Where’s the “good” in “goodbye”?

I was going through old cards and letters the other day as I began to put things up in my room (I’ve been very creative with command hooks. I should probably have bought shares in command hooks…). I found the last birthday card that Mum ever wrote for me (which made me cry). I also found the card my family wrote for me when I first went to uni, which has found it’s way onto my wall.


The more I read it, the more I think it’s excellent advice for life. (I wish you could FaceTime dead people, though, but Mum was cremated and I don’t think ashes can talk).

I was wandering round a shop today when ‘No Good in Goodbye‘ came on. As it came on I was scrolling through my phone and people from my uni course began to post their results.

Admittedly I got a bit of a ‘pang’ and my mind began to race about what could have/should have/might have been.

It feels stupid because I feel incredibly lucky to be where I am right now and I’m more content with life than I have been in a long time. If I’d have stayed at uni I would most likely have become even more unwell and probably wouldn’t have finished. I wouldn’t have met some of the wonderful people I now have in my life and would have missed out on some fantastic opportunities that I’ve been granted. I probably wouln’t be blogging for Blurt, or have the job I have now (which is basically my dream job).

I’m struggling to match the ‘me’ that I am, with the ‘me’ I’ve always thought I ‘should’ be. I’ve had a few conversations in the past week or so when people have been really surprised that I did Art up to AS level and DT to A2 level. They’re really surprised that I have a bit of a creative streak (something I’m debating blogging about more…). I guess I sort of abandoned creative me, and tried to become academic. There’s nothing wrong with being academic, but I don’t think it’s really ‘me’. I’m actually not a huge fan of reading and writing, I’d much prefer to play with paint, talk to people, or design a website. I like doing and being rather than sitting and reading. I like learning through doing or talking to people.

Uni was so tied up in Mum’s illness. I didn’t notice it at the time. I didn’t really think I was any different from my peers. When I’ve gone back through cards, letters and photos, though, it’s become increasingly clear how much Mum being ill really did affect it. I can see my social life dropping off. I can see the distraction setting in. I can match photos and cards to points in Mum’s illness. We tried to keep everything as ‘normal’ as possible, but looking back  I can see how far from ‘normal’ things fell.

There is no ‘good’ in ‘goodbye’ and as each day goes by, I miss Mum more and more. There’s more I want to tell her, or ask her advice on, or just chat to her about. But maybe there is a bit of good in the bad? Maybe Mum’s illness and death and my leaving uni have forced me to reassess who I am and what I’m doing with my life, and maybe that’s no bad thing…

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.

Learning toAccept ‘Okay’

We live in a society of extremes. Our media constantly reports the best of humanity and, more often, the worst of humanity (they sort of have to, I don’t imagine anyone would read ‘man went to work and nothing happened’). The adverts that surround us tell his how to be ‘skinnier’, ‘more toned’, ‘more muscular’, ‘smarter’, basically ‘better’.

Well before we’re able to make decisions for ourselves, life is insidiously turned into a sort of Hunger Games, pitting young people against each other for the benefit of the wider world – and it works in stages. As toddlers, we are pitted against our peers to see who can walk first, talk first, count first. If you pass that stage well enough, then school becomes your new battleground, where we are told to be the ‘best’, to achieve the ‘best grades’, to win every sports match, basically to be at the top in everything we do. Do well enough there, and leaving school and moving into a job becomes the next battleground – targets and challenges are thrown at you from every angle, with competition manifesting itself in salary, houses, cars, anything tangible that people can use to compare themselves to one another.

We push ourselves, try to squeeze more than we can fit into each hour of every day, we run on empty and burn ourselves out. We lose ourselves, our very dreams, in the quest to ‘be the best’. And ultimately, what for? Someone will always be better, faster, smarter, stronger (unless you really are at the top, but so few people ever get there that most people will have to settle somewhere along the line). If we do achieve or succeed, the pressure only mounts. We have to look up and down at the same time, beating anyone who tries to take our place whilst simultaneously trying to reach higher and overtake the person in front. It’s exhausting, and it’s not healthy.

There’s something incredibly freeing about learning to accept ‘okay’. Following Mum’s death there have been lots of ups and downs. It can often feel like everything is crap and nothing is ever going to get better. There have been weeks when I have felt incredibly low, and at times like that, I don’t want to feel ‘good’ or ‘great’, I literally just want to feel ‘okay’. It’s not normal for anyone to feel ‘great’ all the time or even ‘good’ all the time (whatever adverts might tell us!). Sometimes feeling okay, and being at peace with that, can be such a relief.

When it comes to other aspects of life, as much as it is admirable to constantly strive to be better, sometimes it’s necessary to accept ‘okay’. You didn’t get all of your jobs for the day done, but it’s okay because there’s tomorrow. Your room is a little messier than you’d like, but it’s okay because you’ve had a busy week and you’re tired. You don’t feel like cooking tonight, but it’s okay because ready meals, takeaways and toast exist, and you’ve had a busy day. These are really basic examples, but it’s the start of a new ‘okay’ mindset.

Of course, in some aspects of your life you will want to strive for better than okay, and that’s okay too! If you have a big exam coming up, of course you will try to get the best grade you possibly can. When going for a promotion, of course you will want to put your all into it. When it’s your child’s birthday party, of course you will want to make it as memorable as possible (in a good way!). But equally, when you do put your all into everything and you don’t achieve what you’d hoped, it’s not the end of the world; it really isn’t.

Adding ‘okay’ to your vocabulary is so vital in today’s society when there is pressure from every angle. When you’re expected to do unpaid overtime, have a ‘perfect’ house, a ‘perfect’ body and a ‘perfect’ social life all at the same time (which, by the way, is entirely unrealistic). You are okay. You really are okay. And most of the time, so am I.

Featured: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/naomibarrow/self-esteem-being-okay_b_9826172.html

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.

Who am I writing for?

I’ve been struggling for inspiration these past few weeks.

I used to just sit down and write. While Mum was ill lots of things were happening so there was always something to write about. Then she died, there was a funeral, there was Christmas… always something to write about. But grief is boring, not a lot happens, it gets quite tedious.

Sometimes I have had inspiration but I’ve felt unable to write about it because it didn’t ‘fit’ with this blog. That inspiration then passes and once again I’m left mute.

I think I all too often forget why I’m writing and who I’m writing for. Initially I would just sit and write – a sort of catharsis – but as time went on and the blog grew, I began to feel more pressure to write ‘well’. Initially this lead to writing each post in word and copying them across (spelling and grammar have never been my strong point), then months ago, I started getting my brother to proof read things for me, and some blogs have more input from him than others.

More recently, though, I feel like I’ve lost my voice. I feel disconnected from my blog. I feel as though it’s run away from me and I’m left behind in the dust and I’m not quite sure how that’s happened. I think I need to stop worrying about what’s ‘right’ or what people want to read, and start just writing again.

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.

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.