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Without My Mum: One woman’s journey through grief

Read an extract from Leigh Van Der Horst's brilliant and moving new memoir 'Without My Mum' - a journey through loss, love and new life.

Without My Mum: One woman’s journey through grief

When mum-of-four Leigh Van Der Horst lost her beloved mother to cancer in 2008, she faced her biggest battle yet. To survive her journey through devastating grief, she wrote Without My Mum, her memoir and inspirational guide for motherless mothers. MiNDFOOD presents an exclusive edited extract from the book to celebrate mother’s day – Leigh’s letter to her mother.

To my darling mum,

It’s been almost six years since we last met. That’s a long time. I miss you so much—more than I ever have. But the pain in my heart has eased. I smile, I laugh, I dream and I allow myself to achieve without you by my side.

I thank you for the strength that you have filled me with, for the courage that I have developed and for the gratitude that pours from my soul each and every day. It is because of you that I am the person I am today. I wish that we could meet again. I think you would be so proud. I can’t help but think that I am the woman now that you so longed for me to be. I wish you could witness that. I took the plunge and had that longed-for fourth child that I always discussed with you. Yep, another boy—you would have giggled—and he is divine. Lovely little Oliver. During Ollie’s birth, I knew that you were with me. At the point where I felt as though I could take no more, I called on you to help me and I believe that you got me through. I felt an extra surge of strength that pulled me through one of the toughest labours that I have endured. I have no explanation other than the reassurance that you guided me when I needed it most.

Little Ollie has the most delicious cheeks that I know you would have nuzzled into. He would have smiled at having you so close and being held safely in your warm, loving arms. There is a photo of you in our dining room and he points to it and says ‘Nanny’. It melts my heart every time. He is certainly spoilt rotten by us all!

Leigh Van Der Horst

You would be so in awe of the older boys. They have changed so much since you all last met—too much. Adult teeth have grown and changed their whole appearance.

Hair styles are a priority. They are so tall and athletic, obsessed with their sports and hobbies. They still insist on sitting together on the sofa, refusing to move despite being desperate for their own personal space. It’s a sign of love and togetherness I suppose. I celebrate it rather than get mad when they start snapping at each other! They sure can get cranky, but they really do love and respect each other and get along well. You said that I would make a great nurse and caring for you certainly got me thinking. So I followed my dream and now I officially have a career in nursing—and I love it! I gain so much from caring for others. I know in my heart that this is what I am meant to do and I’m happy. I make a difference to so many and that is exactly how I want to devote my time in this life.

Often in my job, I meet old ladies who remind me of you— well, what I imagine you to be if you were granted the fortune to grow old. It stops me in my tracks and can sometimes hurt my heart. But I just go on, knowing that you left this life with a sense of calm and acceptance. This is what lifts me up and guides me through those tough times. I wish I could hear your voice, Mum—just once more. To sit at a café with you and just chat about current events and the goings-on with my boys. Oh, I just wish to do this one more time. I don’t know where I am headed from here, but that is the magic and beauty of life. What I do know is that I can do anything I set my heart to. There is so much that I hope to accomplish and I am genuinely excited by life. I share my life with the most amazing man who I know you adored and we truly are best friends—kindred spirits.

My perfect life would be having you here to share it all with me, but I accept that you aren’t and I live in your honour. I think about you every day and I feel your presence in all that I do. I take in all that is around me, just as you taught me to. I live a better version of my life because of you and for that, you are my true hero. I’m positive that wherever you are and whoever you are with, you are making a difference. I am so proud of you and I feel beyond blessed that in this big, wide world, I was lucky enough to call you my mother.

I miss you.

Without My Mum: A Daughter’s Guide to Grief, Loss and Reclaiming Life by Leigh Van Der Horst is published by Nero and available now in print and eBook. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to Cancer Council Victoria.

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