Here’s to Those of Us Who Aren’t Graduating This Week

It’s graduation season. Facebook knows it, Instagram knows it; it feels like everyone in the world is graduating. If you can count yourself among that number, then all I have to say is this: congratulations. I have so much respect and admiration for anyone who completes uni, whatever their degree class. It’s really not an easy thing to do, and it’s so lovely to see people smiling next to their proud family members and friends. I know people that have completed uni despite really difficult life circumstances, and I think that it’s phenomenal to have achieved so much, and they should be incredibly proud.

I also know quite a few people who should have finished university this year, but they’re not, because life didn’t go to plan. Some have horrible illnesses to deal with, some have chronically or terminally ill family members, for others life has just dealt them a rough hand and they’ve been blown off course a bit.

Currently, I’m sat in my jimjams watching Come Dine With Me repeats and hoping that tonight might be the night that I actually get a decent amount of sleep. Looking at all of these celebratory photographs while feeling so far removed from them can be pretty difficult, because there’s a nagging voice in the back of my brain saying “that could’ve been you”. It can be so easy to look at other people’s lives and see all that you’ve lost. Had life gone to plan, I would have been stood there alongside my peers in a cap and gown, smiling next to two proud parents. That’s what I always thought would happen when I signed up to university three years ago.

But for me, and some others I know, even if we’d have stayed at uni and graduated with our class, we wouldn’t have had two parents stood smiling next to us, because we don’t have two parents any more.

The other morning, I was cycling around this beautiful city I now call home, as part of my job. I later went into the office, talked to my lovely colleagues, and spent a couple of hours listening to the radio whilst doing some work. I left the office and went to The Hut where I volunteer, and spent a while sat on a bench, chatting in the sunshine with a friend I met there. I came home and after a driving lesson, I spent some time with my flatmate, doing her hair for a dinner she was going to. I’m so lucky. I’m much more content than I have been in a long, long, time. I feel like I’m finally beginning to get a little ‘me’ back.
I wouldn’t have ever found The Hut, or my job, if I hadn’t left uni when I did. I wouldn’t have made that friend; I probably wouldn’t be living where I am now. I don’t know what I would have done or where I would be, but I wouldn’t be here; and I’m happy here.

I know a few others who have left uni, too, or are simply graduating at a later date. One or two have jobs, some are still living in this city and others have moved elsewhere. All of them are doing something with their life, and that’s amazing to see.

So here’s to those of us whose lives got blown off course. Those who are continuing to get up and face the world every single day, despite seeing how far life will go to try and make sure we can’t. Who are in new jobs, making new friends, creating a different life from the one we had always planned. Who might not have got a cap and gown on today, but who got dressed in something resembling an acceptable outfit, despite the crippling depression/stress/pain that can be in our lives, those of us for whom getting dressed and leaving the house is a real achievement. Here’s to those of us who don’t have that certificate, but who deserve a medal for simply participating in life when sometimes all we want to do is hide.

To everyone who is continuing to live their life, despite horrendous circumstances, I’m proud of you. To my friends who are watching Facebook this week with a pang of disappointment or sense of failure, I’m proud of you. I’m so proud of you for continuing to smile, for continuing to check if others around you are okay, for holding others together when you feel like falling apart, I’m really, really proud of you. I hope that you can look at all you have achieved, and all that you are, even if it’s not something you can get a certificate for, and feel a little proud of yourself, too.

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Chilling on Friday morning, reflecting on the lack of graduation, but the amazingness that is my job 🙂

Featured: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/naomibarrow/graduation_b_11030956.html

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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.