The news came by email. Like a punch in the gut.
‘Mum died last night.’
Lisa is stunned. She can’t detach her eyes from those four words.
Her brain understands the meaning too well. Her senses can’t grasp its reality.
Living 15000 km away, she has no chance to jump in the car and see for herself.
She has to wait.
The purpose of this post isn’t to tell you what to do in case your mother (or any other loved one) passes away.
My intention instead is to stimulate your thoughts so you can consider any action you need to undertake now to avoid regrets or additional trauma later.
Trembling all over, Lisa reads the rest of the message.
‘Sorry to inform you by email, but I need you to know asap and by the time you wake up, it’s going to be late here. I’ll try to get some sleep because there are now so many things to organize in the next couple of days. Talk soon.’
Lisa recognizes Maddy’s style. To the point.
Her sister is truthful to herself. Efficient. Pragmatic. Rational.
Lisa stares at the screen. Mum D-I-E-D?? How come it happened so suddenly? That sounds impossible. She spoke to her last week: Mum was fine! Sure, at 84, she wasn’t so young any more. But she was in good health and underwent regular check-ups.
Or so Lisa thought…
What if the family had hidden some terrible facts not to worry me?
Or what if they had been negligent?
Did Mum suffer?
Had I lived nearby, I might have noticed troubling symptoms, alerted her doctor, insisted on carrying out further analysis. When the worst was looming, I could have held Mum’s hand, refreshed her face, giving her — by my presence and my love — a few more reasons to hold onto life.
Instead, here I am. Stranded. 15000 km away. Cut off from the scene. My hands tied. Glowering at a screen.
So many questions, so many doubts. But no answers. At least for now.
With the time zone difference, Lisa is afraid to call anyone. It’s the middle of the night over there.
Her husband is currently on a plane for a two week business trip. The children are at school.
She is alone.
Her head hurts. A knot of fear tightens her stomach.
Her mind looks for an explanation. Her attention comes back to the screen: she wrinkles her forehead, her gaze hardens.
How can you give such a news by email?
“Maddy has no heart! Of course, an email is a quick and efficient way to convey facts. It’s available everywhere and targeted to the very person you want to reach. But how cold!
Did she even think about how I’ll receive it at the other end? What if I was in the car? Or in the street? It’s as if someone had thrown a bomb at me and ran away.
I wish she’d had given me a phone call at least!”
But a few hours before, Maddy herself had to face the dilemma.
“Shall I call Lisa? I’m scared of her reaction. She’s always so emotional. I’m not sure I can handle it but I can’t wait till tomorrow. She’s so often complaining about being the last informed because she’s far away. The least I need now are reproaches. I’d better break the news by email. So she’ll get over the first shock and then we’ll talk.”
Getting over the first shock, that’s what Lisa is now trying to do.
Each memory of her beloved mum makes her burst into tears. She didn’t even get the chance to say good-bye.
“Mum is gone and I haven’t told her how much I loved her. I haven’t told her how guilty I’ve felt all those years for being so far away. While she was always there for me as a child – at my bedside when I was sick, preparing the best food to support me during my exams, driving me around for all my activities – I haven’t been able to give back as much as I wanted. She never made any complaints but I’m now left with my doubts.
I also wanted to spend some time with her to make a family tree. Who will tell my children about their roots? Their identity? I don’t remember all the family stories. I didn’t live during the war. This is part of a precious heritage for the future generations. It’s even more important because the children raised abroad are exposed to so many different cultures.
Sadly now the opportunity was lost.”
Now over to you: what’s your preferred form of communication in those critical circumstances? Have you talked about it with your loved ones?
Do you have any unfinished business that you’d like to address before it’s too late?
Stay tuned for the second part of this article. We’ll talk about the choices to make that have a direct impact on grief.