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Gone but never forgotten

Bereavement is complicated on any day but is felt especially strongly on holidays or special times of the year, such as Mother's Day.

Photographs: Unsplash

Text: Heather Storgaard

My mother-in-law, Jane, got early-onset Alzheimer's when my husband was still in primary school. This left him in a strange position growing up, as he had a mum, but she couldn't be there for many of the milestones of his life due to her illness. I met my mother-in-law and spent a lovely Christmas with her before she passed away the following February. I wanted to write about this for the Mother's Day issue to remember her and reflect on my husband and family's experience of losing a mum at a young age and experiencing Mother's Days afterwards.

Not yet wholly independent adults, but people bereaved as young adults are placed in a difficult position outside of children's supportive family and school environment. My husband got delayed at university, as he was left emotionally upset and, practically, very busy with funeral arrangements and administrative tasks. He applied for an extra allowance of student finance with SU Styrelsen but was informed by them that losing your mum was "part of the course of life", even if you are twenty-one years old. There was also no state provision for therapy in our area, although that has thankfully changed since. We felt that the system in Denmark was unfortunately not set up for the loss of a parent for someone attending university.

In the UK, there is a charity called "Let's Talk About Loss" for bereaved young people. They have special meet-ups and messaging on Mother's Day and over holidays. They also organise group meet-ups to give people the opportunity to talk about bereavement and anything relating to it, which is a brilliant idea. The concept is to offer a safe space for young people to talk about the person they have lost, knowing that those around them understand what they are going through. I haven't come across a similar concept in Denmark, but the UK charity has helpful tips and even online meet-ups that you can find through their Facebook or Instagram.

Growing up as a TCK (Third Culture Kid), I benefited from two Mother's Day opportunities, usually spending British Mothering Sunday with my grandparents and the May Mother's Day with my mum. I find it sad that if I one day have children, they won't have a Danish farmor (grandma) to introduce them to Danish activities and traditions. My mother-in-law loved knitting, making paper Christmas decorations and baking. Beyond the stereotypical grandma activities, she was also a business woman who economically supported the family for many years. At her funeral, a former employee told me how my husband would go to work with her as a toddler and play at being a secretary. Children can gain so much from grandparents, and I feel sad that mine won't have a female Dane in their family life.

"We felt that the system in Denmark was unfortunately not set up for the loss of a parent for someone attending university."

Many people I know talk about challenges in relationships with in-laws, often mentioning themes such as language challenges or culture clashes. But, in a twist of irony, I feel like I would actually have lucked out on the mother-in-law front. Jane was clearly very internationally-minded, having spent time in France and twice intended to move the family abroad, to Ireland and Sweden. My husband remembers being shocked as a child at the sheer threat of being relocated to Sweden and risking becoming a Swede (a big Danish no-no). Although those moves never happened, my mother-in-law still wanted to retire one day to Germany, as she loved the vast forests. She left behind brilliant photos on projector slides, showing intrepid travel in her youth to the USSR, Iran and Greenland. We enjoy looking at them to remember her and are always struck by how much she managed to experience and achieve in the short time she had.

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