Today I went to the Central Leeds Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Event. It’s a very long name but was essentially a day in a room with a bunch of lovely people from around Yorkshire discussing children and young people’s mental health and the barrier to them accessing care. It was interesting and there were some (hopefully!) useful discussions. There were a lot of commissioners there too who seemed to want to listen to what young people were saying, so that’s always positive.
Halfway through the day we were left to our own devices to network. I met some lovely ladies from the charity ‘Just B‘. Just B are based in Harrogate and part of St Michael’s Hospice. They work with children and young people both before and after bereavement, and with adults post-bereavement (whether the bereavement itself was linked to the hospice or not). I had heard of them before but didn’t know a lot about them and certainly didn’t know they were linked to the hospice.
After we’d been speaking a little while, I brought up Mum (she often comes up in conversation, it usually goes something along the lines of ‘oh you live in York, are you at uni?’ ‘no, I was though’, ‘oh right did you graduate? what did you study?’ at which point I promptly forget that cancer/death/mum might make people feel uncomfortable and proceed to either have a great conversation, or a mini counselling session, or a mini counselling-someone-else session, or a very awkward end to a conversation and we all move on). Today it resulted in a great conversation.
I spoke to them about the gap in bereavement and terminal illness support for ‘young adults’. When you’re under 18 and there is a terminal illness in the family, the school, or a local charity often steps in and offers support. When you’re a ‘proper adult’, there is normally a friend who has been through something similar and can offer a shoulder. You’re also more likely to be settled somewhere and possibly have a job. When you’re over 18 but not really an adult, your friends are stumped, if you’re at uni they feel a bit stuck because it’s not something they often have to deal with, services often feel ‘too old’ and don’t seem to understand the complexity of being in your twenties (where you still really need your parents and more often than not are not settled in a stable living place and/or stable job). Young Adult Carers are available in some areas and they are absolutely brilliant, but there’s definitely a difference between having a chronically ill relative and a terminally ill relative.
At some point during this conversation, a commissioner came over and shared her story about her Mum dying at a young age.
The two ladies I spoke to were lovely and commented that until I mentioned it, they’d never thought of/seen that gap. They did say that they could completely see it, though, and that they had services available for that age (as they deal with both children and adults), but it just wasn’t something that they’d ever really seen as being a gap.
I shared my details with them (they might even be reading this post, I don’t know!), but it just hit home to me again that this gap is there and that there isn’t an easy solution for plugging it. Services aren’t often there, and even when they are there they aren’t necessarily ‘marketed’ to 18-30s. Grief is a personal thing at any age, but it’s definitely different to grieve for a parent at 21 compared to at 51.
It’s something I really want to look at. I want to create a space for people in a similar situation to myself (and Jenny, and Laura if you haven’t checked out their blogs you should!) to share their stories. To rant, to moan, to smile, to laugh, to get angry, to breathe and to ask advice. I want to find other young people in this situation and let them know that they are not alone and that life without their parent (or other close relative) can still be a life, even if it looks a bit different to how they imagined it would be. I want to share hope. There are lots of days when I feel hopeless, useless, angry, scared, lonely, happy, pretty much every emotion under the sun (frequently all of these in the space of 30 seconds), and I need people to know that it’s okay for that to happen.
It can be so lonely having a parent who’s ill and it can be so lonely having a parent who’s died. It’s hard to know if you’re making the right decisions (something I’ve often written about in this blog), when no decision seems like the ‘right’ one. It’s so hard to build your life back up when the world as you know it has changed forever. I’m lucky that I have some really good friends, but the mean age of my friends has probably gone up about ten or twenty years since Mum was diagnosed, and I’ve lost a fair number of friends along the way – and it’s not their fault or my fault, it just is.
I’m rambling now (and my brother isn’t editing this blog so apologies in advance!), but I can just see this gap glaring at me, and I don’t know how to fill it. I don’t even know how to make people realise it exists. But I want to, and I suppose the first step of anything is wanting to do it.