Get Uncomfortable - Michael's Story
18 Mar 2019
I was 15 when my parents called it quits. I joined the thousands of others whose folks couldn't any longer make it work. Where my situation differed – from most people I knew anyway – was that it was my mum who left the family home.
My mum was Supermum. She was the mum that friends loved. She could create the most amazing dinner from the bits you find at the back of the freezer. And most importantly, she was tough but fair - teaching us to be good people. She adored her four children.
Mum struggled more than dad with the parting. It was her that made the call to leave me and my sisters at home, and that was a guilt she found near-impossible to live with.
Living with dad was a big change and there were classic sitcom moments, like going to school in a pink shirt after a red sock invaded the white wash. It took some getting used to, and it meant redefining our relationship with mum away from the home life and the situation we knew.
Moving forward with mum was a one-step-forward-two-back sort of thing. Mum loved talking about days past, like when my sister – who was 18 months older than me – would feed me pennies and hula hoops in several botched assassination attempts. But mum wasn't so good at talking about the here and now, she found the past more comfortable.
Mum struggled watching us growing up and becoming our own people. Even 15 years later she still saw a pack of cute, innocent toddlers – not young adults poised for real life. In truth, we saw mum less and less as the years went on. It became harder and harder to get through her nostalgia.
Last November we got the call that Mum was in hospital. Lung cancer. We heard it was incurable but little more information came our way. Mum was sent home not long after we got the call. Us kids didn't really know her situation – we didn't talk much – so we had no idea what she actually went home to.
She lived with a former partner in a platonic relationship. The pair rented a two bedroom house that wasn't well maintained. After being sent home, Mum was so poorly that she stayed in bed for four days, too scared to even use the toilet for fear that she'd fall.
She was admitted to hospital again, and shortly thereafter entered palliative care.
Thankfully, myself and my sisters were able to spend what little time mum had left by her bedside. She was allowed to drink gin, sit outside in the fresh November air and, a lifelong animal lover, she got a final visit from a four-legged friend.
We knew what was coming and had the chance to ask questions we should have asked years ago, like what do you want to happen at the end? and What do we need to take care of?
Mum passed away peacefully surrounded by her children on November 5th.
We discovered that she had no savings, no death in service, no illness cover and no life insurance. The four of us faced the reality of not only losing our mum but having to process the fact that this was going to impact us financially. We had the slight consolation that the cost would be split between the four of us … so it shouldn't impact us too much, should it?
The costs are still coming.
I feel major guilt about thoughts that came to me during this time – I think that guilt will be with me forever. When the funeral director presented a catalogue of coffin options, he also said, “I can show you our budget coffins, or there's a cardboard one that's free.”
I couldn't be the one to say, “let's go for a budget or cardboard one”, but I thought it. The money I'd have to find was eye-watering and – like many people my age – I had no savings.
It all costs. Proving that a loved-one has passed on costs. Doctors confirming the cause of death costs. Death certificates cost. And because everyone needs to see the original death certificate, that costs too.
Of course you want to celebrate the person's life by doing things properly, by having a dignified funeral and a get-together after. But none of it's free. Mum wanted to be cremated, but that leads to the question of what happens afterwards - and once again the options are presented back to you, each costing more than the last.
So the same guilty thoughts cross your mind.
Of course, love makes you make the right choices. Mum deserved better.
My mum's life was celebrated the way she would have wanted: no gold-plated coffin, no fancy wake: a simple service at a nice venue.
But the bill still ran into the thousands. We could have avoided at least some of that expense and that angst by being brave and having a conversation.
But we didn't – and it's just one more thing to regret.