggle with their issues.

It is important for us to normalise open discussion about all problems, whether they are physical, emotional or financial. And it is important for us to remember to be kind, you never know what is going on in someone’s personal life, and what you say can have a huge impact on their well-being.

A Letter to Mum

Dear Mum,

Sometimes, just as I believe that I’ve come to terms with everything, it all comes crashing down again. I will go days as if they are normal, and I’ll live relatively ignorant to the gaping hole in my life. But suddenly, like a ton of bricks, it will hit me. You’re gone. You’re not coming back. You’re only in my life in spirit.

You would have been 56 this month. I spent my whole life thinking it wouldn’t matter what adversity I would be faced with because I would have you. Now, I am forced to face each challenge on my own.

I don’t want to be brave. I don’t want to be strong. I want to have you again. I want to be able to curl up into a ball and have you tell me everything will be okay. 110% of the time you knew the answer, even when I couldn’t explain the question. Now life feels like taking an exam with no resources to refer to, I am just guessing my way through.

That’s the sad part of life though, isn’t it? Life is so beautiful, but it must come to an end. I just hope you are happy in your new life, and that I am making you proud in this one.

Tu es, et tu seras toujours, la meilleure maman du monde ❤️

Love Zenouska

At a Crossroads

Career Crossroads
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Do you ever find yourself in a position where you aren’t sure where to turn? You aren’t really sure who could help you out? And you find yourself feeling rather lost?

I have found myself feeling this way recently. I will be handing in my master’s dissertation next month and will need to decide what I am going to do with the rest of my life. It’s daunting trying to figure out what career path I ought to go down, and I’m sure this is something others have experienced in some way, shape or form, too.

Whenever I had a decision to make, no matter how small, I always used to go to my mum. She always had the right solution, everything would always go right when I would follow her advice.

I have tried many times to ask other people for their advice, but this is just not the same. I find myself questioning their advice and wondering if my mum would have given me the same answer. It feels selfish, as I know that people don’t have to help me, but for now I can’t shake the feeling that no advice can compare.

However, now I have learned to make decisions by myself. I can’t say that I am always making the correct decisions but I know that I am at least trying my best. I think we always wish the person we lost was around for us to talk to, but one thing for sure is that they will always be proud that we are doing all we can.

Not So Bossy

It just goes to show that increased awareness of grief is making such a difference

It will be one year since my mum passed away tomorrow. I wasn’t too sure how to spend the day. I had planned to volunteer a couple of days before; after all, helping people would be a great way to keep myself occupied. I had also planned to carry out experiments in the lab and to work my tutoring job, as well. I thought putting my energy into positive activities would be the best option, it’s basically what I do every day.

But a death anniversary is not a normal day, and it’s not a day you can plan for. I realised last week that I wouldn’t be able to put things to one side like usual and get on with things. This day will mark a year since mum completely left us. It doesn’t matter that she hadn’t been herself for months before her death, because she was still with us even if things were different.

It’s the day that meant I would never speak to her again, cuddle her again or even see her again. No matter what, it marks the most significant change of my life.

I was terrified when I came to this realisation, as I would have to cancel work, university and volunteering which were scheduled to go ahead in less than a week’s time.

However, everyone who I spoke to was very understanding and realised how difficult it would be for me. Nobody made me feel bad and instantly said they would make sure everything would be sorted out. It made me feel so lucky to have such amazing colleagues who understand the pain.

It just goes to show that increased awareness of grief is making such a difference. I have had quite a few people say that I have educated them on grief and my experiences this week show that the work of the grief community is making an incredible impact. I hope one day for a world where the taboo surrounding grief is completely non-existent.

Two weeks till your birthday!

There was no room for thinking I had reached another year when my mum would never reach another year again

For a lot of these clothes shops online, you can put your birthday on your account, and you are entitled to some offer when the big day arrives.

Today I received an email telling me it’s two weeks until my birthday and I can enjoy a 10% discount. But my birthday is no longer a fun and exciting event, but a reminder of the pain my family and I went through.

Six days before my 22nd birthday, my mum passed away. I had been hoping she would live to see my birthday, to have just one more birthday with her. Even though she no longer knew who I was nor could respond to anything I said, just having her there would have been enough.

I imagine Queen Elizabeth may have felt similar on her birthday, which was not very long ago, but was close to the death of Prince Philip. It hurts to lose someone so close to you around the time when people would be celebrating. People often want to try to make your birthday better, which is kind, but nothing can change it.

I often forget that I have already experienced a birthday without her, last year didn’t feel like my birthday at all. It was a day spent telling people the unfortunate news. There was no room for thinking I had reached another year when my mum would never reach another year again.

This year, the idea of my birthday hasn’t come up at all in my household, as we are preparing to remember mum one year on from her death.

Interestingly though, I don’t wish for the day to have been different. It doesn’t really matter that she passed away on the 4th May. My problem is with the year, because it took her too soon. I wish it had not been 2020.

Sharing is Caring

I am not sure if the feeling of wanting to tell my mum will ever go away, but I know that she would have been cheering me on had she been here

Last year was a very tough time for many people who lost loved ones during the pandemic, including myself. I was studying for my Masters degree at the time, and I was very lucky to have supervisors who understood my situation and arranged for me to take an interruption and come back this year.

In January of this year, I returned to my studies and began working on a lab project in collaboration with a pharmaceutical company. Recently, the work that I have been doing was submitted as an abstract and will be published in a scientific journal, which I am so happy about. I was overcome with surprise and excitement, I could not believe it when I was told I would be an author.

However, amongst these happy emotions a wave of sadness hit me. As I shared this news with my family I had the realisation that I could not share the news with my mum. I would like to think she would be proud of me. I just wish I could share this with her.

She used to be the first person I would go to for everything and she was my biggest fan. There have been many times where I have wished I could have shared things with my mum, but this is the first big news that I have received since her death, so it has been a novel experience.

I am not sure if the feeling of wanting to tell my mum will ever go away, but I know that she would have been cheering me on had she been here.

How is everyone else?

Something I noticed, however, was that the follow up question was always the same. “How’s your dad coping?”.

Over the weekend, I had the most wonderful oppportunity to volunteer at a local COVID-19 vaccination centre. It was a really good experience and I really enjoyed ensuring the vaccinations went smoothly, making conversation with those being vaccinated and meeting fellow volunteers.

One subject that came up a lot when meeting my fellow volunteers was what I am up to and if any of my family have had the vaccine. My technique when it comes to talking about family is to just talk about my dad and my sister, I don’t really want to have to say what my mum used to do.

But I was asked about my mum. And so I had to tell them that she passed away last year. Everyone who I told this to was very sorry to hear this and acknowledged how difficult it must be.

Something that I noticed, however, was that the follow up question was always the same. “How’s your dad coping?”. It’s a valid question. My parents were together for 30 years before my mum died and, as all of these volunteers were married, they were probably looking at the situation from the perspective of a spouse.

Silently though, I wished they had asked me if I was okay. Nobody seemed to think about the fact that a loss is painful for everyone involved, no matter what your relationship was to that person. We cannot compare grief and think about how it must be so painful for one person and not as painful for the other. It is painful for each individual who had the priviledge to know the person who has passed.

This is not the first time I have had this, though. I have had people who I know very well say how tough it must be for him. And 100%, it is tough for him, and I would never want to take away from that. But it is tough on the patients who loved my mum and asked every week when she would be returning to nursing. It is tough for my grandmother, she has lost her daughter. It is tough on my sister, she was only 18. And it is tough on me.

So, when it comes to grief, we cannot think that it is hurting one person more than it is hurting someone else. Everyone’s life was impacted because of that person, and each person is experiencing a loss. The important thing is to support everyone and ensure that everyone is receiving the help that they need, irrespective of how much or how little you expect that person to be upset.

Motherless Mother’s Day

I never realised how painful it was for all the motherless people to see other people posting about it, to see others celebrating with their mothers when they didn’t have the opportunity to do so anymore.

Almost every single year since I started using social media, I used my platform to say Happy Mother’s Day. I would post pictures of my mum and write essays about how incredible she was and how lucky I was to have her. Something that never crossed my mind though, rather selfishly, was the people who didn’t have anything to celebrate.

I never realised how painful it was for all the motherless people to see other people posting about it, to see others celebrating with their mothers when they didn’t have the opportunity to do so anymore. Now that I am in that position, I realise how priviledged I was to have never understood the feeling before.

My inbox has been flooded with emails asking me if I need a last-minute Mother’s Day gift, if I have bought a bouquet of flowers and if I have organised an exquisite Mother’s Day lunch. Each and every time I see an email like this, it breaks my heart that my mum is no longer here.

There is no right or wrong way to deal with the holidays. Personally, I don’t want to celebrate Mother’s Day. Last Mother’s Day, I bought my mum cards and a gift but, because she couldn’t remember me, she became very distressed. That feeling plays in my mind and I don’t feel like I want to celebrate.

However, some people want to celebrate, and it can be a lovely way to remember how wonderful your loved one was and how they have enriched your life.

No matter what you decide to do when the holidays arrive, just remember that the way you want to do things is the right way.