By Claire Fryer
When my mum became ill and was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer, my world fell apart. I remember lying curled up in a fetal position on the living room floor unable to take it in. My mum had always felt like my best friend and my biggest fear had been something happening to her.
After travelling up and down from London to Yorkshire most weekends for 18 months, I moved in and nursed her for the last four months of her life. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and one of the most precious. We got to spend heart-wrenching and beautiful times together, have those difficult conversations and she was able to die at home as she wished. She was 58. She died the night before my birthday.
It broke my heart, life made no sense. There was a loss of innocence as I realised painful things really do happen and they can happen to me. I threw myself into the personal development world, ran a half marathon, walked over hot coals, went on courses, and read a ton of books. I was trying to run from grief and find some ground under my feet — something to hold onto, some rules I could follow that would stop this from hurting and prevent it from ever happening again.
Not long after, I began a relationship with a beautiful man I’d been close friends with for several years. He was a dancer, a writer, a performer in Starlight Express and a life coach. He ate broccoli for breakfast, wrote in his gratitude journal every night and was full of energy and life. On some level these things were signals to me he was safe enough to get close to. We fell deeply in love and I became pregnant six months later.
In the days leading up to our 12-week scan, he was diagnosed with a nasal pharyngeal tumour. How could this possibly be happening again? Life had felt like it was on the up. I was still in the foothills of grieving my mum but was creating a new and beautiful life with this man. We wanted to get married and raise our baby together.
The rest of my pregnancy was filled with trips to and from the hospital, radio, chemo and supporting him through the rollercoaster of hopes and fears, whilst quietly growing a human.
On midsummers night back in 2007, I visited him in the hospital, bearing gifts of ginger beer and homemade food and we snuggled up in his hospital bed to watch “The Pursuit of Happyness.” I just made it home and into bed when my water broke. I drove myself to the hospital — he made it out of his hospital and over to mine just in time for my emergency caesarean and our daughter being born.
During the following year, after hopes of remission, the cancer spread to his bones. I nursed him at home whilst raising our baby girl (an impossible juggle), until his final 10 days in a hospice. He held on until her first birthday then died two days later.
In these years since my mum and Martin died, I’ve quietly and gently built a life for my daughter and I. Many times it felt like I was crawling on my hands and knees, barely making it through. I don’t believe you ever ‘get over’ these kinds of losses, it’s more like life grows around them. Anniversaries still crack me open and though society may tell us otherwise, I’ve learnt it’s important to grieve in your own time and in your own way.
I’ve learnt too that it’s not the amount of time someone is in your life that matters, it’s what they mean to you and the depth of your unique relationship. I’ve also come to realise you can’t outrun grief. Healing comes from being able to feel your pain and stay with yourself, even for a moment.
I’ve come to believe that our greatest gifts are buried alongside our greatest pain and that there’s grace hidden in the depths of our sorrow. I’ve found a depth, meaning and purpose in my life I may not have known otherwise. My heart has been deepened and widened because of the loss and grief I’ve lived through. I have a much greater capacity for empathy, compassion and care towards myself and others. Because of this, I chose to train and become a psychotherapist so I could support others going through their darkest times.
In strange and unexpected ways, I’ve found that it’s loss that has cracked me open to love, to life, to depth and connection. Before all this, I didn’t know myself at all, certainly didn’t like myself very much and wore a mask most of the time. I kept much of myself hidden, including my creativity. These days authenticity and creativity are central to my life. Last year I began The Authentic Way, an online community exploring and supporting people on their unique healing path through love, loss and life. I also paint and write whenever I can.
Last month I turned 50, which prompted me to have a good look at my life and celebrate where I am. Clearly, my life isn’t perfect and there’ll be more losses along the way, and I am daring to love a new partner. My daughter is 16 and a wonderful human. I have the great privilege of working as a therapist and I nourish my creative soul by writing, painting and spending time in nature when I can. I’m learning to prioritise myself and balance my own needs with those of others so I can live the most loving, authentic and creative life possible.
We are surrounded by loss, every day. It’s one thing that unites us all and makes us human. To love at all is to risk loss. My sense is that we are all on a life-long journey of healing and becoming ourselves in a world where life and death and love and loss are forever intertwined.
For more information about Claire, you can check out her website.
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