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.

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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.

Two Years

Today marks two years since I heard about Mum’s diagnosis.

I don’t really know what to say. There isn’t really anything to say, I guess. It was the start of the longest, weirdest, 20 months of my life. Mum looked well. I couldn’t compute how she could be so ill and look so well.

One day I’ll write a post about coping with that news. But at the moment I’m struggling with getting my brain to do anything much, so today is not that day. I miss Mum. I miss the person I was two years ago. I desperately want the old me back and my old life back but I know that can’t happen. I will never be the person I was two years ago, because so much has happened and changed, but hopefully I can become a new person, with some of the old spark.

One Week Since Mum Died

Half past twelve today marked one week since Mum died.

It’s been a strange week. I both can’t believe it’s been a whole week since Mum died, and can’t believe it’s only been a week since Mum died. Time is weird.

As each day goes by, I am constantly amazed and humbled by people’s incredible kindness. Looking around my uni room I can see cards, letters, chocolates, flowers, and a teddy. I know that when I go home tomorrow there will be more flowers, cards and little gifts from people. I have received more hugs and offers of help than I can count. I have had texts, tweets, Facebook messages, emails, phone calls, visits, and comments on my blog. People are incredible.

I naively thought that when Mum died, life would go back to ‘normal’, but I don’t think I realised how far from ‘normal’ things had slipped. I’m slowly beginning to realise that I am going to need time, patience from both myself and others, and lots of hugs, to build myself back up again. My daily targets have gone from ‘attend all lectures, get all work in on time, do all reading and catch up on work I missed’, to ‘get up, shower, get dressed and eat something’, and as people keep telling me, that’s okay.

Some days feel like sludge. Today is a bit lighter than sludge, which is nice, but some days even breathing feels hard work, so it’s no wonder I can’t concentrate on the research proposal I need to do.

I hope that in time this will get easier, people assure me it will. Grief feels unpredictable right now, some days I feel more okay than others. People assure me that it’s okay to be like that, and for now I have to trust them because I’ve never been through this before, so that’s all I can do.

Mum has died, but I still know what she’d say in some situations, I still have our memories, I still have everything she’s taught me. I also have some fantastic friends and supports around me. Some lovely, wonderful, people who care about me and want what’s best for me. People who will let me cry to them and will listen. I’m so lucky to have these people. I’m so grateful.

No Kiss Goodnight

This week, I feel like I’ve settled into more of a routine of going home each evening. We have an amazing family friend who is taking me home and bringing me back each night and honestly, I’m so grateful. It saves a lot of tackling public transport/walking to places etc. It’s tiring all this back and forth so she’s making the world of difference.

Each night I head in and Mum’s deteriorated further. It’s stopped hitting me so much, though, I’ve become used to seeing a smaller, weaker, mum. I’ve sort of become a bit immune to it as the week has gone on. I just feel very still and flat. There are the occasional things which trip me up and make me cry, but they’re unpredictable.

Mum didn’t even try and kiss me tonight. She’s lost any energy she had. She can’t even move herself within her bed. She’s got a driver in now, to try and manage her pain. When she tries to talk she says she’s tired, despite sleeping most of the day. I don’t know how long is left. I hope it’s not long, not because I don’t love her, but because we’ve already lost her. She wasn’t even hearing everything tonight. I don’t want her to be in pain. I don’t want her to suffer. I don’t want my family to have to suffer any more, because every day that this goes on is another day that they’re watching the shell of someone they love lie in a bed too big.

Podcast

I recorded a podcast a few weeks ago with podium.me who work hard to share the voices of those under 25.

It’s now been published and you can find it here.

It’s basically just me having a chat with Beth, one of their journalists, about having a parent with terminal cancer.

Terminal Cancer Might Be Taking My Mum’s Body, But It Will Never Take My Mum

A few weeks ago, I was pottering around York, as I often do. I went into a gift-type shop (there are loads of them in York – you know the type I mean). I was looking for something specific , so was taking my time looking at each display when I saw a sign which read ‘the best Mums make the best Grandmas’.

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It hit me like a punch to the stomach and I had to leave the shop before I melted into a puddle of tears on the floor. As I paced around town, attempting not to cry, I couldn’t help feeling angry at the injustice of cancer in general, and Mum’s in particular. My Mum is awesome and would make an incredible Grandma. She’d love it, too. In the past few weeks she’s knitted three baby cardigans so that if/when my brothers and I have children, we would each have something for them ‘from Grandma’.

Almost every day at the moment, I see something that Mum’s not going to have, or be able to do, and it makes me want to cry. It could be going on a trip to Tesco and realising she probably won’t do that with us again, seeing graduation photos on Facebook with a parent proudly standing either side of their offspring, or coming out of my driving theory test and thinking about what we’d be doing if Mum was well (going to Starbucks for a Frappuccino and people-watching before heading to Primark for a bit of a splurdge.

People often say that ‘they can’t believe how well you’re handling this’, ‘you’re all doing so well’ or ‘I’d never know from your Facebook posts what’s really going on’. I don’t mind this because on the whole; we are managing well, and my Facebook is not a shrine to my Mum’s illness because I’m still living my life. But it doesn’t mean that I never feel angry at the injustice of it all and just want to punch a wall.

Over summer, I am a nanny to two wonderful boys. They’re seven and five and I’ve looked after them every school holiday for two years – it’s the best job I can imagine having at this stage in my life and is both fun and rewarding in equal measures. We baked a lemon cake yesterday (at their request!), and then today, we cycled to the park, pushed a big swing pretended we were in James’ Bond whilst spinning on a spinny thing, and fell about on the grass. I started thinking about all of this kind of stuff again.

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Knowing the boys as long as I have, and spending so much time with them every school holiday, means that we have a fairly solid relationship. I hug them, they hug me, we play fight, laugh, joke, and enjoy each other’s company. They’re not my children (despite many museum workers calling me ‘Mum’ in the past), but they’re good practice for if I ever have my own.

Baking is something my Mum taught me as a child. She spent hours teaching me how to use a mixer, how to break eggs, and how to remember various recipes. Teaching the boys how to bake is a joy, and they get better each time we do it – they’re pretty good at it now, and love it just as much as I did at their age. Going to the park is something my parents and I did a lot as when I was a child. They must have spent hours pushing me on swings and helping me conquer climbing frames.

My entire attitude towards children and the skills that I pass onto them come from my experiences and upbringing, and especially from my parents. My Mum probably won’t be there in person if I ever have kids – I probably won’t be able to beg her for some childcare favours when I need some sleep. But so much of my Mum is in me, and has shaped who I am, that in some small way she will be there – and that’s something that cancer can never take away.

Each time I let one of the children lick out the mixing bowl, they receive some of my Mum’s baking passion. Whenever they fly high on a swing, they’re experiencing some of Mum’s joy through my own love of parks. Whenever they’re making stuff, I hope they’ll experience some of Mum’s patience for my various crafting endeavours, something I do my best to remember when I have to iron countless Hama bead creations, or make multiple loom band animals.

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Cancer might be taking my Mum’s body, but it will never take my Mum. It will never take all the things she taught me (not to mention other people), the impact she’s leaving in the medical world, or the impression she’s made on everyone she’s ever met. Cancer can’t take her love for me and my brothers, her pride in what we achieve, or her hopes and dreams for our futures. Cancer can’t destroy the memories I have of her and our family, of holidays, hill climbing and funny voices when we read bedtime stories as kids.

Cancer makes no sense on an emotional level, and I don’t think it’s something I will ever truly understand. But, when I find myself on my bum in the middle of a park having lost a play fight with two adorable boys – I know that my Mum, her attitude of always getting ‘stuck in’ and her willingness to do anything with the three of us, however silly it might make her look, will always be with me.

Featured: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/naomibarrow/terminal-cancer_b_7899680.html

Crying Is Not Weak

On Sunday, I ran the Race for Life with a few friends. It was great, the atmosphere was fantastic, we raised a good amount of money, and Mum was there to watch us go (something we could never have imagined a few months ago).

Sunday evening came along and I began to struggle with the reality of Mum’s condition again. While I’m at uni, I’m in a bit of a bubble. Yes, I know Mum’s ill, and that never goes away. I’m always waiting for the phone to ring and not a day goes by when I don’t think about it; but I’m shielded from many of the day-to-day impacts that cancer has on Mum and home and family life. Being at home is different – I have no choice but to confront it; she has limited mobility, she is more tired, and she is visibly unwell.

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When I got back to uni this Sunday, the pictures of the race began to appear on Facebook. There are some absolutely lovely photographs, capturing lots of really special memories. However, when I loaded them in my photo editor, they came up alongside one from last year’s race. Mum looked like any other 50-something year old woman. She’s standing next to me, taller than me, and we’re both smiling and laughing at the camera. This year we’re still smiling and laughing, but Mum’s in her wheelchair, has lost weight and is rocking the post-chemo hair (it will be the next in thing in Vogue, just you watch…). It’s horrible to see someone you love deteriorate so starkly before your eyes like that, and understandably, I’ve been feeling slightly more fragile than usual for the past few days as a result.

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I’m trying to accept that it’s okay to be upset, that it’s okay to cry. To most it would seem a fairly natural reaction to cry when someone you love is dying. I remember the Monday after I found out Mum’s diagnosis, I saw someone from the uni welfare team and they asked me why I wasn’t crying (I shrugged whilst mentally responding that I was on a new record of 4 hours no crying since finding out Mum’s diagnosis and would happily cry again if that would please him). Logically, I know that crying is okay and that it is a normal reaction to death, illness, and anything else difficult in life, but sometimes I find it difficult to do.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think many of us struggle to cry or to show we’re upset. We feel like other will see it as a sign of weakness. I think we often judge ourselves if we cry and view ourselves as weak – I know I do. But I’m slowly learning that crying, or being upset, is not a sign of weakness – they are simply emotions like any other. They are natural human reactions to difficult situations. Everyone has times when they are upset, when they cry, when they completely break down and sob into their pillow. Every single human on this planet has cried at some point in their lives. Not only is that normal, but it’s completely okay. These difficult emotions deserve to be felt, and hard as it is to sit with them and experience them, it is important and healthy to do so.

I don’t think we should be ashamed of being sad or upset. I’m not saying we should cry all the time (that would be highly unproductive and a bit weird), but when we need to, and when the time is right, I don’t think we should be afraid to just let it out – whether it’s with a friend, with a teddy, on your own, or watching the final episode of Gilmore Girls one more time because it’s just too perfect. Crying is not weak; it’s simply a release of the built-up, difficult emotions that you’ve been holding onto for too long.

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