Charities and Campaigns You Could Consider This Christmas

This blog post is a little late, but life has been getting on top of my lately and I’m a bit behind with everything! Christmas is a time when lots of people consider giving to charity, which is absolutely wonderful. I thought I’d do a little post with a few suggestions of places you could donate to.

Presents for the elderly in hospital
I know that York Hospital are currently accepting present donations for the 15433766_1087563644689637_4144773404954213601_nelderly who are in hospital over the Christmas period (here is the press article). I imagine that other hospitals are doing similar (if you don’t live in York). We bought a few boxes of chocolates and gift sets the other night and we’re going to drop them off later this week. It’s not something that costs very much but it can make the world of difference to someone in hospital over Christmas. (Update: gift collection at York Hospital has been halted due to an overwhelming response, but I imagine there are many other places who would appreciate gift donations!).

Martin House
We are still currently collecting for Martin House, to replace the lights in the corridor of the children’s bedrooms in memory of Mum. If you’d like to donate to this fund, you can do so here.

Yorkshire Cancer Research
We are leading the YCR collection this Christmas. They’re encouraging people to share treasured memories and donate in memory of a loved one. You can see more on their campaign here and here. I’ve also included the letter I wrote to lead this campaign below.

Whatever you’re doing this Christmas, I hope you all have a peaceful time with your family and friends, and that it is as stress-free as possible for you all. Xxx

The YCR letter:
I used to love Christmas. Mum would start the preparations in October half term with baking the cake. It would fill the house with wonderful smells, marking the transition from summer to winter. The cake baking would closely be followed by weekends spent cooking mincemeat, baking and freezing batches of mince pies and the odd Christmassy pudding.

We used to alternate our Christmases – one at home, one with Mum’s family. Years at Mum’s family’s house were a little quieter, we would often pop in on other relations over the festive period, but Christmas day itself would just be me, my brothers, my parents, my Grandad, Aunt and Uncle. Years at home were a little more chaotic – Mum was usually ‘on call’ (she was a consultant in palliative medicine, or end of life care to you and me), so she would often be on the phone to hospitals or hospices and would occasionally have to pop out. The house would always be full, often reaching 20 people by Christmas day – rarely would there have been under ten people in the house over the whole festive period.

The last time we had that many people in the house was for Mum’s funeral.

Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2012. She found it early, had a lumpectomy followed by preventative chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Spring 2013, she was given the ‘all clear’ and started on Tamoxifen, a drug developed by Yorkshire Cancer Research, which helped to keep her in remission. Unfortunately, Mum’s cancer came back. In February 2014, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer; she died in October 2015 aged 53.

Mum asked for money given at her funeral to go to Yorkshire Cancer Research. I knew that Mother’s Day this year was going to be difficult, so I knew that I needed to do something positive. That’s when I set up ‘Memories about Mums’ – a way of fundraising for YCR, but also a space for those of us who are motherless to share our memories and celebrate our Mum’s lives.

Living without Mum is hard; I miss her every day. I miss texting her, seeing her dance around the kitchen whilst cooking or baking, and spinning on the spinny chair in her office – distracting her from whatever work she was trying to do. Mum has helped make me the person I am today. She was always busy, always up to something, often helping other people, and that’s something that I will always look up to.

The festive period doesn’t make that grief any easier. Nobody teaches you how to cope with grief – there’s no guidebook or manual to get you through it. One of the things that helps me, though, is to direct that grief into something positive, whether it be writing, fundraising or helping others. The blogs I write won’t bring Mum back but might help someone else in the same position, and any money I raise won’t bring Mum back, but will fund vital research which could prevent others in Yorkshire from also having to have Christmases without their Mum.

It would be lovely, if this Christmas, we could extend ‘Memories about Mums’, and share memories of all the loved ones who won’t be with us this Christmas, whether that be through a donation in their memory, or a donation of the amount you would have spent on a Christmas present for them.

Together, we can help to tackle cancer in Yorkshire.

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You Can’t Change The World, But You Can Change Your World

This morning I woke up to the news that Trump is president of the US.

Now, I don’t really understand politics, especially American politics, and I must admit I haven’t followed the election very closely, but from my limited understanding, I believe that this is quite a Bad Thing (unless you’re a white, straight, able-bodied, middle-class, non-muslim, non-immigrant man).

It saddens me that there is so much hatred in the world. Such an unwillingness to accept others who are a little different to us. Trump is a strange man by all accounts. He comes out with some, quite frankly, bizarre statements, and seems to close his eyes, spin in a circle, point at a random group of people, and decide that they’re the group he’s going to hate on that particular day.

But what saddens me more than anything Trump says (because let’s be honest, whatever he’s saying we can still laugh a little because he looks kind of like an angry carrot with a fluffy gerbil plonked on top), is the fact that there are a substantial number of people who agree with him. I’m not actually convinced that Trump believes in everything he says, I think he just comes out with ludicrous statements to try and shock people (sort of like Katie Hopkins). I think that towards the end of the election, his team were playing a game of ‘what’s the most stupid thing we can come out with that people will still go for’. So it’s not Trump that scares, confuses and saddens me, as much as the huge number of people who believe, what are in my opinion, racist, sexist, homophobic policies.

I can’t change the election, and neither can you. I can’t change much in this world, to be honest, I don’t hold that power. I can’t fix countries, stop wars, or cure diseases. I’m just one little person attempting to work, study, eat, sleep, and not crash my bike.

I can’t change the world, we can’t change the world, but we can change our worlds.

We can treat people with dignity and respect. We can hold our judgements on people and try and understand where they’re coming from (yes, including Trump and his supporters). We can love deeply, use social media responsibly, and try to show compassion in all that we do. We can do our best to remain kind, caring, and humble in our day to day lives. We can open our arms to those in danger of persecution, take five minutes to talk to someone who’s hurting, ask those around us if they are okay, and genuinely want to hear an honest answer.

We can’t control the world, but we can control our response to it. If you’re angry about the politics of this world – that’s okay! But use that anger to do something. Channel it into something productive and positive. Don’t just sit on social media complaining about it because that won’t achieve anything.

Wallowing

You know that episode of Gilmore Girls after Rory breaks up with Dean and Lorelai is begging her to wallow but Rory just wants to stay super busy and then at the end she decides she needs to wallow?

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That’s how I feel about grief right now.

For a while everyone says ‘well it’s so soon’ and ‘you’re still experiencing the first of everything’ and ‘you’ve bounced back quickly’ and stuff like that and then grief just settles into this sort of monotony and everyone (including me!) goes on with their lives not forgetting but not really remembering either in quite the same way.

It almost feels as though for a year everyone’s been telling me to slow down/step back/be sad/whatever but all I’ve wanted to do is to get on/move forward/learn how to live again without the unpredictableness of cancer (because however unpredictable grief can be I can guarantee it’s still more predictable than terminal cancer).

It’s been working, too. There have been moments/days/the occasional weekend when I’ve cried more than others. It’s definitely not all been an upwards trajectory of ‘feeling better’, more a steady meander into ‘okayish’ via a few potholes and the odd massive dip… but on the whole I have been slowly beginning to feel a bit more ‘me’ again – dipping my toe into old hobbies, finally meeting up with friends I haven’t seen in yonks, allowing myself to smile and laugh again.

At the moment, it feels as though things are sliding. In truth, things began to slide and I didn’t realise, then I ignored them, then I pretended to ignore them, and it’s only been the past few weeks that I’ve been a little more forced to stop ignoring them.

Right now there is so much in the world that is making me so sad (and occasionally angry). Every day I seem to see or hear something that makes me feel as though I’m breaking all over again. Often it’s things in the news, or on my social media feeds, but sometimes it’s a song or a smell or a memory. All of a sudden I’m wanting to cry all of the time (again), and finding it harder to leave the house than I have done in months (except for work… the majority of the time work seems to break that particular spell), and I’m struggling to come up for air.

I want to be doing projects and organising things. I want to want to go out and do stuff. I want to want to get dressed. I want to want to jump in the car and go to places… but I don’t. I’m permanently exhausted.

I’m trying to limit my use of some social media sites/apps right now. I’m trying to be kinder and softer towards myself – surrounding myself with blankets/teddies/heat packs. I’m trying to get to bed on time, trying to let myself wear my new fluffy PJs (my old ones were at least 6/7 years old and it’s only taken a few months of almost flashing every time I stand for me to force myself to buy some new ones with some elastic that works…) and let myself sleep in the new bedding I finally persuaded myself to buy. I’m trying to give myself the hug that Mum would have given me.

I will get the me of a few months ago back again, I hope. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but I know I have some amazingly lovely and wonderful people by my side to help me get there. For now, until I get there, I might just need to let myself ‘be’.

(PS. If you haven’t seen Gilmore Girls then I don’t even know what to say other than please go and get yourself a Netflix subscription and watch every episode ever made back to back. It’s important, I promise).


We’re currently fundraising in memory of Mum, one year on.
Here is where you can donate to Mum’s ‘one year on’fundraising page online.
If you’d like to donate via your phone, please text ‘FOYO53’ followed by £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 to 70070.

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Dear Mum, It’s Been A Year Since You Died.

Dear Mum,

It’s been a year since you died. 525600 minutes if ‘Rent’ is to be believed. ‘525000 moments so dear’ (quite what happened to the other 600 moments is anyone’s guess).

It’s gone fast in many ways, though part of that could be because I lost a number of months to depression, sadness, anxiety, or whateverelse you want to call it.

Time is a funny old thing. No matter what is happening, it continues. It can feel fast or slow, but ultimately, a second is a second, a minute is sixty seconds, an hour is sixty minutes. Time really does go on.

The world is a little darker without you in it. A little duller. Your laugh no longer bounces off the walls of the house. Your arms no longer gather me into a hug when I walk through the door. Your smile doesn’t greet me as I come up the drive. I’m remembering things with a positive slant. Of course it wasn’t always like that, especially when you were working late, or once you became ill, but who wants to remember the bad stuff? I still can’t believe I’ll never take another photo with you.

The depression is nothing new, you know that. Often, when you would wake me up on a morning, I would be crying – crying in my sleep, literally waking up on the wrong side of bed, having a bad day before I’d even moved a muscle. You would see me crying and give me a hug. You would get my clothes ready for me and remind me how to get dressed. You would feed me chocolate on an evening (because it could fix anything). You would only ever be a text away, even when you were ill. You would let me come into your bed in the middle of the night when the world felt dark and the nights felt never-ending. You would ask what was wrong but not expect an answer. Your calm, quiet understanding and love could carry me through the hardest of days and the toughest of nights.

I need a hug, Mum. Things were getting easier for a while but at the moment they are getting hard again and often getting from my bed to the kitchen feels like wading through treacle. It can be hard to move. Everything aches and I don’t know why. Maybe my body is missing you. I have to set my alarm earlier in the morning to allow for the dazed confusion when I can’t function or remember anything much at all when I wake up. Sometimes life can feel all over the place and I need a ‘Mum hug’ to ground me. A Mum hug to set everything straight. A Mum hug to make the world feel safe again.

I keep panicking that people are dying. You were the healthy one, the fit one. You ate well, had a normal BMI, exercised, never smoked, didn’t drink much… the perfect candidate for a long and healthy life. I look at those I care about now and see walking diagnoses. I panic when I get a text from Dad or one of the boys. I’m waiting to hear that someone else is ill or someone else has died. It’s only a matter of time.

A lot can change in a year, it seems. I’ve moved house twice, and well and truly moved out of the house I grew up in. I’ve started a new job – well, two new jobs, but one was short-lived. I think you’d like my boss and colleagues; they’re on your wavelength. Both J and I have passed our driving tests (finally!). J has started at a new uni on a new course, and from the significant drop in the number of texts I receive on a daily basis, I can only assume he’s enjoying it (or he’s got fed up of my lack of replies…). E has started sixth form and seems to be loving it. He’s met new people and worked out that every other week his frees align with his friend’s and they can all go round to someone’s house and eat pie. He’s found someone at school who went to his nursery – we looked for his nursery class photo but couldn’t find it. You would know where it was. Dad has started learning to swim front crawl, he’s joined the local AmDram, he’s continuing to use his share in an airplane fly all over the place (though never as often as he’d like), and he’s just about keeping on top of the selling FairTrade stuff at church. Pops has had a pacemaker fitted which brought a new lease of life – he’s back to emailing us little poems and procrastinating raking up the leaves in his garden. We’ve all ‘moved on’ in our own little ways – maybe ‘moving on’ is the wrong choice of words, but we’re all sort of continuing to live.

Someone asked me the other day if I ever talk to you. I don’t. What is there to say? It’d be a pretty one-sided conversation. I often talk about you as if you were still alive, though. It catches people off guard, sometimes. Most people have stopped asking now. Death is just a part of life, but not a part that people like talking about – as a palliative medicine doctor, you always said that people should talk about death more, and now I understand why. I don’t think that death is something which should be feared. I was talking about this with E the other day, we both decided that if we were held at gunpoint we would rather die than be seriously injured. Not that people who have had serious injuries can’t lead fulfilling lives, it’s just somehow more scary to contemplate that than it is to contemplate death.

I miss you. Many people say ‘time heals’, but time only seems to make it harder. It’s more time without you, more times where I’ve missed your advice, more time without a hug from you, more times that I’ve not been able to update you on my life, more times when you’ve not been on the end of the phone. It often feels like a gaping hole – I never knew that absence could hurt so much. The pain can be crippling.

Time has taught me how lucky I was to have you and quite how amazing you were. I hear stories from your friends, colleagues and classmates. I find your work online. Lessons you taught me come back to me when I’m going about my day. I take your values to work with me every day. I chat to people who never knew you, I describe my relationship to you (the ups and the downs, because it certainly wasn’t all plain sailing), and they remind me how lucky I was to have had a Mum as amazing as you.

I know you wouldn’t want us to spend time missing you. You would want us to make the most of every day. To take every opportunity and try our best in all that we do. You would want us to value the time we spend with each other, enjoy our jobs, and ensure that we play as hard as we work. You did all these things with such apparent ease. I have no idea how you kept everything going, I struggle with a fraction of what you did, but you did it. You worked hard, played hard, loved hard. An incredible wife, Mum, daughter, colleague, doctor, auntie, congregation member, band member and friend, right to the end.

I want to say that I’m sorry for not being more, doing more and achieving more. But I know you would tell me that my best was good enough and I need to be kind to myself. I want to say I’m sorry for not always being kind to myself – I’m not sure what your answer would be to that (probably a hug).

I’ll end this here. It’s very long and nobody wants to read all that. Plus, you can’t exactly read it so I’m not sure why I’m writing it. Maybe in a vague attempt to help someone else. Perhaps an effort to make sense of some of the crap filling up my head. I don’t really know.

I miss you Mum. Lots of love. Xxx


We’re currently fundraising in memory of Mum, one year on.
Here is where you can donate to Mum’s ‘one year on’fundraising page online.
If you’d like to donate via your phone, please text ‘FOYO53’ followed by £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 to 70070.

Birthday Memories

It’s my brother’s bithday today. He’s 21. Does that make him officially an adult? If it does then the world should probably be a bit scared.

He’s down in Oxford loving life/studying/whatever it is you do down there. It’s his first bithday away from us. I’ve sent many things in the post (a blog for another time).

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J’s cake last year (before Mum stole a strawberry lace…).
Last year we had a party for J’s bithday. We did it the Friday before Mum died. We made homemade pizzas. I made Mum a tiny one with everything on top of it chopped up into teeny pieces. We made J a cake and Mum stole a strawberry lace off the top. She couldn’t move out of her chair independently, and slept a lot, but she was very much in the room. It’s the most lucid I remember her in those final weeks. It’s the last time I remember her eating solid food. A day or two later, she stopped getting out of bed at all. A week later she died.

Dad asked me what they did for my 21st, when trying to decide what to buy J as a present. I got a Pandora charm from Mum and Dad. I spent the day working on a residential and Mum and Dad came over in the evening. We managed to find a restaurent with good enough disabled access for Mum to manage. A month later we had a cake. It was my last birthday with Mum.

A few weeks before my 21st, Mum went into a coma. I remember Dad saying that maybe it was a good time for her to die. It had been very quick. My birthday could be something positive to look forward to after the funeral. I never have been one for making a big deal of my own birthday (though I love making a big deal of others), but I felt even less like doing anything that year. In the end Mum woke up and lived another 8 months. This year I didn’t do anything at all.

I don’t know what Mum would have done for J’s birthday this year. I don’t know whether ‘well Mum’ would have made a big deal of 21st birthdays. There’s a lot I don’t know.

We’re currently fundraising in memory of Mum, one year on.
Here is where you can donate to Mum’s ‘one year on’fundraising page online.
If you’d like to donate via your phone, please text ‘FOYO53’ followed by £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 to 70070.

#LightsUpMyLife

Hello lovely person who follows my blog or social media (or just happened to stumble upon this post, in which case hello and welcome, here is a little more about me, and here is a bit about Mum).

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Mum – continuing to support us with charity events, even when she was wheelchair-bound.

As you may know, I’m currently fundraising for Martin House Children’s Hospice. This post tells you a little bit about all of that, but essentially, I’m attempting to raise £5000 in order to improve the lighting in the corridor of the children’s bedrooms to both improve the general light levels, and highlight the artwork on the walls. I’m doing this in memory of Mum, a year after she died.

It’s an ambitious target, and we have lots of plans for events and other things to help raise the money, but it would be amazing if we could hit £1000 by the anniversary of Mum’s death (Sunday). To help us on our way with this, I’m starting a social media campaign. It’s not particularly original, but hopefully it will be effective.

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Our little family of five ❤

The idea is, to post a picture of something which lights up your life (we’re lighting up a corridor, and Mum lit up the lives of many people, so it seems fitting). It could be your child, your cat, a friend, a sunset, a bar of chocolate… anything which lights up your life in some way. As you post the picture, tag 5 of your friends to do the same (there were 5 in our family so it seems like a good number), and text ‘FOYO53’ followed by £1/£2/£3/£4/£5/£10 to 70070 to donate to Mum’s fund, or, if you’d rather donate online, you can do so here.

Thank you to everyone who joins in with this, hopefully we can make a hug difference.

Xxx

Dear Friend Whose Mum’s Terminally Ill

When my Mum was first diagnosed as terminally ill, I didn’t know anybody who had been through anything similar. Even now, I know very few, but unfortunately, I have a couple of friends whose Mums have recently been diagnosed as terminally ill. Even though my Mum died less than a year ago, I still feel like I’m not sure of the right thing to do or say, but here’s a stab at getting some words written down.

Dear friend,

I know you’re scared. Whether the terminal diagnosis was a few months ago and your Mum is doing relatively well, whether it was a few weeks ago and it’s looking like this week might be her last, or whether it’s somewhere in between, I know you’re scared. You don’t know what’s going to happen with this illness. You don’t know how long you’ve got left with your Mum. You have never lived a life without your Mum, so you can’t imagine what that might be like. It’s impossible. And while all of this is going on, while your entire world is crumbling and you want to scream and shout and tell everyone you see that your Mum is dying and it’s not fair, everyone else somehow carries on as normal.

First and foremost, a terminal diagnosis is crap. There are no two ways about it. Some people will try to tell you that it will enlighten you in some way, others will tell you that your Mum has “had a good life”, many people will try to find a good or a meaning out of the bad that is a terminal diagnosis. This might be helpful for you, I don’t know, but I know that I found it incredibly frustrating and it made me feel guilty for not feeling good about anything much at all. One day a friend turned to me and said: “it’s crap, isn’t it? It’s just crap”. I found that incredibly liberating because it is crap. Your Mum being terminally ill is crap. Your Mum dying is crap. And it’s absolutely okay to feel that way.

Take selfies. Go to cafés. Go on walks. Sit and watch TV together. Just spend time with each other. They’re memories you will treasure. All of your life you’ve been making memories with your Mum, but in making those memories, it’s unlikely to have ever entered your mind that your Mum might not be there to make more memories with in future. Now you know, though, so spend time with your Mum if you can.

You might have lots of visitors – don’t be afraid to ask people to leave. Having people around is lovely. Seeing people you’ve not seen in ages is great. Giving people the chance to see your Mum is a wonderful thing to do… but you’re their child. You (and your immediate family) are your Mum’s closest family members. You get first dibs. Allow yourself some time as a family, and if you want it, allow yourself some time alone with your Mum, just you and her.

Your Mum is going to change in front of your eyes. Sometimes in ways you might expect – perhaps she will lose her hair, or gain a new scar – but she will change in ways you won’t expect, too. She will look smaller than you’ve ever seen her, sleep for more hours than she’s awake, perhaps her skin will change colour. It’s horrible, it will make you cry and you might not want to cry in front of her – but it is okay to do so if you do want to. She knows she’s changing, she knows it’s horrible, she’s your Mum – let her give you a hug.

There will be emotions you can’t name. That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to feel them. There are no right or wrong ways to feel, there are just feelings. Emotions are scary and can hurt, but even the most intense, most painful emotion will subside eventually. (Though eventually can feel like a very long time).

There will be nights when it feels like morning will never come. There will be nights when you don’t want morning to come because you’ve finally got through another day and you’re not sure you can do it all again tomorrow. You can do this, though. I can’t tell you how you do it, but you do. You get up again the next morning and you put a smile on your face, you cry in the bathroom, you drink a cup of tea, and you get on with your day.

You don’t have to have everything figured out. You don’t need to ask your Mum anything and everything you might ever want to ask her. People kept saying to me that I had time to ‘prepare’ and that I should ask my Mum everything I might ever want to know from her. I hardly knew what I would want to ask her an hour later, never mind a year or ten years later. I don’t know whether, when trying on a wedding dress, my first question will be “does my bum look big in this”, or “does this make me look ridiculously pale”. It’s too stressful to try and think of everything you might ever want to know – there’s no way to predict the future. You might have some things you know you will want your Mum’s help with (I asked my Mum for general wedding dress advice), but you really don’t have to have everything figured out – nobody does.

You will find strength you never knew you had. Strength within yourself, strength within your friendships and strength within your family. You may lose friends, especially if you’re young when your Mum is dying because people get scared and they stop calling. But you will gain friends, too, and you will realise that some friends who you haven’t spoken to in years, are the best friends you could ever ask for.

Your faith will be shaken. Whether it is faith in a higher power, in nature, in science, in people, or simply in good, it will be shaken because there is no rhyme or reason as to why this is happening. Eventually you will find faith in the little things again; in the warmth of a cup of tea, the squishiness of a hug, the sun illuminating the orange of the leaves, or something completely different.

Do whatever you need to do. There is no rule book for this, no guide. If you want to go back to work then do it. If you want to move back to your family home, then do so. If you want to do a charity skydive, a head shave, or a fun run, then do it, celebrate it, get all of your friends and family involved. If you don’t, and you just want to sit, watch TV and get emotionally invested in fictional characters, then that is absolutely okay too.

Please remember that you are not alone. There are friends and family who are right there alongside you, but if you feel like you need help from elsewhere, there are charities like Marie Curie, Hope Support (for young people), and Carers Trust who have helplines, forums, and online chats. It’s also perfectly okay to book a GP appointment and talk things over.

I promise you that whatever you’re doing, you are doing okay. You’re living life trapped in a nightmare, but you’re still breathing in and out, still checking in on friends, cooking the occasional meal and drinking copious cups of tea. You might not think you’re doing ‘well enough’, but I promise you that you are doing just fine.

Take a deep breath, you’ve got this, and if you ever feel like you haven’t, I’m only a text away.

Lots of love,
Your friend (who doesn’t know exactly what it’s like for you but has been through something similar).

Featured: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/naomibarrow/letter-terminally-ill-mum-cancer_b_12370816.html?utm_hp_ref=uk-universities-education&ir=UK+Universities+%26+Education