Birth/Rebirth: The Birth of Adulthood

Posted by on January 6, 2014 in Acceptance, death, education, Family, Friendship, Journeys, personal notes, sisterhood, suffering | 9 comments

Guest Post by Bec

Bec is an amazing friend and woman. She completed her PhD on nurses in the Korean War and currently lives in Australia.

It began with a BBQ chicken. Well, it began a few days before, but let’s start with the chicken. I was standing in my Mum’s kitchen. Family friends gathered in the backyard waiting for lunch and I was confronted with the chicken, or more precisely the responsibility of slicing the chicken. Mum had always done this.

The author on her wedding day with her mother.

The author on her wedding day with her mother.

All my life, I’d watched her neatly separate the pieces, portion out the stuffing, and dish the chicken on to each plate.

Now, Mum was gone, I was left to cut the chicken and despite watching her all those years I really had no idea how to do it. I knew it was ridiculous, but in that moment, only a few days after she died, I found that responsibility overwhelming. It was the culmination of a realisation that had begun in the hospital, that I was now the adult and I no longer had my Mum around to guide me.

In many ways the death of my Mum signalled the birth of my adulthood. Although I was 28, married, had just submitted a PhD and had been living out of home for a few years I hadn’t really felt like an adult until I lost my Mum.

Her death was relatively sudden. Her health had declined during the year, she’d had difficulty breathing and lost weight. I worried that it might be cancer, but tests had found nothing conclusive. In November 2010, during a surgical biopsy the surgeons discovered an untreatable tumour had wrapped around her heart and lungs. Her heart stopped. They revived her but she fell into a coma from which she did not wake up. In the three days that she was on life support I waited with my family in a private room in the intensive care ward. A social worker met with my Dad, my younger sister and I. Close family and friends visited. The medical team updated us on her status. A nurse reassured me that they would not have her on life support if there wasn’t hope. Though I probably knew better, I clung to that hope.

Initially I hoped that they would find a way to treat her. I hoped that we would have the chance to fight the cancer together. We had done that before, I am a childhood cancer survivor. We had beaten the disease once, I hoped we could beat it again. It became clear quite quickly that this was not a cancer that could be beaten. So, I began to hope that she would wake up, just for a little while, just long enough to say goodbye. Just long enough to tell her that my thesis had passed examination. Just long enough to tell her I loved her one last time. By the second day, I realised Mum would not wake up. The loss of this last hope was, I think, the last moment of my youth and the birth of my adulthood.

I spent the last day Mum was alive in her room. I talked to her all day, I don’t know if she could hear me, but the lovely nurse told me people in a coma can sometimes hear you so I talked as if she could. I told her about my thesis, I told her I loved her and I told her it was okay for her to go, even though I really wanted her to stay.

That afternoon the doctor told us we would need to decide who would be in the room when the life support machine was switched off. Mum had been the decision maker in our family, without her we didn’t really know what to do. I talked to my Dad and sister and ultimately I made the final decision. I think of it as the first decision of my adult life and I think it will probably remain the hardest decision I have ever made.  We stood by her with a few close friends as she took her final breath.

In the years since I lost Mum I’ve had many of the ‘BBQ chicken’ moments that started this story. The moments in life when I realise I can’t talk to her, or look to her for guidance. Sometimes it’s a simple as watching a movie I know she’d love, hearing a song on the radio that we played at her funeral, reading a poem she loved, or wishing I’d paid attention to how she made seafood crepes. I miss her too in the big moments in life, at my graduation, when I want to ask advice about my career or tell her about my travels. Mum was my champion, she believed in my dreams. An important part of my new life as an adult has been pursuing my dreams without Mum’s unconditional support, though I still hold it in my heart.

In my nascent adulthood I have learned to look to some wonderful friends for the guidance and the support that Mum once offered so freely. I was recently touched by a comment from my very good friend Spunky that she is proud of what I have achieved in my career. Given that I can’t share this success with my Mum, it means a great deal to have a friend say the words that I know my Mum would have felt.

I also like think that adulthood is about a broader perspective in life, one that is no longer self-centric. So, in the time since Mum died I have tried to be a champion for the dreams of others. To offer guidance when it is sought and, like Spunky, take pride in the achievements of my friends. I miss my Mum every day and I know I always will, but the loss taught me to cherish the love of other women in my life and for that I am grateful.

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9 Comments

  1. This is such a powerful piece, Bec! Thank you for sharing it. It has made me think about moments when I took on an adult role, or happenings that cause me to either cower or stand. I think it most often is the small things- such as cutting a BBQ chicken– that really trigger the transition as a part of every day life, and can be the most difficult adaptation. Thank you for letting me think on this and what moments have had such a powerful effect in my life, yet on the surface, seem so small.

  2. Thanks for you thoughtful (as always) comments Spunky, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. I think you’re right it is the smaller moments in life that often make us reflect. I think the moment of feeling like an adult is probably quite different for everyone, and I agree, there may be more than one moment of taking on the adult role.

  3. Bec, I lost my Dad, my first husband, and then my Mum, and I still miss them, even though it’s been years. I honoured my parents with my thesis, but all I could think of at my graduation was ‘I wish Dad could see me now’. It never becomes easy, but you accept it more – and rejoice in the happy thoughts which flood back to you. This is a beautifully written piece – be proud!!

  4. Dear Bec, I really loved reading this post, and reflecting on the things and experiences that have or haven’t made me feel like an adult.

    I suspect that I will always feel like a mix of child and adult. For example, I completed college, and a mission, and one grad school, and am in the midst of another, but still don’t really know how to do my taxes without my mom’s and/or my husband’s help, and my dad still helps edit my papers when I’m in a pinch (which is almost always).

    I also appreciated reading about your connection with your mother, and how it was that passing that brought about a beginning. I think it works like that. Sometimes it might just be that we are physically separate from someone who carried a role for us, and so we have to take it on ourselves, but sometimes it is more. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Dear Bec ,
    Beautiful words and sentiments. .
    My mum passed away a few few months after yours and although I was 50 at the time it didn’t make it any easier…
    Mums are the ones that love and support us children till the end and it does make us grow up.
    In the middle of the night , I woke up and wrote her eulogy. ..I thought I was a grown up until then but wheni wrote it ..I really felt grown up.
    I love what you have written and your feelings .
    You and Nikki are a true testament of your gorgeous mum , I’m thankful to have met you all and that you’ve been part of my life
    Xxx

  6. Thank you Frances, Rachel and Mirta for your comments.

    Frances, I know what you mean that moment at graduation was really, really hard for me too. I wanted nothing more than to show off the puffy PhD hat to Mum. I was fortunate that she was alive for my other big moments in life, my undergrad and honours graduation and my wedding. I’m so sorry to hear of your losses, it is always so hard, but like you I am learning to rejoice in the happy moments. I am so very grateful I had such a loving Mum even if it was only for 28 years, they were very special years.

    Rachel, thank you for your comments. I agree about the mix of child and adult, sometimes I do feel very much like a child still – and that’s okay too, I don’t think we should ever lose the fun of childhood. Good luck in your current grad school course, I still look back fondly on my grad school days, I met some lovely, intelligent women in grad school – including Spunky!

    Frances, I’m sorry to hear you lost your Mum so soon after mine, I agree, it’s never easy no matter what age. Thank you for saying I am a testament to Mum, I will always be very proud to be her daughter.

    Thank you all for your thoughts :)

  7. Bec, this is lovely, and I think the description of “BBQ chicken” moments is a perfect one.

    The other day, I was doing a work project when I thought, “I’ll have to ask Grandpa how to do that piece,” and almost immediately, I remembered he had been gone nearly a year.

    Thank you for sharing this story. I know you’ve made your mum proud here.

  8. Hi Emily,
    It’s true, those moments when you forget they are gone can be the hardest. Thank you for reading and for your lovely comment :)

  9. This is so beautiful and thoughtful. Thank you so much for writing this, Bec.

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