University is about more than just a degree. It’s about making friends, trying new things, and becoming independent. Personally, I love it. It’s given me a chance to escape from my teeny-tiny village (you can’t walk down the street without every man and his dog knowing about it the next day), and brought some fantastic opportunities. A major part of it for me has been about moving away from home. I’d taken a gap year prior to uni where I stayed at home working for various charities, and as much as I enjoyed it, I was looking forward to spreading my wings and having a chance to indulge in some self-discovery.
Despite some homesickness, I only went home a few times during the first term of my first year. By Christmas, I was more than ready for some TLC and a break from washing up but going into second term, I was determined to be more independent, go home less, and rely on my parents less. Then Mum was diagnosed, and that changed.
Half of me desperately wants to be a ‘normal’ student. To abandon my parents, make stupid mistakes and stay up too late most nights. I want to join my friends on nights out, spend weekends exploring the city and forget about my life back home.
The other half of me is different. At the time of diagnosis, Mum had somewhere between four weeks and four years to live (I know in movies they always have a definite length, but that’s not how it is in real life). My friends will probably have their parents waiting for them when they graduate. They can forget their Mum’s birthday, lob some flowers in their general direction a week later, and hope that makes up for it. If they get pregnant, they can reach for their Mum every time something freaks them out. Once their family has grown, they can visit with the grandchildren, using their parents as free babysitters (it’s cheeky, but it’s allowed, right?).
But for me it’s different. Mum probably won’t still be here when I graduate. She will probably die whilst I’m still at uni. I have to cram twenty or thirty years of visits into twenty or thirty days/weeks/months. I have to ask all my questions now; predict what I might want to know in years to come. Each birthday might be Mum’s last, so rather than forget it I want to make it special.
Should I continue to be as independent as possible and stay away from home, or should I return most weekends and spend time with my Mum? Should I spend my evenings binging on TV shows with my friends until 2am or making memories with my family? Will I regret not spending more time with Mum when she dies… or will I regret not spending more time at uni when I graduate?
There is no right or wrong answer to this. There isn’t a guidebook. There’s nobody to tell you what to do. Uni is different from school where you come home and see your Mum each night. It’s not like work where you’re home evenings and weekends (and even if you have your own house you can probably drive and visit your parents). University is an all-encompassing bubble and (for most) a once in a lifetime experience.
Every day I question my decisions and most nights I worry about whether I’m getting it ‘right’. Currently, I spend most of my time at uni, but speak to Mum on a regular basis. I go to her when I need advice or have a stupid question, and being able to do that is so wonderfully special. When I see her I cherish those moments and we take tonnes of photos.
Nothing is permanent in life and I’m lucky to have the chance to prepare for my Mum’s death where many don’t. That doesn’t make it any easier, but it’s something I have to be thankful for. Every day we all have to make decisions; some are bigger than others. I just hope I’m making the ‘right’ ones.