I never had the chance to grieve for my mother


There is a period in my life which I don't talk about because when I begin to describe events of that time I invariably seem to end up in tears.

I am almost sure I know why. I have never confronted my grief over that time in my life. The grief lies under the surface of my consciousness, always there, always waiting until it occasionally rises to the surface and is immediately pushed away.

I was 35 years old and seven months pregnant with my fourth child.

My mother was quite ill, but the doctors were having great difficulty in knowing how to treat her.


It was 1975, so medicine at the time which appeared quite sophisticated was still a long way from where we have progressed today.

My mother had a form of hepatitis which had recurred several times and her liver was very damaged. ''She's looking much better today,'' my brother Tony would ring me to say. ''Her colour is good. They gave her a blood transfusion.''

It was at this time that my husband was to enter hospital for a hernia operation and he was unsure whether to go ahead, or wait a little longer to see if my mother improved.

Finally my brother rang: ''Go ahead with the operation as mum's illness could stretch out for a long period of time … we simply didn't know.'' I drove my husband to the hospital that day.

The situation was made more difficult as I was living hundreds of kilometres from my mother's home, I had three very small daughters, it was early February with hot days and nights, and I was now alone.

My brother rang at 8am. the following day after my husband was operated on. I can remember now as though it was yesterday holding the phone, tears pouring down my cheeks, utterly utterly alone except for three very worried little daughters.

Mum had died that morning in the hospital.

I have snippets of memory of the next few days.

I know a very kind neighbour took my two oldest daughters into her home. A kind colleague of my husband drove us from our town to the train in Melbourne, from there to travel down to Gippsland. I took my smallest daughter with me to my mother's home town for the service and the burial and an old friend looked after her while I went to the service. A brother drove me the hundreds of kilometres back to my home after five days. People were so kind.

During those five days I sorted out my mother's possessions and shared them around among her children. She was a very wise person, having already listed her most valuable items and who they were to go to … something I have always remembered and have done now with my more valuable possessions.

I know I collected my husband from the hospital where they had kindly kept him until I returned. Had I been there, they would have sent him home - but nobody was there to care for him.

I gathered up my two little girls from my neighbour and brought them home.

Eventually life settled down.

My very wise aunt, who was also a very experienced obstetrician, rang me immediately to remind me that there was to be no grieving until I had delivered my baby. The life of a baby was not to be put at risk. That was why I set aside the grieving process. The trouble was I never really returned to it. I was just too busy because two months later our son was born.

All seemed well with this new baby boy and it lifted our spirits and helped us through the sadness we all felt at the loss of my mother.

One morning when I woke to give him a warm bath after he had a particularly restless night I discovered a huge lump in his groin.

With my good friend and neighbour driving, and my husband by my side, we headed for my doctor. He immediately diagnosed a double hernia and we then proceeded to the hospital and prepared ourselves for a long night. This tiny baby was to be operated on in the morning.

It is at this point that I really struggle to finish my story.

I could not believe that anyone as tiny as this baby could possibly survive a double hernia operation. He was barely 7 pounds (3.2 kilograms) on the old scales. In those days, parents could only stay for certain times during the day and staying overnight was simply not considered an option.

I said goodbye to my baby in the hospital that night, never really believing we would see him alive again. I had lost my mother. Now I was about to lose my baby.

A very wise and experienced surgeon operated the next morning and we brought him home the next day. For a short while I truly believed I would be grieving for two of my family.

Of course I couldn't grieve for my mother. I had a baby to care for, a husband to nurse, and three little girls who were struggling to understand all the heartache we had faced and were still facing.

And so here I am, almost 40 years later, still not having properly grieved for my mother. I know I miss her and think of her every day. It is too late now to grieve. The passage of years is too long.

My son is a fabulous dad himself now, and has no need to be reminded of past pain.

Perhaps it is better if we just don't talk about it.

Send your stories to pulse@fairfaxmedia.com.au.

1 comment

  • Was very touched by this story...I am only 30 but in the past couple of years have lost three uncles and had my brother diagnosed with cancer. I don't need to talk about it all the time, but I think it's nice to reflect/discuss from time to time. Good communication forms connections...and thus the world goes round again

    Date and time
    February 04, 2014, 2:42AM
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