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A year since my Mum passed…

Emma Madsen

On the afternoon of 30 July 2014, the umbilical cord between my mother and I was cut as I plummeted into the abyss like George Clooney in Gravity.

A year on and I’m still standing – just. How can I describe the terror, darkness and despair of losing your life giver? The one who answered your infant cries in the middle of the night? The one who kept you alive by feeding, cleaning, rocking and loving you?

I guess the answer is—I can’t, only those of who have lost your mother would understand this feeling.

The moment she took her last breath I gave out a primal cry, my knees buckled, and my dear husband had to catch me. I remember most things about that moment—what I was wearing, who was there, and how my mum looked as life left her body and the sound of her loved ones wails.

People ask ‘how do you go on?’ I respond ‘I have no choice’. You do it just like everyone does who has suffered some form of heartbreak, second by second, minute by minute, day by day and before you know it a whole year has passed.

While I was caring for mum I shared with you all some of our journey and advice to help a loved one caring for a terminally ill person. But I’m still living with this, which means others are out there are too.

Hopefully by sharing my experience on the first year since my mum passed, I’ll might help one of you out there – either through some comfort that you are not alone, or by providing some insight so you can support one another.

Time stands still and moves too fast

Time is bizarre when grieving, it stood still and yet I can’t remember a lot of last year. Our brains protect us by using shock to get us through and I think that is what does this time-trick.

I remember the few weeks after mum’s passing being out of this world. I didn’t cry much, I was like a robot going through the motions. My second son was only six weeks old and was having feeding problems, plus I had a caesarean. Life consisted of trying to get him to latch on the boob, writing mum’s eulogy, cleaning out mum’s clothes (Dad wanted it done straight away as one of his coping mechanisms), and feeling like a zombie.

People would say “you were so strong at your mum’s service” but truth is I wasn’t really there. I was a shell posing as myself. I remember looking at the box her ashes were in and thinking “what is that box up on the table for, what’s in it?”

I still can’t fathom it, brain.does.not.compute. The other thing my sister and I both thought was “mum would have loved seeing everyone today, she would have loved catching up with everyone”, like the day was just a normal event, not her send off.

The tears came later, and the desire to sleep all the time. Grief hurts on all levels, and when you have no tears left the rest of your body carries the load. The rest of the year passed in a flash, and while I can remember some key events such as scattering of mum’s ashes, Christmas and a few holidays, the rest is one massive blur.


In the beginning I wanted to keep every single thing of mum’s to keep her close. Even the stuff she hardly ever used. But with time I have been able to let a lot of things go and just keep the special stuff like jewellery and clothes.

I actually LOVE wearing her clothes (well the ones I can fit into, before she got sick she was so fit and tiny). When her physical self was gone I grasped for any remnants of her, but now I know she is with me all the time and I actually sense her. So all I really need is a few special items.

One thing that has caused a spin out this week was my Dad giving me a bag full of mum’s toiletries, perfumes, etc and inside was her brush with some of her hair in it. I freak out just writing about it and I don’t know why. I have left the bag to the side and I’m not sure when I will be ready to face that. I yearn for her hugs and her smell, but actually having some part of her physically weirds me out.

I will say that I have kept all the toys and books she bought my kids. Mum was obsessed with them and I will find giving away their toys difficult because they are the last things they have to remember her by. Reading to my three year old at night can often be the hardest part of my day, because he will pick a book she gave him with her handwritten love note in the front “To Leo, Love Jilly and Grampy”. I have to fight back the tears all the time.

Spiritual realm

I’ve always been a spiritual person. Growing up in a fairly religious household and then finding my own individual belief system as an adult. Losing mum really has challenged my faith system and yet strengthened other parts of it. For, you see, I have sensed her.

My eldest boy sees her, like, leads me to his bedroom and points at thin air and says ‘Jilly there’. He has even waved and said ‘Hi Jilly’ when we are out and about. A few months back my mum’s two sisters and their kids were over visiting. Before my mum passed, my Aunty kept putting this musk perfume on Ma while she was in the hospice. My sister and I can’t stand that smell because it takes us right back to that room.

So we told our Aunty to NEVER wear it around us. Well when my aunty was in my kitchen that same smell filled the room and I yelled ‘I told you to not wear that perfume’!! But she wasn’t, and no one else was. And soon the smell passed. I really do think mum was there, saying g’day.

I have also gone to some pretty awesome Canberra psychics and while you may think ‘they will tell you whatever you need to hear to feel comforted’, they have known things I haven’t told a soul and didn’t even know myself until investigating with other family members. These few readings have truly made me feel more connected with my mum.

Outlook of life

I see the world through different eyes. I really don’t care about material stuff and I know that each day could be our last. I mean this not with an ‘Instagram quote ideology’ but I understand it as much as I can without ever actually having a near death experience.

Mum’s motto was YOLO (you only live once) and it is so true. I’ve started to say ‘fuck it’ more often and I’m chasing my dreams and making them a reality. For example, I’m heading to New York next month with a girlfriend to make a life-long dream come true.

It will be tough leaving the kids, but they are in good hands with their dad. We always think we will get a chance one day. Mum never did. She never got to see half of what she wanted and she was only 50 when diagnosed. Sadly a few of my school friends are now departed. Don’t be blasé with your dreams, as Buddha said “the problem is, you think you have time”.


Mum with my son Leo, two months before her diagnosis

I now believe in Euthanasia

This was a topic I was never really sure of, but watching my mum pass, including the days and nights watching her lose her mind and being terrified because she didn’t know what was happening or who certain people were. Lying next to her on her last night labouring to breathe, I’m now all for it. There is no dignity in that sort of death.

Advice for friends

My girlfriends truly got me through this last year, and are still supporting me. Here are some things they did that made a world of difference:

Showed up

One night I opened the door and two of my soul-sisters were standing at my door. They said “we didn’t know what to do so we came”. Girls, you did exactly the right thing. Be present, be there. Even if we are pushing you away, send a text. Send flowers. Make a phone call. Each one of these is a life line and the kindness pushes us on.

Kept showing up

Everyone is present at the beginning, only the real special ones stay for the whole year. It is easy to drop off after the dust settles, but we are still mourning and probably will be forever. Grief like caring for someone with cancer is a marathon, not a sprint. Thank you to the girls still loving me in their sincere ways.

Did practical things

Mourning brings a type of depression, it is exhausting just thinking about facing another day. My angels cooked for my family, looked after my toddler and infant so I could sleep a few hours, hanged out my washing and offered to clean my house (though I refused I should have let them). I will NEVER forget this and will be grateful for eternity.

Talked about my mum

I want to talk about mum, she is always on my mind. I’m always looking for an opportunity to tell a story, share a memory, laugh about something. My girlfriends haven’t acted like she never existed, one even has a photo of her and mum as her Facebook profile picture! I’m so happy about that.

Honoured Her

Friends have told me how mum has inspired to do something like getting stuck into their garden (mum loved gardening), or to go on a trip, or to leave a relationship because they realise now time is too short. My cousin ran half a marathon and fundraised for Cure for Brain Cancer. A bunch of us did the Canberra walk for the same cause. All these things keep mum present and I love it.


Two friends representing mum at the Cure for Brain Cancer walk.

On mum’s one year anniversary, we all went and did two of mum’s favourite things – go for a walk and have a coffee afterwards. I plan to make this an annual thing. Maybe this is something you can do in honour of your own mums 🙂


My girls and I at Mum’s resting place.


So there you have it, a little insight to my year post mum’s death. I mark this moment by thinking about what the next year will bring.

I have decided it is time to take better care of myself. This includes eating better, exercising more and allowing time for fun, as all of these things went out the window when I became mum’s carer. Mum’s legacy will live on as I try to seize every single opportunity that comes my way, especially the crazy ones like travelling to New York and working on my blog she inspired – AMICA.

If you’re a mum without a mum this Mother’s Day, you might want to attend the Mums without Mums support group who are meeting on Thursday 11 May from 7.30pm. 

The first gathering for this group will be a casual chat with nibbles and your choice of beverage on Thursday 11 May 2017 from 7.30pm at the Meating Room in Weston. You can find the link to the group here

Please contact Emma Kennedy via email ([email protected]) if you are interested in finding out more details about the group.


Emma Madsen

Emma Madsen is a passionate writer, chronic over-sharer and superhuman mumma of three at least 65% of the time. In her spare time she co-runs the social enterprise We Ain't Boring CBR. Follow Emma's story on her blog LOVEFLOCK - a space for all women to create, express and grow. More about the Author

  • Thank you so much for sharing this part of your story.

    • Emma Madsen

      My pleasure Bec x

  • Stephen Fox

    So very well written and it captures the essence of the journey through grief. I also take great joy in talking about my deceased son and wearing his clothes, it brings warmth and lots of memories.

    • Emma Madsen

      I’m glad I have been able to convey similar experiences of our grieving. I don’t think I could ever cope losing a child. You are so strong!!

  • Shayne

    Dear Emma,

    I was taken to this site through a Google alert because of the reference to euthanasia. I too lost my beautiful Mum to an aggressive brain cancer in late 2012. Like you, losing Mum has left a huge whole in my life but I was so pleased to read that your son sees your Mum sometimes. I wish I could see my Mum but knowing others can gives me hope that she might be around.

    I found reading your story very comforting and inspiring so I am sure your Mum would be so proud of your writing.

    Like you, seeing my Mum suffer at the end stages of brain cancer and having her plead for me to end it, was the most traumatic time of my life (I was 52). Since then, life has taken me in a very unexpected direction. In 2013 I ran as the NSW Senate candidate for the recently formed Voluntary Euthanasia Party (VEP) and now I am head of the NSW branch and ran as their lead candidate in the NSW March election. I intend to do all I can to change the law to allow the choice of an assisted death for people like our Mum’s, who are dying and who face an awful end. They should be allowed to die a little earlier, peacefully, with dignity and surrounded by the people they love.

    I love your idea about the walk and coffee in memory of your Mum so maybe I will start that on the anniversary of my Mum’s passing too.

    I am glad you have embraced your Mum’s YOLO motto and I hope you have a wonderful trip to NY. Take care.

    Regards Shayne Higson
    Voluntary Euthanasia Party (NSW)
    State Convenor Email: [email protected]

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