Is it getting easier, or am I just numb?

There have been a few things that have happened in the past few weeks which would normally trigger off ‘missing Mum’ alarm bells. They range in size, from those that would have knocked me for a few days, to ones which are just a bit tricky.

Things like:

  • Christmas (without Mum)
  • New Year (oh look, you have to survive another year without your Mum)
  • Getting a new phone (my old one was inherited from Mum, but there’s only so many times you can apologise to the person on the other end of the phone for the fact that your alarm is going off (while on the phone) and you can’t switch it off because your phone has frozen… before a new one becomes a bit necessary. I have mitigated it slightly by putting my favourite picture of us as my background, so I’ve still got Mum in my pocket)
  • Feeling ill (my flatmate and I had a discussion last night over which of my meds it might be a good idea to take, whether NHS 111 might be a good plan (nah, they’ll either tell me to go to bed or to A&E, and I don’t feel like going to A&E) and eventually concluded that heat packs, gaviscon and sleeping tablets with a ‘maybe it will be better tomorrow?’ would be a good plan)
  • An exam (who knows how that went as I’m currently a person of no brain and not really well enough to do much at all never mind take an exam, but I couldn’t postpone it again, and the invigilator said that I’ve aged well, so I feel like I won a little bit)
  • Upcoming appointments that I’m not feeling too fab about (Mum’s are good people to text ‘arghhhhhhhhhh’ to).
  • Feeling like generally, with my health, I don’t know whether I’m coming or going, and what to believe (Mum was always fairly blunt, if I walked in looking like I was dying she would tell me)
  • My mental health being a knob (seriously, as a twenty-something year old it’s hard enough to navigate life and try to keep yourself alive without your head attempting to kill you)
  • New year new diet crap (which she would have healthily laughed at and torn apart whereas every time ‘veganuary’ and ‘a researcher has decided that breakfast is bad for you’, I wish I was well enough to join in)

However, despite all these things, the ‘missing Mum’ part of my brain appears to have disappeared (along with the rest of my brain, arguably).

It’s not that Mum doesn’t ever enter my head, but when she does, at the moment, it’s in a much more clinical sense, with all of the emotion removed. It’s not that she never enters conversation, either, because she does (most recently this evening, with the exam invigilator), but when she does, and people say they’re sorry, I normally meet it with a bit of a shrug and an ‘it’s life’, where it might previously have set off cartwheels in my head.

I’m not sure if it is actually getting any easier, or if I’m just numb.

A lot of things, or perhaps everything, is pretty numb right now. It’s not as bad as it might sound – I’d rather be numb than distressed. I often end up in a weird depression-anxiety battle, with depression pulling at me to do nothing, and anxiety screaming at me to do everything; at least when I’m this low the battle pauses because anxiety gives in. So with everything being a bit numbed, it’s hard to know whether grief is lessening, whether it’s becoming the ‘new normal’, or whether depression is just smothering it.

For now I’m just going to keep plodding along, because I’m not really sure what else I can do.

Happy Christmas

xmasHappy Christmas to you all with so much love from me and my blog.

I hope that you all have a lovely day wherever you are – whether it be alone or with family and friends, and whether you celebrate Christmas or not. I hope that you can be as happy as little me in this picture, and that if you’re not feeling that way , then your day is peaceful at the very least.

Christmas can be a tricky time when coping with loss, it can highlight the fact that someone is missing, I know I miss Mum a lot, so be kind to yourselves if you can.

I’ve donated to our Martin House fund in Mum’s memory this year because I can’t exactly get her a present. You’re more than welcome to do the same which you can do here.

If you’re feeling lonely, Sarah Millican is running her #joinin hashtag on Twitter again this year. The Samaritans line is always open, Blurt’s peer support group is there, and Beat have kept their helpline open again this year if you need someone to talk to.

This is to those of you for whom Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas.

This is to those of you for whom Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas.

I’m sorry that you are hurting.

I know that the ‘merry’ in ‘merry Christmas’ can feel as though it is mocking you.

When the whole world feels as though it is laughing, smiling, and celebrating, but those are the last things you feel like doing.

Crowded rooms can feel the emptiest.

Hugs can feel like they’re not quite tight enough, not quite long enough; never quite reaching you.

You smile but it doesn’t reach your eyes, and your own laugh seems distant and far away.

The pressure to be perfect can press down on your chest until you can no longer breathe and the number of people around can make your head spin. Occasionally you feel your mask slipping and you have to run to a bathroom and fix it before anybody sees.

Everybody wants to know what you’ve been doing all year and what your future plans are. That can be hard to answer when you’ve spent so much of the year in doctors appointments, hospital visits, and counselling sessions. It’s hard when your test results are medical rather than academic, when so many of your peers are patients or services users not students or colleagues.

It’s okay if your biggest achievement this year is survival. Fighting against the crap in your head, the illness that is determined to infiltrate your body, or the general difficulties that life insists on constantly throwing your way, is huge. It’s hard, brave, and courageous to continue to get up and dressed every day (or most days), when circumstances seem determined to destroy you.

Maybe you’ve lost someone this year. They might have died, or might have just exited your life. Maybe you lost someone last year, or the year before. Time doesn’t heal it, it just gives you longer to attempt to get used to it. Sometimes it makes it harder because the longer they’re gone, the more they’ve missed. Christmas can feel like it’s shining a light on the space that they’ve left behind.

It’s okay to miss them. It’s okay to grieve for them. The fact that they have exited your life doesn’t mean that you have to erase their existence entirely.

Be kind to yourself this Christmas. Let yourself have some time off. It’s absolutely okay to cry if you need to. If you want to laugh, then laugh – nothing in your life cancels out your right to feel happy. Let people in; if you can, and if you want to. Let them hug you. Let them be at the end of the phone. Let them text you. Let them listen. Let them be there.

Maybe you’re feeling just fine. If so, then please: try to be considerate this Christmas. Please understand that not everyone will be happy, not everyone will want to share copious amounts of food, not everyone will be able to manage being around large groups of people.

Christmas is only one day, but it can be incredibly stressful for those of us who don’t feel able to tackle it. Mental illness, physical illness, or other things, can all affect people’s ability to ‘Christmas’, and more often than not, we’re not trying to be difficult, we just can’t do it.

I hope that you all have a peaceful Christmas this year. I hope that it’s as stress-free as possible. I hope that you get a little time with your family or friends and that it’s as enjoyable as it can be.

I’ll leave you with some Winnie the Pooh wisdom:

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.
“So it is.”
“And freezing.”
“Is it?”
“Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”
― A.A. Milne

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.

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

8 Letters.

Thank you.

It’s the time of year when people look back on the past year, look forward to the next year and contemplate their lives. It’s also the time of year where people say thank you for things that you have done for them throughout the year. I have been lucky enough to receive some wonderful thank yous this year, in the form of gifts, cards, smiles, words and emails.

As much as I love what I do (and I really, really do), I often struggle with my confidence, frequently believing that I’m not doing ‘enough’ and what I do isn’t ‘good enough’. This can lead to me feeling fairly rubbish about myself! Already, volunteering has increased my confidence massively, but it is still something I’m working through. I find it incredibly touching when people thank me for my work. So much so that it can sometimes bring me to tears (in a good way!). It helps to validate what I’ve done and reassure me that I am making a positive difference, that is my main aim, so knowing that I have achieved this aim is incredibly important to me.

It is also incredibly nice to be recognised for the hard work that you put in. It makes you feel like people have noticed what you’re doing and appreciate it. When you’re sat at home, you should be in bed and you’re filling in yet more admin work, it can sometimes make you wonder why exactly you’re doing this. But, when you see the difference you make to those around you, and when people acknowledge the work you’ve put in, it makes it all worthwhile!

You will find that most volunteers enjoy what they do and you will also find that they tend to do it because it’s something they want to do and they want to give something back to the community. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t need thanking. They do. Something as simple as a card or a text can really bring a smile to your face! It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture! Two words can make the world of difference.

It’s lovely when people bring gifts at Christmas but it’s aso equally lovely when people thank you year-round. It is incredibly imprtant to thank your volunteers, their work is invaluble and believe me, you would notice if they weren’t there! It’s 8 letters. They don’t take long to say, but I can’t stress how much of a difference they can make.

8 Letters
2 Words
1 Thank you.