Hannah Bhatt On The All-Consuming Grief Of Losing Her Mother

As I plan my wedding, it starts to really hit me. What is the custom for this occasion? What do I wear for this ceremony? Who do I call to get this done? Where should I go for my Hen’s Night? Where do I get all these answers since Mum isn’t around anymore?

As I run my fingers over the rolls of fabric at the bridal shop, trying to choose between this slinky chiffon, the hollowness of her absence is suddenly very real. I suddenly wished that she was around to help me, guide me, to answer the little minutiae (“French lace or too fancy?”), and muse about life’s bigger questions (“Would I be a good wife?”)

One and a half years ago, she left us. And from the very moment we got the news about the disease that claimed her body, I was never the same. And if anyone has ever had to say goodbye to a parent, it’s a grief that’s on a scale that cannot be quantified or even described.

The News As It Hits

I still remember that day so clearly in my head. I was there when she was diagnosed with liver cancer after our last family holiday together in Australia. And on that same day I was supposed to perform at an open mic, but I just couldn’t do it. My whole world came to a complete halt. How could I, when all that was running through my head at the time was all the worry about… What if?

It started out with a bout of bad appetite that turned into a constant nausea. I brought her to the hospital but the doctor could not seem to diagnose her. A few days went by and her condition didn’t improve. The doctors then decided to conduct a blood test and that was when they found that it was Stage Two Liver Cancer.

She went through the rounds of chemotherapy and the growth was completely gone. We thought she had a respite. But, things didn’t stay that way. The cancer came back even more aggressive and within a month, bigger than before. Mum became very weak and lost a lot of weight but she didn’t want to go through another round of chemo.

She tried different treatments and we respected that. She followed a strict diet and I would go to the market every morning for her to get fresh veggies to juice. I would wake up at 6AM to make her breakfast and to be there in case she needed anything at all. She was there for me for all those years. She was my person, the most inspiring person woman I knew.

She grew up without the financial means but had all the makings and the resilience. She wasn’t financially able to but found her way to study in the UK and worked double shifts while attending classes. Her grit and determination led her to land a job as a chartered accountant at a prestigious London firm.

Everything she was made my siblings and I who we are today. I refused to believe that I would lose my mum to cancer; I kept convincing myself that she would survive.

Turn For The Worse

Six months after the cancer came back, it turned to Stage Four. The family unit got into action, we went to the best hospitals in KL and Singapore and every oncologist would tell us the news. There was nothing that they could do. And the only thing they could help was with palliative care. Palliative. Just a remedy to the pain so she could be as comfortable as possible. Yet, there is little palliative care for the grief that consumes the family. We were probably still in denial at this point. On the last few days, we paid visits to the hospital. Little did we know they would be our last moments with her. My brothers flew back from Melbourne on the last day but she was already unconscious. When they came in the door they held her hand and just broke down. I had never seen my brothers cry before.

We did what we could. I pulled her body on mine so she could sit up and breathe better. I was crying and whispered a last prayer to ease her pain and asked God to take her if it was too painful for her to bear but if it wasn’t time yet, to give us a miracle. Mum heard me because her last words to me were, “Don’t cry and Amen.”

I few hours later, she was gone. We kept calling out to her but she wasn’t moving anymore. Her hands were cold and we couldn’t feel a pulse but I refused to believe she was really gone. But she really was.

Grief Unspoken

We spent out last night with Mum, sleeping next to her coffin in our living room. After the funeral, we spent time with family and friends and found her journal that she wrote in while she was sick and it was filled with the things that she was so thankful for – dad and us kids.

Dealing with the grief is also then two-fold: Facing the loss, and then facing the reality of the people who are still around with you. People will tel you things all the time. “Take a break”. “Be strong.” After a while, though they’re well-intentioned, these sorts of questions will annoy you – though you don’t even want to be annoyed.

I have taken those breaks and time does help. But it doesn’t heal a wound like this. The ultimate “peace” or respite from the grief is a process and it doesn’t happen in a week, or a month of even within years. It takes much more than time. As it is, now, the feelings wash over me and it consumes me. And I feel like this grief won’t ever leave.
Mum used to say ‘Carpe Diem’, which means seize the day and these words have stuck with me since she left us in November 2015.

I still watch videos of her and think of what it would be like if she was still here. I still feel her unconditional love today till this day and she’s kept alive through that. These are those memories you don’t forget for a lifetime. I know I’ll see her again.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mum.

*Written by a Hot Shot from 2016, Hannah Bhatt.