It’s Far Too Easy to Drown in the Past

These past few weeks have been hard.

I think I maybe need to take a break from Facebook, or at least go on it less. My timeline is full of people finishing uni, going to the end of year awards at uni, doing other things that I’m currnently unable to do. Lots of people are going out a lot. Lots of people are returning home and putting up pictures of them with their Mum. Some people are getting jobs and celebrating with their Mum.

It’s easy to look at what I’ve lost. It’s easy to look at people finishing uni and feel like I’ve failed. Why didn’t I just stick it out? I didn’t stick it out because I wasn’t in a position to, I wasn’t enjoying it, and a few other reasons, but it’s hard to remember that when everyone is finishing and when you bump into people in the supermarket who ask you about finishing your degree.

It’s easy to look at people on nights out and at award ceremonies and feel frustrated with myself because at the moment going out for a few hours during the day renders me utterly exhausted. A year ago, I was one of *them*. But things have changed, life has changed, and I’ve got to accept that and stop dwelling on it.

Seeing Mums on my various timelines doesn’t usually affect me too much, I like seeing people being happy. Sometimes it’s hard though, because I miss her, because I haven’t had a hug in days and I can’t remember the time before that, because sometimes it can feel really isolating and lonely. It’s made harder when I try and talk to people about it and they just don’t get it at all. I wish I knew more people in my position, it’s so hard being young and motherless and it’s something you don’t really understand until you’re thrown into that situation (a situation I wouldn’t wish on anyone).

It’s hard when my health is not quite where it should be. Nothing drastic, but my asthma flared up again and prescription list has grown, something Mum I’m sure would have offered a sympathetic ear about (and an opinion, the side effect of being a doctor…). I’m also extremely tired all the time at the moment. I’m sleeping a lot, and minimal activity can leave me exhausted. There are a few reasons why this might be, but tiredness really doesn’t help when it comes to the whole coping thing. It also means the Race for Life was a no go this year, which was the right decision, but a really crap decision nontheless.

I need to stop looking at what might have been and focus on what I’ve got because I have so much in so many ways. I’m lucky that I have a Dad and brothers who mean a huge amount to me, and other family members who take an active interest in my life. I’m starting a new job soon, and it’s literally perfect for me (as anyone who I’ve taken the time to explain it to has said!). I have some close friends who take the time to listen to me and chat things over. I live in a lovely place. I have arms and legs that work and I’m able to get from A to B on my bike.

Things are okay. I am doing okay. I need to stop being so hard on myself. I don’t quite now what to do to help how I feel right now, but burying myself in yarn and watching hours of Netflix seems to work a little bit, so perhaps that’s the best way forward for now. Sometimes it’s the little things that help the most.

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind” – C.S. Lewis

Silence is Noisy

We’ve passed the seven month mark. Seven months since Mum died. I’m not sure when I’ll stop counting these milestones. Maybe it’ll happen when things get easier. I’m not sure it’s getting any easier yet, in some ways it’s getting harder. The day Mum died was hard, but every day since, there’s been a nagging voice in my head saying: “The longer she’s dead, the more she misses.”

I moved house again last week. A few months ago I had to move out of halls very quickly due to taking a Leave of Absence from uni, so I lodged with someone for a couple of months. But last week I moved out, into a flat which I’m sharing with a friend. I’ve also got a new job – I’m still waiting for a start date, but it’s another life change. They’re both really positive life changes, but changes nonetheless.

My Dad has been incredibly helpful in all this, as have a couple of friends. They’ve helped me make decisions, taught me valuable life lessons, and in Dad’s case, helped me move everything I own from one house to another.

I have noticed Mum’s absence, though. When you get a new job, one of the first things you usually do is tell your parents. When moving house, your parents (with any luck!) provide a vehicle of some kind and some extra arms and legs for carrying things up and down stairs. Mums, in particular, are good at remembering things you forget (such as cleaning products – a quick trip to the shop now means we have the best-stocked cleaning cupboard in York, but it’s something I hadn’t factored into the big move).

There wasn’t really anything that she would have done that didn’t get done anyway. In fact, I can’t think of anything in particular that would have been her ‘job’. At one point I did consider she may have helped me buy some new work clothes, but then I remembered she used to practically pay people to take me shopping, so maybe not!

A lack of significant ‘role’ for her doesn’t mean I’ve felt her absence any less, though. I didn’t miss her too much during the actual house-move (another pair of hands would have been useful but we can blame my brother’s man-flu for that!), but I missed her that first night. I don’t know why I missed her then – even if she was alive she’d have been at her house, not mine – but I did.

Before Mum died, I never knew how much space an absence could take up. I didn’t realise how noisy silence could be. I don’t really know how to describe it, and perhaps it’s something you never really come across until someone close to you dies, but absence can seep into every aspect of your life and can grow at an alarming rate.

It goes deeper than a simple nothing. “Nothing” can easily be masked by white noise; the radio, TV, a trip with some friends, tasteful home furnishings, or a chat on the phone. “Nothing” is easy to cover up. But absence is deeper. No amount of noise can stifle it, no amount of talking can deplete it, no amount of looking-after-yourself, being sociable or distracting yourself can make it go away. It demands to be noticed.

Time is moving forward, life is changing, and good things are happening. None of it makes the absence disappear, and sometimes it makes the absence even more noticeable, but it’s also essential. My life can’t remain in 2015, it can’t get stuck in a time when Mum was still alive – it’s got to carry on, and that means that I’ve got to keep on doing what I can to live in the present.


I want to go home and to pull into the drive and see my mum busy in the kitchen cooking tea. I want the kitchen to smell of baking and cooking. I want her to welcome me with a hug. I want to help her finish tea while chatting about what I’m up to and what she’s doing at work. I want to sit down with my family and eat with them. Then after I want to go and sit in the lounge with all of them, with mum, and watch tv or a film or something (but spend so much time talking over it that we hardly know what’s going on). And I want my Mum to offer me chocolate and offer me 1000 reasons why chocolate is 100% necessary for human survival. And I want to be able to put my head in her lap or sit on her knee when things get hard. And to take selfies with her. I want to hear her laugh. I want to be able to go into her bed at night again when things get too unbearable and I’m not sure I can make it as far as morning. I want her to ask but not expect an answer and just be there. I just want somewhere to feel like home.

6 Months

It’s 6 months today since Mum died. There aren’t really any words to put to it. It’s just a fact.

A lot has changed in the past 6 months. I live somewhere new, I’ve made new friends, I’ve lost a few friends, I stopped going to uni and started volunteering at a few places and doing a course at Mind, I started a new job, and I’m slowly trying to develop some sort of a social life.

There have been some great things and some not-so-great things.

I thought maybe I’d start to miss Mum a little less, but at the moment I seem to be missing her more and more. I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s the weather, who knows. 6 months-post death and people stop asking. Not a criticism on anyone, life moves on, people move on, and there’s not a lot you can update when it comes to grief (as opposed to illness where something happens all the time). Sometimes I just want a Mum hug though, they’re different to other hugs. It can feel like all I need is one hug and I’ll be on my way. I didn’t live with Mum in her final years so it’s not like I saw her every day, but we did text often and I knew where she was if I needed her – I suppose I always took that for granted. She wasn’t meant to die.

So 6 months have passed. Soon there will be another 6 months, and then another. I just hope that with each passing 6 months, things get a little easier.

Spotting the Gap

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.
























Some of My Past Died With Mum

Grief is a strange (and on the whole, very boring) thing. We’re now entering month five of life without Mum and I was beginning to think maybe the surprises were running out. Apparently that’s not the case, though.

After getting in a conversation with someone yesterday and coming home and pondering, I was struck with the realisation that I can’t remember parts of my past. Not only can I not remember things, but I can’t think of anyone who would be able to remember them…

I’m not talking about major life-changing events like ‘which primary school did I go to’ or ‘what GCSEs did I choose’. Thankfully there are records for that. Also, I still have my Dad, and although his memory may not be as good as Mum’s was (which was scarily good), much of my past is still held in his memory.

However, this isn’t a foolproof set-up. When we were younger, my Dad worked away during the week. Mum worked long hours, too – but she saw us each night. There are a lot of the things that happened over that period that I can’t remember, but will have existed in Mum’s memory – and they will have died with Mum. Basic things like ‘what was my favourite badge to work on at Brownies?’ and ‘at what point did I realise English was anything but my favourite subject?’ I will probably never know.

There are other things that Dad will have known at the time but will not remember now. Things like the people I played with at school, my favourite subjects in Year 2, and my favourite item of clothing as a nine-year-old (although if I hunted round the photo archives for long enough, I could probably work that last one out).

These things are only skimming the surface of what I’ve been thinking over, but they are examples of items in my lost past. It’s really hard to explain how it feels to sit there and try and conjure up memories and have nobody there to fill in the blanks. In the past, if I wanted to know something I would just text Mum, but now I can see the memories but can’t reach them to make sense of them, and there is nobody there to help me do that. It’s incredibly frustrating and depending what it is, can be quite distressing.

As well as memories in their purest form, there are many things that I’m sure I remember ‘wrongly’, or remember correctly but with the eyes of a seven-year-old. Sometimes you just want someone else to offer some perspective on your memories, but when only two of you were involved in that memory and one of those people is dead, where does that leave you?

Even ‘taking a trip down memory lane’ is hard. At 18 I visited London with Mum for an awards evening, there are things we did on that trip and if I want to remember them I no longer have anyone to bounce those memories off. I can only remember it on my own. It’s so lonely.

It is really weird knowing that if I lose a memory, and only Mum would have remembered it, it is now a nothing. It’s a gap. I don’t know where it went or what it turned into but it’s not there anymore. It’s been replaced by space and silence. For the rest of my life, that gap will always be a gap; there will never again be a piece of memory that perfectly fits.


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.


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.


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 🙂