Dear Mum, It’s Been A Year Since You Died.

Dear Mum,

It’s been a year since you died. 525600 minutes if ‘Rent’ is to be believed. ‘525000 moments so dear’ (quite what happened to the other 600 moments is anyone’s guess).

It’s gone fast in many ways, though part of that could be because I lost a number of months to depression, sadness, anxiety, or whateverelse you want to call it.

Time is a funny old thing. No matter what is happening, it continues. It can feel fast or slow, but ultimately, a second is a second, a minute is sixty seconds, an hour is sixty minutes. Time really does go on.

The world is a little darker without you in it. A little duller. Your laugh no longer bounces off the walls of the house. Your arms no longer gather me into a hug when I walk through the door. Your smile doesn’t greet me as I come up the drive. I’m remembering things with a positive slant. Of course it wasn’t always like that, especially when you were working late, or once you became ill, but who wants to remember the bad stuff? I still can’t believe I’ll never take another photo with you.

The depression is nothing new, you know that. Often, when you would wake me up on a morning, I would be crying – crying in my sleep, literally waking up on the wrong side of bed, having a bad day before I’d even moved a muscle. You would see me crying and give me a hug. You would get my clothes ready for me and remind me how to get dressed. You would feed me chocolate on an evening (because it could fix anything). You would only ever be a text away, even when you were ill. You would let me come into your bed in the middle of the night when the world felt dark and the nights felt never-ending. You would ask what was wrong but not expect an answer. Your calm, quiet understanding and love could carry me through the hardest of days and the toughest of nights.

I need a hug, Mum. Things were getting easier for a while but at the moment they are getting hard again and often getting from my bed to the kitchen feels like wading through treacle. It can be hard to move. Everything aches and I don’t know why. Maybe my body is missing you. I have to set my alarm earlier in the morning to allow for the dazed confusion when I can’t function or remember anything much at all when I wake up. Sometimes life can feel all over the place and I need a ‘Mum hug’ to ground me. A Mum hug to set everything straight. A Mum hug to make the world feel safe again.

I keep panicking that people are dying. You were the healthy one, the fit one. You ate well, had a normal BMI, exercised, never smoked, didn’t drink much… the perfect candidate for a long and healthy life. I look at those I care about now and see walking diagnoses. I panic when I get a text from Dad or one of the boys. I’m waiting to hear that someone else is ill or someone else has died. It’s only a matter of time.

A lot can change in a year, it seems. I’ve moved house twice, and well and truly moved out of the house I grew up in. I’ve started a new job – well, two new jobs, but one was short-lived. I think you’d like my boss and colleagues; they’re on your wavelength. Both J and I have passed our driving tests (finally!). J has started at a new uni on a new course, and from the significant drop in the number of texts I receive on a daily basis, I can only assume he’s enjoying it (or he’s got fed up of my lack of replies…). E has started sixth form and seems to be loving it. He’s met new people and worked out that every other week his frees align with his friend’s and they can all go round to someone’s house and eat pie. He’s found someone at school who went to his nursery – we looked for his nursery class photo but couldn’t find it. You would know where it was. Dad has started learning to swim front crawl, he’s joined the local AmDram, he’s continuing to use his share in an airplane fly all over the place (though never as often as he’d like), and he’s just about keeping on top of the selling FairTrade stuff at church. Pops has had a pacemaker fitted which brought a new lease of life – he’s back to emailing us little poems and procrastinating raking up the leaves in his garden. We’ve all ‘moved on’ in our own little ways – maybe ‘moving on’ is the wrong choice of words, but we’re all sort of continuing to live.

Someone asked me the other day if I ever talk to you. I don’t. What is there to say? It’d be a pretty one-sided conversation. I often talk about you as if you were still alive, though. It catches people off guard, sometimes. Most people have stopped asking now. Death is just a part of life, but not a part that people like talking about – as a palliative medicine doctor, you always said that people should talk about death more, and now I understand why. I don’t think that death is something which should be feared. I was talking about this with E the other day, we both decided that if we were held at gunpoint we would rather die than be seriously injured. Not that people who have had serious injuries can’t lead fulfilling lives, it’s just somehow more scary to contemplate that than it is to contemplate death.

I miss you. Many people say ‘time heals’, but time only seems to make it harder. It’s more time without you, more times where I’ve missed your advice, more time without a hug from you, more times that I’ve not been able to update you on my life, more times when you’ve not been on the end of the phone. It often feels like a gaping hole – I never knew that absence could hurt so much. The pain can be crippling.

Time has taught me how lucky I was to have you and quite how amazing you were. I hear stories from your friends, colleagues and classmates. I find your work online. Lessons you taught me come back to me when I’m going about my day. I take your values to work with me every day. I chat to people who never knew you, I describe my relationship to you (the ups and the downs, because it certainly wasn’t all plain sailing), and they remind me how lucky I was to have had a Mum as amazing as you.

I know you wouldn’t want us to spend time missing you. You would want us to make the most of every day. To take every opportunity and try our best in all that we do. You would want us to value the time we spend with each other, enjoy our jobs, and ensure that we play as hard as we work. You did all these things with such apparent ease. I have no idea how you kept everything going, I struggle with a fraction of what you did, but you did it. You worked hard, played hard, loved hard. An incredible wife, Mum, daughter, colleague, doctor, auntie, congregation member, band member and friend, right to the end.

I want to say that I’m sorry for not being more, doing more and achieving more. But I know you would tell me that my best was good enough and I need to be kind to myself. I want to say I’m sorry for not always being kind to myself – I’m not sure what your answer would be to that (probably a hug).

I’ll end this here. It’s very long and nobody wants to read all that. Plus, you can’t exactly read it so I’m not sure why I’m writing it. Maybe in a vague attempt to help someone else. Perhaps an effort to make sense of some of the crap filling up my head. I don’t really know.

I miss you Mum. Lots of love. Xxx


We’re currently fundraising in memory of Mum, one year on.
Here is where you can donate to Mum’s ‘one year on’fundraising page online.
If you’d like to donate via your phone, please text ‘FOYO53’ followed by £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 to 70070.

Birthday Memories

It’s my brother’s bithday today. He’s 21. Does that make him officially an adult? If it does then the world should probably be a bit scared.

He’s down in Oxford loving life/studying/whatever it is you do down there. It’s his first bithday away from us. I’ve sent many things in the post (a blog for another time).

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J’s cake last year (before Mum stole a strawberry lace…).
Last year we had a party for J’s bithday. We did it the Friday before Mum died. We made homemade pizzas. I made Mum a tiny one with everything on top of it chopped up into teeny pieces. We made J a cake and Mum stole a strawberry lace off the top. She couldn’t move out of her chair independently, and slept a lot, but she was very much in the room. It’s the most lucid I remember her in those final weeks. It’s the last time I remember her eating solid food. A day or two later, she stopped getting out of bed at all. A week later she died.

Dad asked me what they did for my 21st, when trying to decide what to buy J as a present. I got a Pandora charm from Mum and Dad. I spent the day working on a residential and Mum and Dad came over in the evening. We managed to find a restaurent with good enough disabled access for Mum to manage. A month later we had a cake. It was my last birthday with Mum.

A few weeks before my 21st, Mum went into a coma. I remember Dad saying that maybe it was a good time for her to die. It had been very quick. My birthday could be something positive to look forward to after the funeral. I never have been one for making a big deal of my own birthday (though I love making a big deal of others), but I felt even less like doing anything that year. In the end Mum woke up and lived another 8 months. This year I didn’t do anything at all.

I don’t know what Mum would have done for J’s birthday this year. I don’t know whether ‘well Mum’ would have made a big deal of 21st birthdays. There’s a lot I don’t know.

We’re currently fundraising in memory of Mum, one year on.
Here is where you can donate to Mum’s ‘one year on’fundraising page online.
If you’d like to donate via your phone, please text ‘FOYO53’ followed by £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 to 70070.

Dear Friend Whose Mum’s Terminally Ill

When my Mum was first diagnosed as terminally ill, I didn’t know anybody who had been through anything similar. Even now, I know very few, but unfortunately, I have a couple of friends whose Mums have recently been diagnosed as terminally ill. Even though my Mum died less than a year ago, I still feel like I’m not sure of the right thing to do or say, but here’s a stab at getting some words written down.

Dear friend,

I know you’re scared. Whether the terminal diagnosis was a few months ago and your Mum is doing relatively well, whether it was a few weeks ago and it’s looking like this week might be her last, or whether it’s somewhere in between, I know you’re scared. You don’t know what’s going to happen with this illness. You don’t know how long you’ve got left with your Mum. You have never lived a life without your Mum, so you can’t imagine what that might be like. It’s impossible. And while all of this is going on, while your entire world is crumbling and you want to scream and shout and tell everyone you see that your Mum is dying and it’s not fair, everyone else somehow carries on as normal.

First and foremost, a terminal diagnosis is crap. There are no two ways about it. Some people will try to tell you that it will enlighten you in some way, others will tell you that your Mum has “had a good life”, many people will try to find a good or a meaning out of the bad that is a terminal diagnosis. This might be helpful for you, I don’t know, but I know that I found it incredibly frustrating and it made me feel guilty for not feeling good about anything much at all. One day a friend turned to me and said: “it’s crap, isn’t it? It’s just crap”. I found that incredibly liberating because it is crap. Your Mum being terminally ill is crap. Your Mum dying is crap. And it’s absolutely okay to feel that way.

Take selfies. Go to cafés. Go on walks. Sit and watch TV together. Just spend time with each other. They’re memories you will treasure. All of your life you’ve been making memories with your Mum, but in making those memories, it’s unlikely to have ever entered your mind that your Mum might not be there to make more memories with in future. Now you know, though, so spend time with your Mum if you can.

You might have lots of visitors – don’t be afraid to ask people to leave. Having people around is lovely. Seeing people you’ve not seen in ages is great. Giving people the chance to see your Mum is a wonderful thing to do… but you’re their child. You (and your immediate family) are your Mum’s closest family members. You get first dibs. Allow yourself some time as a family, and if you want it, allow yourself some time alone with your Mum, just you and her.

Your Mum is going to change in front of your eyes. Sometimes in ways you might expect – perhaps she will lose her hair, or gain a new scar – but she will change in ways you won’t expect, too. She will look smaller than you’ve ever seen her, sleep for more hours than she’s awake, perhaps her skin will change colour. It’s horrible, it will make you cry and you might not want to cry in front of her – but it is okay to do so if you do want to. She knows she’s changing, she knows it’s horrible, she’s your Mum – let her give you a hug.

There will be emotions you can’t name. That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to feel them. There are no right or wrong ways to feel, there are just feelings. Emotions are scary and can hurt, but even the most intense, most painful emotion will subside eventually. (Though eventually can feel like a very long time).

There will be nights when it feels like morning will never come. There will be nights when you don’t want morning to come because you’ve finally got through another day and you’re not sure you can do it all again tomorrow. You can do this, though. I can’t tell you how you do it, but you do. You get up again the next morning and you put a smile on your face, you cry in the bathroom, you drink a cup of tea, and you get on with your day.

You don’t have to have everything figured out. You don’t need to ask your Mum anything and everything you might ever want to ask her. People kept saying to me that I had time to ‘prepare’ and that I should ask my Mum everything I might ever want to know from her. I hardly knew what I would want to ask her an hour later, never mind a year or ten years later. I don’t know whether, when trying on a wedding dress, my first question will be “does my bum look big in this”, or “does this make me look ridiculously pale”. It’s too stressful to try and think of everything you might ever want to know – there’s no way to predict the future. You might have some things you know you will want your Mum’s help with (I asked my Mum for general wedding dress advice), but you really don’t have to have everything figured out – nobody does.

You will find strength you never knew you had. Strength within yourself, strength within your friendships and strength within your family. You may lose friends, especially if you’re young when your Mum is dying because people get scared and they stop calling. But you will gain friends, too, and you will realise that some friends who you haven’t spoken to in years, are the best friends you could ever ask for.

Your faith will be shaken. Whether it is faith in a higher power, in nature, in science, in people, or simply in good, it will be shaken because there is no rhyme or reason as to why this is happening. Eventually you will find faith in the little things again; in the warmth of a cup of tea, the squishiness of a hug, the sun illuminating the orange of the leaves, or something completely different.

Do whatever you need to do. There is no rule book for this, no guide. If you want to go back to work then do it. If you want to move back to your family home, then do so. If you want to do a charity skydive, a head shave, or a fun run, then do it, celebrate it, get all of your friends and family involved. If you don’t, and you just want to sit, watch TV and get emotionally invested in fictional characters, then that is absolutely okay too.

Please remember that you are not alone. There are friends and family who are right there alongside you, but if you feel like you need help from elsewhere, there are charities like Marie Curie, Hope Support (for young people), and Carers Trust who have helplines, forums, and online chats. It’s also perfectly okay to book a GP appointment and talk things over.

I promise you that whatever you’re doing, you are doing okay. You’re living life trapped in a nightmare, but you’re still breathing in and out, still checking in on friends, cooking the occasional meal and drinking copious cups of tea. You might not think you’re doing ‘well enough’, but I promise you that you are doing just fine.

Take a deep breath, you’ve got this, and if you ever feel like you haven’t, I’m only a text away.

Lots of love,
Your friend (who doesn’t know exactly what it’s like for you but has been through something similar).

Featured: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/naomibarrow/letter-terminally-ill-mum-cancer_b_12370816.html?utm_hp_ref=uk-universities-education&ir=UK+Universities+%26+Education

Remembering Mum, One year On

Tomorrow, September 24th 2016 marks what would have been Mum’s 54th birthday. October 23rd 2016 will mark one year since Mum died.

We’ve chosen to spend the next month doing what we can to raise money for Martin House Chlidren’s Hospice. Mum worked there for many years, before later becoming a trustee. They share all of Mum’s values, and do some absolutely brilliant work; providing care and respite for families facing harder times than most of us can ever imagine.

Martin House need around £5000 to install  new lighting in the corridor that links the children’s bedrooms which as well improving the general light levels will also enable the superb artwork that decorates the walls and ceilings to be better displayed. We feel that as well as being a very worthy course – it reflects the light that Mum brought to all of our lives.

We’d love it if you could join us on this (ambitious!) mission to raise this money over the next month, and possibly beyond. We don’t mind how people get involved – dontating directly, holding a coffee morning at work, having a swear box in the office… no donation or fundraising effort is too small (and if you need ideas or want to run it by us, feel free to message me!).

Thank you in advance for any help/donations you can give to this cause.

Here is where you can donate online.

If you’d like to donate via your phone, please text ‘FOYO53’ followed by £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 to 70070.

I’ve Lost My Anchor

Losing my anchor is hard to explain. It feels like I’m floating around in life with nothing to tie me down or ground me.

As Hope Edelman writes in Motherless Daughters:

But if you’re twenty-five and you’ve lost your mother, how do you know where you are? It’s really, really difficult to not know where you are at that age. You need to be in relation to something. Dad may be really important and helpful, but he’s not a woman.

I’m a bit younger than 25… but it still resonates with me. My emotions can run wild and there is nobody to keep them in check. Sometimes I get upset (like anyone else), but where there used to be that person to give me a hug or receive a ‘brain dump’ text, there is now a blank space. Other times I’m really happy, good things have happened and I want to share them. But it’s hard sometimes to find that person to share it with. So it peters out.

I don’t really want anyone to fix anything. I’m not really expecting any answers. I just want someone to say ‘actually, yeah, that’s crap’, and then have a chat, give me a hug, and move on with life.

It’s a weird sensation losing your life anchor. Sometimes it’s a very lonely place to be. It can feel like you’re out at sea and you can shout, scream, sing, dance, whatever… but nobody can see or hear you.

When you have an anchor, it can be easier to try new things, meet new people, and go to new places, because you know that there is someone to come back to if it goes wrong (or if it goes right!). You know that after a long day, when you’re tired, there’s someone to welcome you home. You know that if you get ill, there’s someone to look after you (even if it is by text). You know that if you have questions to ask, there is someone to go to.

My Dad is very good for a lot of these things. He’s still there to go to and is pretty much always there when I need him. My two brothers are also lifesavers at times (even if communication is sometimes a struggle for a 16-year-old boy). I have some amazing friends, too, who listen to my brain outpourings and answer my questions. I’m lucky to have some fantastic women in my life who mentor me, listen to me, answer questions and give me hugs. Some I view as almost adopted ‘big sisters’. But nobody will ever replace Mum. Nobody has the seemingly unlimited amounts of time, love, and patience that Mum possessed, and there is nothing on this planet that is as safe, warm, and grounding as a Mum hug.

Missing Mum is to be expected. Nine and a bit months on and I’m almost more frustrated that she’s missing out on stuff, than I am upset that she’s gone. I get angry. Cancer sucks, in a big way. I want to shout and scream at it for destroying her body and taking away her life, but there is no point in that because cancer wouldn’t hear or care. I’m frustrated that she’s not here when I need her. Sometimes I get mad at her for leaving life, even though I know it wasn’t her fault or her choice. I often want to throw a tantrum at the injustice of it all. Or to run and run until my body burns and I can focus on external pain, rather than the internal pain I feel. I want my chest to burn from being alive, not from the pain of someone being dead. I want Mum back.

I’m floating around. Bouncing backwards and forwards like a ball stuck in a pinball machine. I feel like I’m flying away and losing control and there is nobody to catch me and bring me back. I try to communicate things, but my words get stuck and lost and float away, unheard. Mum used to practically be able to read my mind (which I definitely was not a fan of at times!), but that seems to be a power that only Mums possess. It’s nobody’s fault but my own. It’s not that people aren’t listening or don’t care, it’s that I don’t have the words. I just miss her. I want my anchor back.

Featured on Huffington Post

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…

Homesick

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.