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Jakkie shares her story of supporting her mother during her final days and learning to navigate through the pain and grief of losing someone you love.
“Sometimes big things have to happen to us, to crack us open, to break us down completely and utterly for us to be rebuilt again.
It’s a journey that takes us deep into our soul, to remember who we truly are. It's certainly not for the faint hearted, or the weak spirited, because it's tough at the bottom and it takes deep courage, strength and faith to climb back up.”
Note – This story deals with discussions about death and grief. If this article brings up any strong emotions, or you would like support, please call us at any time on 1800 100 500. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Helping my darling beautiful mum
“I’ve been in a lot of scary situations in my life, but the most courageous thing I’ve ever done by far is to help my darling beautiful mum die.
In May last year, I left my home in Australia, my partner, my business and flew to the UK to care for my elderly mum who was struggling to live on her own.
I managed to get her properly diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and went about trying to get her the help and support she needed. I struggled caring for her as she resisted her condition and wouldn’t let go of her old life, especially her pride.
Helping her to accept her ‘new normal’ was one challenge, but what I wasn’t banking on was her having two separate brain haemorrhages, then watching her slowly and painfully die.
Before all this kicked off she appeared so fit and young and, because of this, all her friends were in shock when she left us.
My mum was very crafty and managed to cover up her forgetfulness and symptoms with clever techniques which fooled most people.”
I knew something was wrong
“But I knew there was something seriously wrong when one mealtime she forgot how to use her knife to cut her food, instead she used her finger.
I tried to get her help but I was told by various medical professionals that her symptoms were normal for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
She kept crying out, ‘What’s happening to me?’ and I couldn’t answer her.
All I could do was reassure her that everything was going to be okay.
But it wasn’t okay.
By then, the damage from the haemorrhages to her brain were irretrievable and the only way forward was death.
The doctors didn’t know how long this would take and all I could do was sit by her hospital bedside and watch her slowly deteriorate.
The worst parts were the moments when she was conscious, watching her in such deep distress.
I couldn’t bear to see her suffering, so I kept encouraging her to let go.
I poured all my love into her, reminding her what a wonderful mum she'd been, how much fun we had over the years, how many lives she'd touched with her kindness.
I tried to be so brave and strong while I whispered into her ear again and again that it was okay to let go of her life.
Ten days later she gave up the fight and made the transition. Her body was still there but her soul had left.”
Weighed down with grief
“I had encouraged her to die but what I didn’t take into consideration was how I’d feel once she’d gone.
I’d been so strong for her and once she’d left, I crashed into a state of absolute despair.
All that strength I had shown her had left me and instead it was replaced with such deep sadness, grief and loss that I didn’t think I’d survive another day with the pain.
Now I understand the meaning of ‘being weighed down with grief’ because I felt 20 pounds heavier.
The weight in my heart felt suffocating, like I was deep sea diving without oxygen.
All I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and hide away but I couldn’t because there were all the official things to sort out.
It all got way too much for me and I was starting to break down.
Thankfully my partner stepped in. He immediately got on a plane from Australia and was by my side five days later.
On top of the grief, I organised my mum's funeral, sorted out all the official documents, sold her car, cleared out all her belongings from the house, cleared out my own lifetime of belongings stored in her loft, got the house ready to sell.”
Finding the gift in grief
“Again and again I have been pushed to the edge but each time I’ve had to make a choice.
Do I allow all this pain and suffering to become my story or do I see it as one of life’s challenges, roll up my sleeves and get on with it?
Do I close my heart and become hardened by all the adversity or do I see it as an opportunity to open my heart wider?
I may have lost my mum but what I gained is an outpouring of love from others.
Because of my mum’s passing, I’ve developed a stronger connection with my other family members.
I’ve been blown away by the support of my mum’s friends (and my own) who held me when I fell.
I feel so grateful for all the love and kindness others have shown me and for that I feel truly blessed.
The grief I felt from losing my precious mum has helped me to reach out to her in spirit, to feel her energy, to strengthen my belief that we are always connected.
I know for certain that we are energy housed within a body and when the body dies our energy lives on. She is still with me and that’s a comfort.
I used to dislike the annoying traits that I inherited from her yet now I accept them with fondness.”
Time to heal
“Now it's my time to heal.
Day by day, month by month, year by year I plan to rebuild the broken pieces of me.
I will release the heaviness and return back to lightness, and I know this new version of myself is going to be even more compassionate, more loving, more wise, more qualified to support and help others when they experience their own pain.
But most of all, I'll be more in tune with my true self than I've ever been before.
Thank you, mum, for giving me the gift of love and I'm honoured to have been there for you at the end.
You now live on because your love, kindness and compassion now live on within me, and that's the best feeling in the world!”
Dementia Australia thanks Jakkie for sharing her story. If this has raised any strong emotions for you or a loved one you would like support, we are here for you. Call the National Dementia Helpline at any time on 1800 100 500.
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