A Mummy's Boy: Coping With Loss and Chronic Illness
My mum died in 2021. It was in February, a dreary month in the UK when the skies are grey and the clouds are heavy, their bellies swollen with the rain that will inevitably come.
My mum had made it into her 92nd year and finally gave in to an illness that drained her body so that, in the end, she could barely lift her arms. It was a grim process, but one I would not have missed for the world. The final eight months were the most challenging, but not without laughter and joy – and love. Lots of love. There were declarations of love most days. I told her I loved her. She told me she loved me. Truth is, although there was no need to say it, I wanted it known. Just in case.
During the final weeks I spent a lot of time at her side – sometimes for hours on end. We would talk and I would read to her. When she slept, I would take up my phone, open the "Notes" app and I would write. I’d write about whatever story she may have relayed to me that day, about how I was feeling, how she was feeling – and how the people around us, my wife, my sister, other family members, were all coping with what was about to happen.
My AS, like my love for my mum, was never far from me
It hid in the shadows and only appeared fully when I thought no one was looking. My fault to a degree. I don’t like sharing about my AS, not really. I share with my wife, and with only those people very close to me. Or those who understand. Fully. Like you people here.
Who know, despite outward appearances, what this disease is capable of. I mean, I look great – or so my mirror tells me. Ha! But looks can deceive. Perched on small chairs by Mum’s bedside, sitting at angles where I couldn’t see her without craning my frozen neck, regular activities that meant nothing before the AS, are now a constant, ever-present, nagging problem. And as a result, my AS ramped up. I popped pills, made sure I took my weekly injection on time, tried to rest, tried to sleep.
As the final days drew in, I wrote even more
I didn’t want these moments, painful as they were, to be lost to me. I wanted to remember. As if I’d ever forget. Most importantly, I wanted to be honest. I don’t see many men, at least not men of my age and background, baring their souls. Most of the men I know, or have known, would sooner die than share their feelings openly about those they love. Telling the world about how much you love your mum is, perhaps, even more taboo. It suggests you are a mummy’s boy. I got called that in my youth. It stung back then. And I’d react with a swift, "f**k you!" to anyone who accused me of being one. It doesn’t sting anymore. My Mummy’s Boy title is a badge of honor. A significant acknowledgment of my transition from boy to man.
This or That
How do you cope with the loss of a loved one?
After Mum died and we’d started the grieving process in full I sent the notes I’d made on my phone to my PC. I started to write again. I worked on the prose, honing them, pairing back, editing as I went, very often through a thick mist of tears. Revisiting those painful memories took it out of me both mentally and physically, but I pressed on. I wrote over 7,000 words in all – an account of our journey that ended in a crematorium not three miles from where I sit writing this now.
In the March of 2021, I sent a short extract of the piece I’d written, to a tweet I’d spotted calling for submissions from writers from underrepresented backgrounds. To my surprise, I was selected as 1 of 10 writers to receive a bursary plus support, for one year, from the organizers and industry professionals. Before I knew it I’d been told the actor, Michael Sheen (Prodigal Son, Frost/Nixon, Good Omens, The Queen) had read my piece and had been so moved by it that he wanted to record it. Which he did, for the BBC. The piece is called, "Call Mum, Home." If you’d like a listen to it – it’s about 20 minutes long – you can do so by clicking here.