Cradling my baby, Layla, nine months, in my arms as removalists bustled to and fro with boxes, the phone rang.
When my partner Ben, then 32, answered the phone it was my sister Madi. As the colour drained from his face, he passed the phone to my shocked stepdad, Chris.
‘Your mum has passed away,’ Chris said gently.
Staring down at Layla in disbelief, it felt like the world had stopped.
‘No. Not your grandma!’ I screamed. ‘This can’t be happening.’
My mum, Vanessa, was only 62. She’d always been my greatest cheerleader.
A drama teacher and one of the most social people I knew, she’d never spoken about suffering with her mental health. She was the last person on earth who anyone would have expected to die by suicide.
Reeling in shock, I curled up on the floor and sobbed, still holding Layla.
‘I’m here,’ Ben soothed.
On autopilot, I tried to look after Layla.
In the throes of horrific grief, as Layla tried to latch on for a feed, it felt like my skin was burning.
I looked down and, in horror, realised that my milk had dried up.
I can’t even feed my own daughter, I thought, defeated.
'Reeling in shock, I curled up on the floor and sobbed'
Paralysed by shock and grief, my brain pulsed with a stream of unanswered questions and guilt.
Why did Mum want to die? Why wasn’t I enough to make her stay? What could I have said to stop her?
I was sure that I’d not only let Mum down, but now my daughter too.
As days passed, sometimes I felt like a zombie. I stared at the wall unable to connect with anyone.
What’s the point of life? I thought in my darkest ebb.
I looked at Layla’s face and knew I had to keep going for her.
In the middle of the COVID pandemic and wrestling with grief, I became hyper vigilant, and would wake in the night to check Layla was still breathing.
Every time the phone rang, I panicked it was more terrible news.
Grief often caught me unexpectedly. I’d go to text Mum a photo of Layla, then I’d remember she was gone.
And seeing other grandmothers picking up their grandkids at daycare would cause a new wave of heartache all over again.
Poor Ben was working so hard and, despite support from my sister Madi, who was also grieving, and well-meaning friends, I felt isolated and alone in grief.
I joined an online support group, Motherless Daughters Australia, where we shared our experiences of losing our mothers.
Four months after Mum’s death, in June 2020, I mustered the courage to attend a meet-up in a pub with other members.
One woman’s story resonated with me.
‘My mum died suddenly in her sleep from sudden unexplained death epilepsy (SUDEP),’ Sal said. ‘Sometimes I feel like I’m going crazy with grief.’
It was exactly how I felt.
Sal and I met up soon after and we spoke for hours about the array of emotions we experienced – grief, anger, envy and sadness, along with the physical symptoms of grief such as brain fog – and ultimately how lonely it was.
Relief flooded through me. Finally someone understood.
Sal and I realised what people in grief really needed. They wanted someone to listen to them, not to sweep their emotions under the carpet like so many people often do.
It got me thinking.
‘Maybe we should do something to help others who’re grieving,’ I suggested.
With a shared love of podcasts, Sal and I decided to launch our own, called Good Mourning, in September 2020.
For our first episode, Sal and I interviewed each other, and it was incredibly emotional.
As the weeks passed,
we also interviewed psychologists and other guests for our podcast.
Incredibly, as word spread, we started receiving messages of thanks from listeners all over the world.
You have saved my life, someone wrote to us.
Grateful, we replied to every message.
When we spoke to actor Samuel Johnson, his words touched me deeply.
‘Don’t ask “why” because there is no answer. At that point life was just too painful,’ he said, recounting how he had lost his own mum, and later his girlfriend, to suicide.
'They wanted someone to listen to them, not to sweep their emotions under the carpet '
Since our launch, we’ve amassed over 30,000 listeners a month, as well as huge followings on Instagram and Facebook.
We’ve also just released a book called Good Mourning.
In it we cover different types of grief, with advice and tips from our online community for those suffering with grief and their family and friends.
Ben, now 35, and Layla, three, are so proud.
‘My mum writes books to help people,’ Layla tells everyone.
It’s now been three years since Mum’s passing, and I think of her every day.
I’m sure she sent Sal into my life to support me. And the podcast is her legacy.
I have no doubt Good Mourning saved my life and I hope it will do the same for others.
'Good Mourning' published by Murdoch Books is available now.
Sally Douglas, 36
When my mum, Rose, 64, died in her sleep from SUDEP, my world flipped upside down. My husband, Ant, 46, was supportive but I longed to connect with someone going through grief.
Mine and Imogen’s friendship started from a place of pain but we became lifeboats for each other.
Grief is an array of sadness, anger, and even envy. We thought it was crazy that grief is universal but there was such a lack of support and places where people could speak candidly.
Good Mourning has changed my life, I’m delighted it’s helping others too.