Grief and the loss of a parent

Personal Stories | June 11, 2021 | Rowena List

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A photo of Jean

Grief is a topic that is often overlooked or neglected, yet grief is an experience that impacts people in a myriad of ways. As part of our mission which aims to advocate, educate, and support, we have identified the need for public education surrounding the grief experience. Several storytellers have shared their lived experience with grief for our blog – this is Rowena’s story.


My mother, Jean, was an inspiration to so many people. She was born in Billericay, Essex, England in 1934, and immigrated to Canada in 1965. She was a single mum of two girls and ran the household on her own, as well as working full time at Sears and having a part time job as a waitress and coat check girl. She had an active social life and volunteered for Variety – The Children’s Charity. She even won some awards! She was an avid gardener and loved studying her family tree. No matter what the time of day was, she would stop and make you a cup of tea or a gin & tonic and say “It’s Happy Hour”. My friends wished their mothers were like mine, as she was so positive and full of life.

My mother died on September 4, 2019 in hospice. She had been there for six months due to brain cancer. 

Four days prior to her death, she stopped eating and spent most of her time sleeping. It was extremely stressful, as I had been her sole caregiver and I handled all of her affairs. I had a death doula, which was very helpful and which I highly recommend. The staff at the hospice are my heroes.

I stayed with my mum all night when the nurses told me that her time was near. I cleaned her face, brushed her hair, and spoke gently to her until her last breath at 8:05 the next morning. After she died, I was exhausted. I was sad. I was relieved. I was stressed. I was scared and didn’t know how I would handle the grief. 

Her death did not come as a huge shock as she had battled cancer a few years prior, but it was still a very hard time. There are so many uncertainties when a loved one passes, including a feeling of helplessness. And there were many things to take care of, and decisions to make.  Fortunately I had a lot of support from my family, my friends, and my mum’s friends.

I was with my best friend after my mum died. We went and jumped in a lake. I was trying to wash away the stress, and so we talked and talked about how amazing my mum was. Later, I also talked to my death doula, my mum’s friends, and I made all the arrangements for her service. 

I cope with my grief now by talking about Mum freely. I have pictures of her in my office. I have conversations with her. I stay in touch with her good friend. I serve others in need. 

I was raised to be strong. I was fortunate in that I had time on my side to be with her while she was terminal. We spoke a lot about death and how I would manage, so as time passes I am more at peace. I admire the life she had, the lives she touched, and what she gave me. I think of her when I’m having a piece of pie (she made the best pastries!), when I see my nephew in the garden (a skill he learned from his grandmother), when I sew on a button (she was a great seamstress), or when I see wisteria in bloom (she had the most amazing wisteria bush).

Grief is the price we pay for love. Everything that is alive has to die sometime. Time heals. Cherish the moments you have.

I am grateful every day. 

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