The end of the journey for a much-loved family member

sunset and clouds with a flock of birds flying

I am back after a break from blogging over the last few weeks.  My much loved mother-in-law passed away after a battle with lung cancer.  I took a break to spend time with my family during her last few weeks and until after her Celebration of Life.

I have written about my incredibly strong mother-in-law before.  Gwen was given 18 months when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She far outlived any of the doctors’ predictions and lasted 3 ½ years.  Most of that time she was living independently at home with her 90 year old husband, driving, and still continuing to enjoy social outings to bingo and lunch with her friends.

From Easter onwards we noticed a decline in her condition.  She lost her energy, became very short of breath on mild exertion, and started to get more pain.  We tried hard to persuade her to take her medication to help with her symptoms but she was reluctant to take too much of it.  Her appetite had been poor since she lost her sense of taste so she was losing quite a lot of weight as well.

She had reached many milestones over the last few months – her own 86th birthday in December, Christmas, my father-in-law’s 90th and their 65th wedding anniversary in March.  There was only one last milestone to reach – a family reunion with her siblings and their families on the first weekend in May.

A Decline in Condition Leads to a Trip to the Hospital

On the 24th of April she woke in a lot of pain and could barely move due to the breathlessness.  We called an ambulance and she was admitted to hospital.  Scans showed that her cancer had progressed and she had a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in her lung).  She was now to have oxygen permanently.  During the whole course of her cancer she had not wanted treatment and was adamant about that.  We all supported her in that decision because she was very clear about her wishes.

At the beginning of her hospital stay we thought she may be able to return home so we organised home oxygen, a wheelchair, shower chair and wheely walker.  Over the next few days it became more apparent that she would be too unwell to leave the hospital.  Her family’s reunion came to her!  Quite a few much loved family members visited her in hospital.

Joy in the Palliative Care Ward

It’s not often that a palliative care ward has much joy but Gwen’s room did.  There was laughter and tears, as we all tried to make her last few days as positive as we could.  Her room radiated with love – our love for her and her love for all of us.  Even though we were well prepared, we still felt like we didn’t have enough time when she passed away.

She deteriorated so quickly on her last day we barely had time to make it to the hospital.  Most of us were there to hold her hand while she peacefully took her last breaths.  We were all heartbroken because we didn’t feel ready for her to be taken from us.  

A Celebration of Life

Gwen had been very clear about what she wanted. There was to be no morbid funeral.  Instead, she wanted to be cremated privately and a celebration of life was to be held afterwards.  She had chosen songs and told us all how she wanted to be remembered.  This made it so easy to plan her final celebration of life and I highly recommend that everyone do it.  I have now lost both parents, a sister and my mother-in-law and because Gwen had outlined everything she wanted it made it so much easier than the other deaths to plan for her funeral.

The whole family were involved in Gwen’s Celebration of Life.  It was held at my brother- and sister-in-law’s home.  My brother-in-law gave a lovely eulogy then we had a video with photos of Gwen through the years, and each of us had recorded a short piece saying our memories of Gwen. My niece created a beautiful tribute video to showcase Gwen’s life.  

Gwen and her mother on her wedding day
Gwen and her mother on her wedding day

We had a few of the things that Gwen loved on display – her bingo trophy, her favourite drinks Baileys and Scotch, and many family photos with all of her loved ones.  The video was a very moving tribute to our much loved matriarch.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the place, especially from her loving husband and family.

Grieving the Loss of Someone Special

Once the funeral was over we all felt a sense of relief.  We still grieve every day because we miss her so much.  It didn’t really sink in for me until Mothers’ Day.  Our usual family gathering was very subdued and quiet without her.  She always prepared the food and without her there it just seemed strange.

We have all rallied around my father-in-law and make sure we visit and give him the odd meal.  Luckily he can cook and he had been helping Gwen with household chores while her health declined.  He had a bad fall last year and ended up having a long stay in hospital so we suggested a personal alarm for him.  He already has services like housekeeping and lawn mowing set up for him.

Supporting Each Other Through Grief

The one positive of having 11 months off work was that I was able to spend much more time with my in-laws.  Seeing everyone come together at this very sad time and emerge from such a sad event is a testament to how strong my husband’s family is.  Comparing it to my own family it is obvious to see that some families grow stronger at times like this, and others fall apart like mine.  Any cracks that were there before can deepen into chasms if there is dysfunction in a family.

Communication and empathy are the key.  We had deep discussions as a family during this period.  Being respectful of each other, and showing kindness and compassion can help.  Everyone experiences grief differently and just being aware of that can prevent misunderstandings. 

Continuing Family Traditions

We aim to continue having family traditions like our Sunday gatherings.  Even though it’s not the same without her, those get-togethers will be an important way of supporting each other as time goes on.  My own mother passed away thirty years ago so I know that losing your mum is arguably the hardest death to get over.  Having experienced the loss of three close members of my family has given me the ability to help others through the experience.  Each loss is very different from the next but hopefully I can be the kind of support for others in the family that I know I needed while I was grieving.  It’s not a time for isolation – grieving is easier with a shoulder to cry on and a kind ear to listen.  It helps me as well.  Often a hug and a cry is what we all need and the shared experience can uplift us when we are having a bad day.

With time the deep sorrow does ease.  Some things will still trigger emotions, and anniversaries of important dates will still be hard to get through.  She will always be in our hearts, nothing will ever change that.  Her legacy is her family and our strong bond with each other. May Gwen Rest in Peace.

Shared on Weekend Coffee Share Linkup on Natalie the Explorer’s blog and Life This Week Linkup on Denyse Whelan’s blog

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21 Comments

  1. Hi Christina – I’m sorry for the loss of your MIL too – it’s wonderful that you were close and that the family could come together to remember her and celebrate her life. And this blog post is another way of expressing thanks for what she brought into your family’s life. Look after yourself x

  2. Christina, please accept my condolences on the death of your mother-in-law. I love that you are continuing family gatherings and were able to fulfill her wishes for her end of life and celebration of her life. The post was beautifully written and I think there is much here that would comfort and help others in similar circumstances. Blessings, Michele

    1. Hi Michele, Thank you so much. My psychologist said to me “You’re really good at handling this”. The comment took me by surprise, but I can express myself in words so I hopefully can comfort and help others to cope with grief. Regards, Christina

  3. Hi Christina, I’m sorry for your loss. Your post is a beautiful tribute to your mother-in-law. I’m glad you were able to spend time with your family during the last few weeks and plan to continue the family traditions. Take care of yourself. Thank you for linking with #weekendcoffeeshare.

    1. Hi Natalie, we were very lucky to spend so much time with her. I wasn’t able to be there for my parents or sister when they passed away so I am so relieved that I could be there when Gwen passed away. It was comforting to know she was so peaceful at the end. Regards, Christina

  4. A beautiful tribute to your MIL, Christina and I can understand how you are all feeling having lost my MIL just six months ago. I loved the idea of Joy in the Palliative Care Ward and the way you have celebrated her life. Sending love and hugs to you and your family. xx

    1. Thank you Sue, for your kind words. Gwen was such a joyful person and that’s what we miss the most. Even though she lived to 86, it’s still hard to say goodbye, as I’m sure it was for you too. At least they lived a full life. I hope your grief is a little easier to bear now. Regards, Christina

  5. I’m sorry for your loss but love that you’ve been able to consider the entire ‘process’. I know that’s the wrong word but the fact you call it a journey I think is good because it is very much that.

    My dad spent the last 6 wks of his life in hospital. The first two they thought one thing, then more tests and it seemed obvious what it was. The last two weeks were spent in palliative care. He didn’t know where he was then so we let him think he was just still in hospital. He didn’t wake for the last week but we all visited every day and my mother spent all day and many nights with him there and was there when he took his last breath in the middle of the night.

    1. Hi Deborah, I’m sorry for your loss too. It’s hard when they spend so much time in hospital. My dad spent his last years in and out of hospital which was really hard. We were so blessed that Gwen only spent the last 8 days there. The only previous hospital visits were to have her sons over 50 years ago! Take care, regards Christina

  6. Gwen sounds much loved. I believe my in laws have done most of their funeral preparations so there aren’t decisions to be made at the time.

  7. Oh Christina I am so sorry to hear about the loss of Gwen, she sounds like she was strong, independent and proud woman right up until the end. Having lost my MIL late last year your post brought back many memories and feelings, the grief is still there, but not as raw as it was a few months ago. I wish you and your family well as you go through these next few weeks /months together without Gwen. Take care and welcome back to blogging.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words Deb. Gwen was an amazing woman and it’s hard to believe she’s no longer with us. You never really get over losing someone so dear. I know that even though 30 years have passed since mum died I still miss her and grieve quite badly on certain days of the year like Mothers’ Day. I hope you and your family are getting through this period ok. Thank you so much for your lovely kind words, Christina

  8. I’m so sorry, It’s so hard. Even if you have time to ‘prepare’ and say goodbyes. Take good care of yourself and your family. It’s a strange time.

  9. I’m so sorry for your loss. She sounds like an amazing woman. I was just thinking last night about how much I love and appreciate my inlaws and it will be hard when they pass. They are in the 70’s so hopefully have many many years left. it will definitely leave a void. I love what you said about every loss being different. It’s so true. I lost my mom 17 years ago and my grandma (her mom) last year.

    1. Hi Kirstin, Losing your mum is one of the hardest losses, I don’t think any other loss is as bad. It’s lovely that you appreciate your inlaws – I certainly do appreciate mine. I was married once before and my relationship with them was nowhere near to my relationship with my current inlaws. Thankyou so much for your kind words, much appreciated, Regards Christina

  10. To have been loved so much by many is a great way to remember her Christina. Lovely words …
    Thank you for joining in Life This Week Link Up.
    I’ve just added another 10 optional prompts taking us to October!
    It’s always good to see a blog post from you and I value your presence here. Denyse.

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