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.

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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.

Regaining Okay

Today, everyone I started uni with three years ago will hand in their final essays (and then probably go off and celebrate with a suitable amount of alcohol followed by a few days/weeks of sleep).

Taking leave from uni in October was the right thing to do. I have no doubt about that. Not going back in January was undoubtedly also the right decision at the time (albeit one which I had slightly less control over).

It doesn’t stop it being odd, though. Last week my Facebook was filled with dissertation hand-ins and this week it’s full of final hand-ins and celebrations. It feels like more than seven months since I was one of them (a living, breathing, highly caffeinated student). It feels like a lifetime ago. A lot has happened and changed in the past seven months, but it’s not just that. I really underestimated how much I was in the uni bubble, and I really underestimated how quickly I would fall out of it and feel so out of it.

Life is bringing more changes for me at the moment. I’m moving out of the place I’ve been living for five months this weekend. I’m starting a new job in the next few weeks. I’ve just finished the course I’m doing at Mind. Lots of things are changing. It’s all positive change but change nonetheless. I’ve come a long way in the past few months, but there is a long, long way still to go. I’m not working on trying to get the ‘old me’ back any more. Too much has happened and changed, and I’ve changed with it, but I’m still working on getting to a place where I have more good days than bad days, a few less ‘grief attacks’, and hopefully a lot less anxiety (something which continues to rudely interrupt my life no matter how much I tell it I’d really quite like it to disappear).

My friendships have changed, too. A lot of people who I expected to stick around haven’t, but that’s okay. It’s life. Some things some people have said or done I’ve not agreed with, but I’ve also learned to stand up to that, and I’ve learned it’s okay to leave people at a point in your life. Not everybody has to make it to your future. I’m learning to trust some of my closer friends more, and to go to them when I need them, something which is really hard to do when one of the people you always thought would be around and be there for you dies.

I don’t regret taking time out from uni. It was the right decision. It has given me space, allowed me some time to breathe, and enabled me to meet some wonderful people who I can now call my friends. I’ve really settled into a new volunteering role (which I’m hoping to keep up alongside my new job), and I would never have found it had I not arrived on their doorstep five months ago and basically spilled my life story to them and asked them if they could help me.

Even with knowing it was the right decision, it is weird seeing everyone finish and I imagine it will be weird come graduation, too. There is also a nagging voice in my head telling me I should have stuck it out and ‘just done it’ (fun little words pop up like ‘failure’ and ‘weak’). I’m trying to ignore it, though. I know that’s not the case. I’ve continued to live, continued to get up every day and do things even when they scare me, I’ve continued to work on regaining ‘okay’.

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.

Marie Claire Article: My Life Was Perfect… Then My Mum Died

My life has always been set out in front of me. Nursery, primary school, secondary school, possible gap year, uni, have a job, get married, produce 2.5 children and buy some pets, then watch my children go through the same system I did while I excel in my job, bake cookies on weekends, and skip off into the sunset. A nice, neat, perfect little life.

I imagine that anyone else who has grown up in a middle class family will have had similar expectations. I know many people at my secondary school had a similar life plan – lots of students achieved 11 A*s at GCSE followed by 3 A*s at A-Level. BTechs weren’t even taught and the advice was generally to study the ‘better’ subjects; sciences and maths, avoiding the ‘doss’ subjects like Art or Product Design. Following a gap year, I trotted down the uni path like everyone else.

That was where things went a little ‘off-piste’. During my first year, my Mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Even though Mum was ill and I visited her in hospital and things, I carried on with my studies. The amount of pressure I felt to carry on as ‘normal’ was immense. The pressure didn’t come from anyone else – everyone completely understood that things wouldn’t be ‘normal’. Instead, the pressure came from myself. I needed to fulfil the perfect blueprint that I’d always believed defined success.

With second year complete, I hobbled into third year. Mum was ill. She was dying. But little old me needed to fill this mould, so I continued to head to lectures when I could. My attendance was more sporadic than I’d have liked, and I visited Mum every night, but I kept smiling, kept attempting to read, kept trying to work out what the heck a p-value was and why it was relevant.

Then Mum died. Four days later I walked into a statistics lecture and sat ready to learn. I tried to do the maths whilst replying to texts about funeral arrangements. I was happy and ‘normal’. People commented on how ‘strong’ and ‘brave’ I was. Well done to me, big gold star for completely ignoring grief and pretending to be absolutely fine.

A week or so later, my attendance was occasional at best. People were talking about having a break and postponing graduation. I didn’t know what to do. I needed to ignore everything in my life and follow the rules and the path that have always been set out for me. I had uni telling me to consider time off, my Dad telling me that maybe after the funeral it would all be better – that my dissertation might be a ‘good distraction’. All I wanted was my Mum.

I ended up sat in front of my GP and asked her what to do. She told to take time out. So that’s what I did. I agreed to take a Leave of Absence from October to January, then complete the first term the following year and postpone graduation.

This train to ‘perfect middle class life’ was still heading to the same destination but via a different route. People understood that I needed some time; Dad thought I could work on my dissertation still while I was off, it was all good.

Then it came to coming back, and I still wasn’t ready. I was trying to work out how to live life without my Mum. I was trying to get my head around returning to studying, despite not having the concentration to read even a few pages of a book. I was trying to compute how I’d get to lectures when some days I was struggling to leave my room, or even shower. My support team felt I would do myself a disservice if I returned to uni in January, both in terms of my health and my grades. So that was that, more time out, no uni until October. No lectures, no workshops, no essays to write, none of it.

Fastforward a few months, and the train to ‘perfect middle class life’ is now so far gone I can’t see it. Making the decision not to return was one of the hardest choices I’ve ever had to make. The pressure to be ‘perfect’ and ‘invincible’ is strong.

I feel like I should show the world that cancer took Mum but won’t take me. I feel that I should just ‘get on’ with life and build myself up, bit by bit, to create this ‘perfect’ life that has always been set out for me.

My fear of failure is something I fight against every single day. To look perfect, study perfectly and have the perfect social life. But sometimes, carrying on isn’t brave – breaking that ‘perfect’ mould is. It would have been easy to stay at uni and keep attempting to go to lectures. It would have been easy to cobble together some words and hand in sub-par work. It would have been easy to break myself in order to finish my degree ‘on time’.

Taking leave means that I’ve had to find a new place to live and find something to fill my days with. It means that I’m going to return to new classes with people I don’t know. Perhaps the hardest thing about it, though, is that I have to admit to myself and the world that I’m not okay. That life has got in the way of this path I’ve always thought I had to follow. I have to face up to not just my grief, but also to the effects of seeing Mum’s health slowly decline.

I have to admit I’m not ‘perfect’ and work on myself, and admitting to that is probably one of the hardest and bravest things I have ever had to do.

Read more about Marie Claire’s #BREAKFREE from Fear campaign.

Skiing

My family have gone skiing!

They set off this morning very early, I think. They’ve gone to France with another family or two. The three of them love it… the four of them used to love it, but it’s never been my cup of tea. I went a couple of times, then I spent a few years staying at friends and grandparents, once I ‘chalet girled’ it and once I stayed at home.

I remember two years ago I felt weird contemplating the thought of my family being away whilst I was at uni. It felt very odd. In the end it never happened. Mum decided to get checked out before they went, I think she had some back pain or something, and that was when the terminal diagnosis occurred so my brothers went without the parents.

I suppose life is moving on again. We didn’t holiday while Mum was ill because it was impossible to plan anything that far in advance. That was something which took a long time to get used to, and now I’m struggling to get used to being able to plan again – it’s funny how these things work.

It feels odd now, that they’re away and I’m not with them. But it’s another things that shows we’re moving on, normal life is returning. Also, I’m growing up without them, I’m my own person making my own decisions rather than functioning solely as part of a family unit. Life really does go on…

A Little Update

I’ve gone a little quiet on here – at least in terms of writing about where I’m at.

I’ve had a lot of ‘missing Mum’ nights this week. Nights when I end up folded over, crying, silently screaming, wanting Mum back. It’s weird because before this week, I’d stopped thinking of Mum every day in that same way that I had been in the weeks since Mum died.

Tomorrow marks three months since Mum died. Tomorrow I’m moving out of halls. I’m excited to move and I’m ready to move. It is weird, though, because it will be the first place I’ve lived that Mum hasn’t seen.

The place I’m currently living is the place I’ve lived for the majority of Mum’s illness. There are a lot of memories in this room. This block is where I was when I heard that Mum died.

I’m ready to get away from here and make a new start. It’s also hard breaking away, though, because moving forward and rebuilding my life means leaving Mum behind. Mum will forever remain in 2015, at least in physical form.

 

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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