Campus Society Article: What it’s like caring for a terminally ill parent when you’re at university.

I remember the day Mum stopped being able to walk. I had to help her from her bed to her chair and wheel her to the bathroom. She could still wash herself at that point and once she’d finished I wheeled her back, found her medication and fixed her some lunch. I remember it so clearly because it was the last time I had some quality time alone with her.

I didn’t know that I was a carer until I’d been caring for over a year. Mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer during my second term of university. She died at the start of my final year.  I knew that none of my friends had a terminally ill parent, but that was about as far as my thinking went. It was only when I met someone from the charity York Carers who started asking me questions like “Do you worry about your Mum when you’re in lectures?” that I began to realise how different my student life was compared to my peers.

I didn’t think I was a carer because I still lived at university.  I hadn’t realised that a lot of things I did were things that my friends didn’t do. Like going home more a lot more often and checking in on my family every day. When going home, most of my friends would be waited on hand and foot, but even though I did still take my washing home (so much cheaper than on campus), I normally did it myself, and often ended up cleaning and cooking a fair bit too. I also didn’t appreciate the toll of emotionally supporting my family and worrying about not just Mum, but also about my Dad and brothers and how they were coping.

My caring responsibilities started slowly and increased steadily by the time Mum died, I hardly realised how far my life had shifted from that of a normal student. To begin with, it was just a matter of visiting home more often to see her. But over the course of Mum’s illness I’ve had to do many more things including visiting her in hospital, helping her drink, fetching her medication, and moving her around the house.

When she was in hospital, I occasionally missed lectures and in my second year I had to postpone my summer exam to give me enough time to catch up on all the work. I’m the eldest of three children, and the only girl, so I definitely felt some responsibility for managing the house while Dad was in hospital, transporting Mum’s family, or working.

Perhaps the biggest area of my uni life being a carer impacted was my social life. I could never commit to anything too far in advance for fear of letting people down and when I was at uni I often spent time catching up on work instead of being out with my friends. To begin with my friends were amazing. I lived in halls and we’d often crash each other’s rooms. I remember one friend arriving in my room with chocolate fingers and a film one night when I was having a particularly bad day. But in second year, as we moved out of halls and I had to go home more often, it became harder to keep those friendships up. The more time I spent at home or in hospital, the more distant I felt from uni and my friends there. I drifted from them as their lives moved on and mine stayed stuck in cancer-land. It wasn’t their fault, and whenever I do contact them or see them around they’re really supportive and still invite me to things. It’s just how it was.

Other young adult carers have shared similar experiences. Through the power of Twitter, I found two other carers with stories a bit like mine. Maariyah, a first year student at the University of Portsmouth, has been caring for her Mum for years and like me didn’t realise she was a carer for a long time, “I didn’t actually realise I was a carer until I got older and realised my role” she told me. Jane, a master’s student, has been caring for her sister for most of her life and now cares for both of her parents, too. Both Maariyah and Jane live at home and travel into university for their lectures, which in itself gives them a very different university experience from their friends, but one I instantly
recognised.

Bethany, a first year student at the University of Bedfordshire, has cared for her Mum from a young age. She lives at uni too but, like I did, travels home often.

Both Jane and Bethany mentioned how difficult it could be to socialise. Having less time to see their friends might be an obvious one, but they also spoke about not wanting to cancel plans at short notice, letting their friends down, and Bethany said “because  of my caring role I don’t like to go out much and haven’t found the confidence to have a social life at uni.”

Thankfully, all three carers receive support from their local carers organisations and Jane is also supported by her personal tutor and a lecturer. Talking about her lecturer she says “she’s been a star, I honestly believe that without her I would’ve definitely dropped out of uni. She’s been my rock throughout the last few years, she’s always there for me both academically and personally.” These supports are lifelines. Helping carers to manage the various strains on their time and providing them with occasional light relief. I can relate to this, I’ve been incredibly well supported by both my academic supervisor and my college welfare team who have constantly gone out of their way to help me out. Once I discovered I was a carer and found York Carers, I began to receive support from them too which has been invaluable.

It is estimated that there are 290,369 carers in the UK aged 16-24 but the true number is unknown because so many young adult carers may not even recognise themselves to have a caring role. Out of those who identify themselves as a young adult carer, 25% won’t tell their college or university about their caring role. It isn’t quite clear why but often it can be because they don’t know the support that could be available to them, or they are worried about the reaction of their tutors. Under the Care Act, 2014, every carer is entitled to support to help them to carry on with their life. This includes the right for every carer to receive a carer’s assessment, assessing the needs of themselves and their family to make sure that they receive the support they deserve, such as help with the caring itself, assistance with travel costs, or enabling the carer to have some time away from their caring role so that they can do something else for a while.

Despite the difficulties caring can throw up, most of us wouldn’t want our responsibilities taken away. I got a sense of pride from caring, I love my families, and would rather care for them myself than have a relative stranger do it. Being a carer, I learned a lot. I learned about the issues facing a person with limited mobility, both in their house and when trying to get out and about. I discovered how non-wheelchair-friendly many places are and found a new appreciation for anyone wheelchair-bound. I learned how to support a disabled person around their home – and about the various gadgets available to help with that. I also learned things about myself, mainly that I’m more resilient than I ever thought possible.

Every carer needs support. There’s no reason that being a carer should stop you from attending university or college, if you want to. If you think you might be entitled to carer support, go to carers.org to find your nearest carers centre.

This article originally appeared on Dorms, the online magazine of Campus Society, check it out here.

900 Cancer Diagnosises A Day

Someone just rang me up on behalf of Macmillan. It was someone asking for donations, as you might expect (I don’t think they’ve ever rung me up for anything else, and yes you can get annoyed at cold callers, but at the end of the day it’s their job and at least this time it’s for a charity not for PPI or something). The line used to get donations this time was ‘900 people are diagnosed every day with cancer in the UK*’.

900 people. Every single day. Now of course, their reason for telling me this was to get donations, but 900 people is a LOT.

That’s 900 people who are hearing the news every day, and then 900 people who are going to have to go home and tell their family and friends. 900 lots of family and friends who are going to have to hear the news that someone they love has cancer. Well over 900 lives that are going to be affected by cancer on any given day.

Not all of these will be terminal, like Mum, but some will be.

It makes me so angry. I hate this disease. I hate what it does to people. Not just to the people diagnosed – but their family and friends too. Look at my family – a unit of 5, plodding along. Mum diagnosed the first time and we did okay. We accepted it, we dealt with it, we brushed ourselves off and got back up again.

Then round two hit. My youngest brother is doing okay at the minute. But at 15 years old he saw his Mum for the last time, and that shouldn’t be something which happens to anyone. My middle brother is doing okay at the moment too. He’s in a decent job with bright university prospects. But last year it hit him hard, he had an incredibly difficult time at university and ended up not pursuing that particular course and that particular uni. Dad’s taking things in his stride but it’s clear he’s not exactly ‘living the dream’, so to speak. I don’t want to write much more than that on the 3 main men in my life – it’s their life to share if they want to and not really my place to do it for them. But they have been deeply affected, as anyone would be if their spouse or Mum died?

Me? Well, it’s been 2.5 months since Mum died and almost 24 since she was diagnosed. I’m not back at uni yet – it doesn’t feel possible at the moment and my GP was fairly explicit that she didn’t think now was a good time to go back, either. I’ve been struck down with anxiety so bad that it can take me a long time to even venture as far as the kitchen opposite my room, and that’s if I make it.

I’m working on it, but I’m currently faced with having to find a new place to live, and new support, which isn’t exactly helping. I have found an absolutely brilliant charity this week though who have really been helping me out, and I am so grateful.

Building my life back up is not something that is going to be quick or easy. It’s going to be difficult and it’s going to take time. My Mum hasn’t just died, but she was ill for 20 months and if anything, that’s currently affecting me more.

I get frustrated often. I am desperate to get back to the person I used to be. The person who was able to hop on a train and nip down to London for the day. Who spoke in front of rooms full of people. Who enjoyed living and learning. Who socialised. Who never stopped. I used to be able to do all of that and now some days I can’t travel as far as 3 feet, and I feel unable to even comment on something on Facebook, never mind talking to hundreds of people.

Then I hear stats like this and I get even more frustrated because Mum’s cancer wasn’t a one off and it sucks. Cancer is affecting people every single day and I feel powerless to do anything about it. I’m not a scientist, I can’t cure cancer. I can’t take the pain away from people. I can’t cure their loved ones or better yet, stop them from even getting ill in the first place.

I wish I could, but I can’t. So I feel like I’m standing here watching it all from behind a glass screen. No matter how much I blog, no matter how much I scream or stamp my feet (figuratively, of course), it’s not going to fix this.

It’s times like this when I wish I had the faith that my Mum held so deeply. I wish I could believe in this bigger plan drawn up by a loving God. But I’m struggling to. I’m working on it. But it’s another thing which just isn’t that easy.

*At a very quick Google, I can’t find their evidence for this, but I didn’t look very hard. But whether it’s exactly 900 or not, it’s still a lot.

UK Blog Awards 2016

UK Blog Awards popped up on my Twitter feed with a call for nominations a couple of months ago. I procrastinated for weeks -my confidence isn’t all that great and I’m constantly surprised that people actually want to read what I write. It took a lot of persuasion from friends but eventually I nominated myself.

In all honesty, the main reason I decided to do it was to increase the exposure of this blog, not because I want tens of thousands of followers on Twitter or to be the most popular blog in the world ever or anything like that. I just know how alone I felt when Mum was first diagnosed, and how alone I’ve felt at times throughout her illness and eventual death and the more people who read this blog, the more likely it is that it will read someone who is in a similar position and needs to feel less alone.

I can’t cure cancer. I can’t bring my Mum back. I can’t change what has happened in our lives over the last few years. I can’t write off anyone else’s diagnosis or stop anyone else from going through the pain of cancer or of a loved one dying. All I can do is keep writing and hope that someone might read it at 2am when the world feels dark, and that it helps them to fall asleep knowing they’re not completely alone.

If you’d like to vote for me in these awards, you can do so here.

If You Make One New Year’s Resolution This Year: Make It to Talk About Death

Death is something we don’t routinely talk about.

Our understanding of death changes as we grow. As a child we’re fairly open about it. We have grand ideas of our loved ones (normally pets or worms) going to a ‘happy place’ or going on ‘holiday’. Death doesn’t seem particularly scary to us, it’s just a part of life.

As we grow, our understanding grows too. We begin to learn that death means our loved one is never coming back, and start to respond to that. Some of us might then believe in reincarnation. Others hold on to ideas of heaven or an afterlife. Whatever we believe, somewhere along the line most of us learn that death is not something that’s widely talked about, and it becomes something scary and unknown.

Whether we’re scared or not, and whatever we believe, one of the few certainties in life is death; it’s going to happen to all of us at some point. In our house we’ve tended to be fairly open about it – Mum was a palliative medicine consultant, so to ignore it would’ve been to ignore Mum’s job almost entirely – but even if it’s not something you want to discuss around the dinner table, it’s something we need to talk about.

Let’s start with the medical bits. Would you wish to be resuscitated? Would you want tube feeding if you reached the stage where you couldn’t feed yourself? Would you want your child to look after you when you became immobile, or would you rather be in a nursing home?

Moving on, what about immediately after death? Would you like to be cremated of buried? Would you like a traditional funeral or something a bit different? You can’t answer these questions once you’re unconscious, or dead. The worst thing for your family would be to have a conversation with a doctor about whether to resuscitate you (if needs be) in the night, and for them to have absolutely no idea of what you would want. It’s worth thinking about these questions not just for you, but also in the context of your loved ones.

You could even chat to those closest to you about what they believe happens after death. Is the finality of death simply too much to think about, or is it important to consider it fully? Perhaps you believe that death isn’t the end, that reincarnation or an afterlife makes sense to you. I often find this conversations a lot less morbid than you’d think, and you can learn a lot about someone from their responses, and the reasons behind those responses.

There are lots of scary things in life, and I think death is one of them. But I can’t think of anything much scarier than being asked what my Dad or either of my brothers would want in this situation, and having absolutely no idea. It would destroy me.

I’m so lucky that Mum and Dad had these conversations, because in February when Mum slipped into a coma, Dad was able to tell the medical staff exactly what she wanted. When Mum died, Dad knew not to try heavy CPR to buy her a few more painful hours. Knowing what Mum wanted has saved out family so much suffering, and has given us some peace of mind.

So maybe death isn’t something you really want to think about at the start of the New Year (let’s face it, there are more fun things to think about). Perhaps you think you’re not old enough to discuss it. Maybe it’s not the most exciting of topics to chat about over a few pints, or maybe it is, but either way I challenge you to talk about it. I don’t mind how you do it, or when; it could be tomorrow or in three months’ time. Maybe it will be a short, sweet conversation, or perhaps it opens up discussions you didn’t realise you needed to have.

For more information on talking about death, check out Dying Matters, a charity who aim to help people talk more openly about death, dying and bereavement.

Featured: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/naomibarrow/new-years-resolution-talk-about-death_b_8895214.html?utm_hp_ref=uk

Two Month Anniversary… And A Celebration

Yesterday marked two months without Mum. Two whole months. At one month I wasn’t sure whether it felt like more or less time since Mum had died, but at two months I can confirm it feels so much longer.

I’m home at the moment and already there are subtle changes which hint at Mum not being here… The lack of natural yoghurt in the fridge (and the huge increase in cheese). The emergency ‘crap I’ve left my eyeliner at uni’ stash is no longer there. There isn’t a spare conditioner in the cupboard. Dad is amazing and any time I mention something like this he goes out of his way to rectify it (or already has and it’s just in a different place), but they all show that things are slowly changing.

As well as marking two months without Mum, yesterday also marked 16 wonderful years of my youngest brothers’ life.

We are so blessed to have him in our lives. I love him to pieces and as a sibling unit, we’ve really had to stick together over the past few years which only strengthens our relationship.

I struggled to know how we could make the day a bit special – Mum was always so good at that and Ed didn’t seem particularly bothered about doing anything. Drop scones for breakfast, chocolate milk in the fridge, party rings for tea and a caterpillar cake did the trick and he finished the day smiling which is all that matters really.

We’re a family of four now. A little unit navigating our new lives both separately and together. Learning how to adapt to this new life without Mum, and we’re getting there slowly. Yesterday was a reminder that we can have a new normal, we can smile, and we can celebrate. Mum died but we didn’t, and slowly we’re learning to live again.

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When Cancer Meets Christmas

Christmas has always been a special time of year in our household. Aside from the fact that my parents are both Christian, we’ve grown up in a little village, so Christmas has always involved the primary school nativity, the church party and carol service, and the vicar demonstrating each child’s favourite gift on Christmas morning (he once skateboarded down the aisle).

We have lots of lovely family traditions too; wrapping up warmly to go and dig up the Christmas tree with Dad (and it always being too tall and always needing the top cut off in order to fit Mum’s star on), baking mince pies, gingerbread houses and shortbread Christmas trees with Mum, and all three children, however big we got, snuggling up to Mum in Mum and Dad’s bed on Christmas Eve listening her read the Farmyard Tales Christmas book, finding the yellow duck on every page.

Every other year, we’d host a big Christmas with cousins (and later, their various families), aunties, uncles and grandparents descending upon us from all over the country. The house would be full from Christmas to New Year and we’d never be short of someone to play with. Mum would be ‘on call’ for the hospital and the children’s hospice the years we were home, and we’d always hope that she wouldn’t be called during Christmas dinner.

The last few years, Christmas has still been special, but there’s no denying that cancer has squeezed it’s way into it.


2012: The Christmas of diagnosis one.

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Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of August 2012.

Christmas fell during the chemo weeks. Mum would have a dose of chemo, take a week off work, then head back to work for two weeks before the next lot. I don’t remember Christmas being affected that year, though. I imagine that since I was on a gap year, I had more time to help out with baking and other things. She looks tired on this picture, but we were happy and hopeful of a better 2013.

2013: The remission Christmas.

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2013 and Mum was in remission! (As of about April). From memory we were determined to make it the best Christmas ever (or at least I was…). I’m fairly sure I spent far too much money. I was at uni by this point but I know I came home as soon as term was over and spent a lot of time in the kitchen baking with Mum. I’m pretty certain we baked quite literally everything and anything we could think of. Thanks to my extreme wrapping practice from working in a Toy Shop, I remember spending an entire afternoon with Mum in the spare room wrapping everything and singing along to Christmas songs.

Mum went on a two week cruise down the Rhine to multiple Christmas markets with my auntie, too. They had wanted to do it the year before but had to postpone it (for obvious reasons). They loved it and it probably only fuelled our Christmas fever even more. I remember my auntie posting this picture on Facebook with a comment wishing good health in the following year. We all felt so hopeful, lucky and blessed.

2014: Mum’s final Christmas.

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I think on some level we all knew it would be Mum’s final Christmas. She’d been diagnosed as terminal in the February and hospitalised once in September and again in November. I can’t remember if there was another hospitalisation in between. We were well-practiced at gowning up, putting on plastic gloves, and giving air-hugs across the room. Things were a bit more rushed due to the November hospitalisation, but I don’t remember us missing out on anything. Mum was better than she had been in weeks. After the second hospitalisation, she’d stopped chemo and I can clearly remember her being full of energy and life. You wouldn’t have known she was sick if it wasn’t for the headscarf.

2015: The first Christmas without Mum.

I don’t feel Christmassy this year. I’ve tried to hide from it, if I’m honest. It reminds me of Mum and I don’t feel strong enough for that at the moment. We’re going to a family friend’s house. We’ve known them since I was six weeks old and they’re practically family, but we’ve never been to their house on Christmas day before so it’s a new kind of Christmas for us.

Perhaps we’ll make some new traditions this year – I don’t know. I know we will laugh. I expect we will play cards and probably some board games. I imagine we’ll watch a Christmas film or two. We will definitely eat some turkey. We will probably be happy (I hope so!). The room will be filled with sounds of family and friends sharing good times together and genuinely appreciating one another.

Mum won’t be there in physical form, but I hope she’s there in her own little ways. When I eat a sprout and remember how every year Dad tried to get her to ‘try’ one (“if the children have to try things, you should too!”), and every year she put it back on his plate because she hated them with a passion. When I’m too full for pudding, I’ll remember how before she got sick, however full she might have been there was always room for chocolate. When we play Articulate, I’ll remember how whenever her and Viv teamed up to play that or Pictionary, the rest of us wouldn’t stand a chance.

Mum will be around on Christmas, I just wish she was around in person so that I could well and truly beat her at Gin Rummy.

Featured: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/naomibarrow/when-cancer-meets-christmas_b_8857354.html

So Many Charities, So Little Money.

Every time I watch TV at the moment, I see an advert asking me to give money to save some animals. Listening to Spotify, I often hear someone asking me to give money to bring music to war-torn countries. Cycling down the road, I see billboards asking me to give money to feed starving children.

It’s the time of year where charities everywhere are ploughing their marketing budgets into as many adverts as they can muster, over as many different media platforms as possible. There’s an advert at every turn and you simply can’t escape them. They’re counting on your Christmas cheer, hoping that once you’ve had a little too much brandy and one too many mince pies, you might be feeling jovial enough to throw some pennies their way.

Donating is really important. Charities need money to run, and I don’t know how much of their annual income they generate at Christmas but I would guess it’s a fair sum. I really do think it’s great that people are giving to charities, and it is vital that they receive money to carry out their work.

However, what happens when you just don’t have the money to give? Life can be expensive at the best of times but Christmas is notoriously expensive. Whether you’re hosting a big family Christmas, travelling to see friends and relatives, or just having a quiet one at home – there’s no denying that it’s probably the most expensive time of year.

Like many people, I can relate to this. Our family are by no means deprived, but my bank account is definitely crying a little as a result of Christmas shopping. I hate seeing these adverts knowing that I can’t give them money. It can make me feel incredibly guilty and I know I’m not the only one in this position because others have mentioned it to me, too.

One thing you could give, if you don’t have spare cash floating about, is time. Time is so valuable and so precious. With Mum dying this year, I have learned to appreciate time in a way that I never have done before. I remember having a conversation with Mum around the start of uni when I was racking up the volunteering hours like nobody’s business. It started with a chat about how much I should donate to charity each month and we ended up chatting about other ways to help charities. We concluded that I might not give much money right now, and donate my time instead (I had spare time but not really any spare money at the time). Then when I’m older and employed in a more stable job, I’d be likely to have spare money but not so much spare time, so at that point I might give more money but not give as much time.

BBC Radio 1 are currently running a campaign called #1MillionHours. They’re trying to encourage young people to pledge their time to Cancer Research UK, Barnardos, Age UK and/or Oxfam. You can also pledge your time to another charity, then tweet them using the hashtag #1millionhours to make sure your hours are added to the campaign. They want to get 1 million hours of volunteering pledged which will then be carried out over the course of 2016.

Personally, I’ve pledged to Cancer Research UK. If volunteering for them means I can help them to raise money which supports their research, then I’m up for it. Their research could make sure that another 21 year old in 5 years time isn’t facing a Christmas without their Mum. (Side note: I’ve also started putting together a Race for Life team in Mum’s memory and you should absolutely do that if you’re able to – it’s so much fun, especially the Pretty Muddy ones!).

My challenge to you this Christmas is that if you’re like me and have the time but not much money, rather than seeing these adverts and feeling guilty that you can’t help, or just brushing them off: pledge some hours to them. Join #1millionhours, and give the gift of time to those that need it most.

I Miss You

You never cry as freely as when wrapped in a Mum’s hug. I keep lying there imagining you next to me, warm. Perhaps my head on your stomach, maybe our feet touching. It’s safe, though. Then I realise my head is on a cushion and my feet are cold only because they’re outside of the cover, not because they’re touching yours, and a fresh wave of grief hits me. I keep dreaming of your hugs, both the ones I wanted and the ones I wanted but tried to tell you I didn’t… even the ones I didn’t want at all. I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror. There are salt lines down my face. I miss your hugs. I miss sleeping through the night. I wish I never knew what my face looked like with eyeliner and mascara streaks decorating my cheeks – the only visible sign of grief. I miss being able to tell you when I had a good day, a bad day, a nothing day. I miss you.

Submissions?

So, over the past few weeks I’ve been working on getting myself back and working out where on earth I am in life/the universe/everything (and also sleeping a lot).

Today I managed proper social contact, getting up on time, showering, clearing my desk and clearing my inboxes (not necessarily in that order), but today was definitely a ‘win’ day.

A few things have occurred to me recently and I wanted to get people’s opinions on them. I’ve had quite a lot of messages in recent times from people who have been/are in a similar situation to me. I’ve had all sorts of grand ideas and plans floating through my head, but the truth of it is, I’m not in the right head space to do any of that right at this moment.

One thing I was considering doing, is setting up a way for people to submit their stories (anonymously or not), and having a page on this blog where they’d all be held. Would anyone be up for that or interested in that?

Over time, once my degree is further/done and my head’s a little clearer, I potentially want to look at how we can promote conversations about terminal illness and about loved ones dying. I have a few ideas around it but they are literally just ideas at this stage and nothing more.

Anyway, I’ll leave it here, because I’ve got to head out and I’m sure this is long enough for today, but please let me know if submissions are something you’d be interested in reading and/or contributing 🙂

The First Days of Grief

Mum died on Friday.

She had a ‘good death’. Those in palliative medicine define a ‘good death’ as one where the dying person is symptom free, in the place they want to be, with the people they want to be with. Mum died symptom free, in our lounge, with Dad by her side.

Saying ‘Mum died’ might seem blunt to some, but that’s what happened. Mum worked in palliative medicine all of her life and as a family we’ve always spoken about death and end of life care openly and honestly, so it seems only appropriate that we continue that when discussing Mum’s death.

It’s been a few days since she died now, and everything’s a bit weird. Time seems to have become somewhat fluid and lost any sense of meaning. Hours can fly by and minutes can get stuck. It’s very strange.

You would think that after three years of cancer, and 20 months of terminal cancer, you might be somewhat prepared for the dying stage – but I don’t think anything prepares you for your Mum’s death.

When I got the call, I knew that Mum had died before Dad told me – why else would he be ringing me at 12:45 on a Friday? Everyone I then called for the rest of the day knew, too. Mum deteriorated rapidly in the two weeks before she died, so though hearing of her death still came as a shock to people, it wasn’t completely unexpected.

The rest of the day passed by in a blur of hugs, visitors, many cups of tea, phone calls, visits to people and cake. I am learning that tea and food, often in the form of cake or stew, are essentials in the ‘visiting a bereaved person’ tool kit… no complaints from our end!

Over the weekend, life was on pause. The distinction between day and night disappeared and I kept finding myself forgetting how to do basic things that I’ve known how to do since I was a toddler. I wasn’t really upset or sad, just didn’t really feel like doing much. Talking and other noises sounded very loud and I found myself being drawn to my room where I could control the sound and light levels.

It seemed strange that people were being so nice to me, and to us. The offers of help, and ‘if I can do anything let me know’ came in thick and fast, we have an amazing bunch of family and friends around us. I didn’t feel like anything had changed, though, it felt like Mum was just at work, or in hospital or something, and like she’d come back at any point.

On Monday it hit me. I woke up feeling a little fragile, but was doing okay. I went to talk to someone in my college who’s been brilliant since Mum got diagnosed, she gave me a hug, I sat in her chair and began to talk to her, and I just broke. I cried for about forty minutes. My college administrator sat next to me with a hand on my knee, moving my hair from my face like my Mum used to, and I just cried. I stayed in her office for a further hour just sitting, staring, and sometimes talking before heading to the GP who’s another person who has been outstanding and gone above and beyond more times than I can count throughout Mum’s illness. The GP had rung me on Friday afternoon and arranged to see me on Monday. I ended up crying on her, too, she’s another one who gives brilliant hugs. She gave me the time I needed, and took the time to understand what was going on and how I was doing, focussing on the basics like eating and sleeping, with a plan to see her again on Friday.

Today I’m just tired. I’ve replied to some messages, watched TV, done a few jobs, and stayed under my blanket. I’m not particularly upset or sad today, just really, really tired.

It’s going to be a while before we develop a new normal as a family of four. My Mum was incredible and developing a life without her is going to be strange. I’m learning that there is no grief rule book, no pattern that everybody follows. Everybody is hit differently, and copes in a different way – and that’s okay.

I’ve been blogging about terminal cancer for a few months now, and that journey has now ended. My journey hasn’t ended, though, and neither has my family’s. I plan to continue to write about how things go, and how everything plays out, because I think it’s important. I will not be the only one to have ever gone through this, or who will ever go through this, and I think it’s important to be able to talk about it and write about it openly and honestly.

Mum was amazing. She achieved so much and touched so many people over her 53 years. I’ve written more about her on the donation page she requested we set up in her memory. The next days, weeks, months, and years are going to be tough. But we’re incredibly lucky to have a brilliant bunch of family, friends, and other supports around us, who will help us through.

Featured: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/naomibarrow/the-first-days-of-grief_b_8403720.html