Falling into Grief when my Mother Died: A Child Losing a Parent by Del Gibson

Updated: Mar 9


Guest writer for "The NZDream" blog

The day my mother died; I was 11-years-old. There is a story behind that, which still gives me chills to this day. Through the years, I thought I could have stopped it from happening, but logically I know this is not true – there was nothing I could have done to prevent it.

When a child loses a parent, it is devastating. Not only because a parent has died, but the fact an 11-year-old is not old enough to understand the concept of death completely. For an entire year after she passed, I still believed she would walk into the house, saying there had been a terrible mistake, and she wasn’t dead.

I remember it as if it were yesterday. The day started normally. My twin sister, Gabi, and I were getting ready for school. Dad was fussing about us running late, so I went in to say goodbye to Mum, but she asked me for a glass of milk before I go. So, I didn’t get to say goodbye, as Dad intervened and said he would take it into Mum, and I’d better hurry or I’d miss the school bus. I went off without looking in on Mum again, and I will regret this as long as I live. It is a burden that breaks me sometimes. When I think about it, the pain is still there.

At school, throughout the day, I had this horrible feeling in the pit of my gut–something terrible was going to happen to my Mother. During the lunch break, I sat with my best friend Michelle, and because she came from a very religious family, I told her about my feelings. I wanted to go home, to see Mum, but she convinced me that nothing bad would happen; I was imagining it; she said. So, I carried on with the day, with this constant feeling of dread nudging me.

We got on the school bus, as usual, to go home. As the bus drove past our house to drop us off at our stop, I noticed Dad’s blue Bedford van wasn’t on the driveway. Which I found weird at the time, because I recall Dad saying he had to take Mum to a doctor’s appointment–they should have been home already. Mum had a blood clot in her knee, so she was receiving treatment for that. She had also recently had a mastectomy on her left breast, due to breast cancer. Though her cancer was in remission, there was still the blood clot to worry about.

The sad part about it is, the doctors believed she had got the blood clot from staying in bed all day. Mum had depression. My parents had separated a few months earlier; Dad had an affair and was now seeing someone else. Mum’s heart was broken. So, it was up to my sister and me to take care of Mum. I know you will say this must have been a burden for us, both only being 11-years-old, barely able to look after ourselves; we did it, and it wasn’t a sacrifice. Mum had taught us how to cook meals; make our own lunches, and clean the house–basically, our childhood was stopped dead in its tracks.

When we got home, something felt off. Mum had folded washing on her bed. She liked to keep the house tidy and organized, so the folded washing concerned me; she always put the washing away. It was one thing she could manage. I was in the bathroom when I heard Dad’s van rumble up the driveway. I yelled out to my sister, asking her if Mum was in the van. She said she couldn’t see. An impending sense of doom overcame me. I screamed at her to tell me if she could see Mum. She wasn’t answering me!

I heard the back door open, then close. I went into the lounge and Dad was just standing there looking at us, in a very strange way. I knew before he told us that Mum was dead. She had a heart aneurysm (we would later learn) outside the medical center. When she stepped out of the van, she collapsed and they couldn’t save her. The irony is that my best friend's grandmother was in the waiting room when she saw Mum collapse.

Our world fell apart that day. Dad called our neighbor Mrs. Watkins, who held my sister and me as we cried in her lap, whilst Dad called the family to tell them of her passing. I will never forget that day as long as I live. Am I psychic? I’ve often wondered about this over the years. It still baffles me that somehow I knew she was going to leave us that day.


Copyright © Gibson, Del 2022

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