Have you ever experienced a rollercoaster of emotions in just a few days?

That’s what happened to me last week.

In the space of three days, I commemorated the anniversary of my stillborn sister’s death by lighting a candle, attended a funeral of someone two years younger than me who died of cancer, and found out that the husband of one of my dear friends probably has cancer. I felt like screaming out loud: It’s not fair!!!! They don’t deserve it!!!

However I resorted to pouring my heart out in my black Snoopy journal instead. Journalling gives me comfort. It always has a healing, calming effect on my soul.

In times of grief, I find words to be inadequate. All I can do is offer a grieving person a hug. A touch. A prayer. Do a good deed to honour the deceased person. Donate to their favourite charity. Be there for them in the silence.

As I experienced the sad moments of the above events, my thoughts drifted back to my parents’ funerals. They were many years apart. Dad died first, in 1989; Mum in 2009. I gave the eulogy at Dad’s funeral. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. My husband stood beside me, ready to take over in case I couldn’t finish reading what I’d written. My voice faltered at times, but I managed to get all the way through it. I remember feeling sorry for the people who were standing for the entire funeral. I felt guilty that they couldn’t sit down. Mum and I had underestimated how many people would come when we chose the size of the chapel.

Mum felt very lonely after Dad’s death, so she was delighted when I suggested she come and work as a part-time receptionist at my medical practice. She was a real extrovert and enjoyed being behind the reception desk, welcoming patients as they came into the surgery with her warm smile.

Mum channeled her loneliness into other activities as well. She wrote and self published a booklet called ‘To Walk Alone’ in the hope that it would help others in a similar situation to hers. The booklet was distributed to funeral parlours and various agencies free of charge.to-walk-alone-booklet

Mum also trained to be a griefline counsellor. Once a week, after dinner, she would take phone calls from people who rang a telephone number called Griefline. Her evening shift lasted several hours. I have no idea how she did it. Week after week, for many years, she counselled and comforted grieving people.

She was also popular with her Griefline colleagues, and enjoyed the regular training and ongoing professional development she received. These face to face sessions were held at Melbourne’s Bethlehem Hospital. It was so ironic that this was the same hospital where she gave birth to her stillborn baby daughter back in 1956. I admired her resilience. I don’t know if I could have gone back there if I’d been in her shoes.

I couldn’t fathom how she chose to listen to other people’s stories of grief. Maybe the compassion and empathy she felt for grieving people were a consequence of having experienced multiple losses early on in her personal life: her father when she was only eighteen months old; her teenage cousin Hansie – who was more like a brother to her – and three uncles during the second world war. One of those uncles was like her surrogate father, so it was as though she had lost two fathers.

But despite all of her losses, Mum loved life. She lived it well, with enthusiasm and passion. Her motto was ‘Keep smiling’, and she did, right up until the end of her life.

May we all aspire to making the most out of the life we have been given, and treat it as a precious gift.

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