She Had The Strength Of Lions

Growing through grief and pain.

Sonia Billadeau August 25, 2014
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Writing this is part-catharsis. I’ve been in a hell of a place the past couple of months, and that will probably be of no surprise when I explain.

On the 23rd of June 2013, after suffering for over thirty years with multiple sclerosis, my birth mother, Sandra, died in hospital. Her husband Peter, myself, and my partner was there as she drew her last breath. I’ve never seen someone die in front of me, and Sandra was the person I had the most complicated relationship with. Regardless, I was glad to be there.

Though Sandra was my birth-mother, we were brought up as ‘kind of’ siblings because my grandparents adopted me. There were several years I didn’t speak to her. Twice, I walked out after arguments with her. She had problems with rage.

Sandra was so angry with the world. I suppose she had good reason to be. She became a mother at fourteen years of age. She later told me about all the shame she’d felt at my birth. After that, she had a disastrous first marriage.

She married a second time, then was told two years later that she had multiple sclerosis. Her husband, Peter, told me recently that when they got the diagnosis they didn’t really know what it meant. Peter stuck by her though. Right until the end.

Her second son, Mark, (who she raised) was always in trouble with the police. He frequently stole from her; he masked his pain with drugs. Mark’s first daughter has now grown up and chosen to follow her father’s path.

For Sandra and Peter, life was as bleak as it could be.

The day after she died, I posted her photo on Facebook. She hated having her photo taken; she hated being out in public. Sandra was very self-conscious of how disabled she was. She was in poor health for a very long time. The first time she met my partner, he was really shocked. I don’t think he’d ever seen anyone that disabled before.

The following is what I wrote on Facebook, beside the photo posted above. It formed the basis of my speech at her funeral. It still makes me cry.

Sandra Hulme: She would have been the hard girl who sat in the back seat of the school bus. She had LPs by T.Rex, Sam & Dave, and David Bowie. She had the cruellest sense of humour.

But nobody deserved the cruel hand she was dealt, through MS, through so many personal troubles. I’m sad you have gone, Sandra, but am glad you are no longer suffering.

She scared me, as I was in awe of her and the pain she was dealt. She handled it all with the strength of lions.

Goodbye, Sandra. I love you and thank you for everything.

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Sonia Billadeau


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