Children Can Bring Light To The Darkest Of Days

Cycling home today, I saw a lot of Mums pulling various uniform-clad little ones across traffic lights, book bags trailing behind them. I also saw a couple of late-teens-early-twenties-aged-child-looker-after-ers laughing and giggling with their rabble, jumping and skipping along the road.

I love seeing it, it’s so lovely to see people happy and enjoying life.

It does make me miss the various little people (and slightly bigger people) I’ve been lucky enough to take care of, though. Growing up, I babysat for the vast majority of the village from the age of fourteen (being a Beaver Scout leader and having younger brothers helps with that!). I’ve lost count of how many lounges I’ve sat in, stories I’ve read, and games I’ve played.

Through volunteering, there are even more hours spent looking after children to add up. The hordes that have come through Beavers, Cubs and Scouts (at one point I helped out at all three, spanning two different troops), and those I worked with when volunteering with Shout Out Leeds, with Team v, at a school or two, play groups and church.

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When working in a toy shop for a few years, I met a lot of kids, some very briefly, but there were other more regular shoppers who I got to know quite well. As a student ambassador for a couple of years, I interacted with children and young people of all ages. With many it would be a ten-minute chat, or occasionally a day doing various activities. But residentials were the best bit of the job: whole weeks getting to know some incredible young people, being privileged enough to share their stories, hear their worries, and listen to their hopes and dreams. There are so many young people who I got to know really well, but who I will never see again.

Out of all of the children I’ve looked after, there are a couple who have, perhaps, made the biggest impact on me.

The twins who showed me that even though the world can be ridiculously rubbish, there are still smiles to be had, and Peppa Pig can fix almost anything. They showed me that what my body looks like doesn’t matter, so long as it’s healthy enough to take them swimming. They reminded me that baking can be fun, giggles are infectious, and that mess can be joyful. Their Mum recognised that things could be rough, cancer was rubbish, and hugs from little people were sometimes all that was needed to calm a storm.

The three children belonging to my friend. The youngest, born just a month after Mum’s terminal diagnosis, reminding me that life is cyclical and though people die, and it’s crap that they die, people also live, people are born, and life is precious. The middle one has enough energy to keep a power station active for a week and an imagination to rival that of acclaimed writers, who continues to show me that dreams are important and life isn’t as serious as you think. The eldest, an incredible footballer with a big heart, always outside playing with his friends – a continuous reminder that life is greater than these four walls.

Finally, the two boys who I spent Summer, Easter and Christmas with for three years. The boys who baked with me, swam with me, built dens and Lego models with me, ran down to the river, came to the library and tackled buses with me. The boys who took me to the Great Yorkshire Show, the Royal Armouries and Leeds museum. The two boys who let me kiss things better, let me hug them, let me care about them through a time when the world felt so uncaring. However rubbish my night had been, whatever crap was going through my head, however downright awful I felt, they never failed to lift my mood, show me how to smile and bring light to the darkest of days.

Kids are incredible (as are many of their parents!). I’m not entirely sure how/why their parents decided I was responsible enough to keep their little people alive, but I’m so glad they did. I don’t know how many of them will remember me when they are my age, but I will remember many of them.

Summer has come to a close, and I haven’t done a single day of childcare. It feels very odd. I’ve finally emailed my student ambassador job to let them know I’m not coming back, and had a lovely email in response. I miss some of these children a huge amount. I hope that I can see some of them soon (though a couple of them moved to Guernsey which is mildly inconvenient). I’m growing up and moving on and it’s impossible to take everything from my past to my future, I guess it’s just about recognising that these experiences will always be a part of me and my life – they have shaped me and helped me grow into the person I am today; they have got me through some really tough times. Moving forwards is hard, leaving things I enjoyed and loved is hard – but ultimately, it’s right.

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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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9 Months Too Long

Dear Mum,

It’s been 9 months since you left and to be honest, it’s about time you came back. I’ve definitely learned the lesson of how fab you are and how much I need you in my life; I promise to never forget that ever again. I just need you to come back.

Sometimes I think it’s all maybe getting a little easier, but then I’m hit with another huge whallop of grief – determined to knock me down and keep me there. I have to do whatever I can to find some air again and claw my way out of the grief vacuum. It would be far too easy to drown in it.

It’s sunny now. Summer is here (in true British form of ‘is it going to rain today? 1186773_429236453855696_2130074871_nI better take a coat just in case’). Last summer you hardly left the house – it was too painful and tiring. The summer before I barely remember, I think you must have been working, and I was too. The summer before that we all went away as a family, climbing up mountains in France and mountain biking down them. It was boiling hot but there was snow at the top of the mountains. There are photos of us standing in snow in t-shirts.

You loved summer. You would come home on time to watch Wimbledon (unlike the rest of the year when you would often work late), then would finish your work later that evening, after ‘Today at Wimbledon’ had finished. We’d play table tennis in the garden, or actual tennis down at the local tennis club. We’d go to places on weekends sometimes; Yorkshire Sculpture Park or Harewood House, or even just have a potter around Wetherby. 166 (2016_04_23 16_52_32 UTC)You would normally take a couple of weeks annual leave and we would go somewhere – France for many years, but Spain once or twice, or different places in the UK.

I remember one day last summer really clearly. It must have been summer because I was wearing the dress I’m wearing today (I hadn’t realised that until I thought about it just now!). Dad was at the cottage so I offered to come home and be with you. You woke up mid-morning. I helped you to the bathroom and found your medication that Dad had left out for me. You thanked me for looking after you – you had kept insisting that friends could come over or carers could come round – but that morning you told me you appreciated it being a family member. In that moment I wished more than anything that I had my life more ‘together’. I wished I’d passed my driving test so I could have come over more and done more. I wished I was more sorted, more settled, more able to help. I wished I could have spent more time with you.

I miss you.

My driving test is coming up – I’ve finally almost reached that point (let’s hope I pass…). I’m settling down. I’ve got a better work-life balance. I might have been more able to help this year. But it’s a year too late.

Nine months is no time at all, yet in my head it stretches on forever. It’s not even a year. In the grand scheme of things it’s nothing, but it’s a nine months which have perhaps been harder than any previous nine months that I’ve ever lived through.

So, it’s about time you came back now, you’ve been gone long enough. We’ve learned to do a few things without you – we’ve learned to make a decent Christmas cake, we’ve learned which suncream to buy, we’re learning how to have fun again. E managed to get off on a school trip with all documentation intact, J has finished a year of work without killing or maiming any children, Dad’s kept the house going and the boys alive. We miss you, though.

I miss you, Mum, it’s been nine months too long and the sun is screaming out for you to bustle through the house and throw us all outside.

Lots of love,
Xxx

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Learning to Let Go

Letting go is hard for anyone, with pretty much anything. Letting go of one of the only things that has been consistent in my life since Mum died, is really really hard. But necessary.

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Volunteering at Time to Talk day 2014 – the day I heard Mum’s terminal diagnosis.

I’ve volunteered with Shout Out Leeds for three years and in doing so, I’ve met some wonderful people, had some amazing opportunities, and really grown as a person. We’ve supported each other through ups and downs and (hopefully!) made a real difference with the work we’ve been doing. I was actually with them when I got the text from Dad asking to meet up on the day he told me about Mum’s terminal diagnosis.

I started with the group as a fairly inexperienced member and learned a lot from those older than me, as time went on, I began to lead on things and eventually I took ownership of the Twitter/Facebook/Website. It’s now reached the point where I’ve gone as far as I can go with the group, and I have to move on and continue to build my life in York, rather than constantly returning to Leeds. I’m beginning to get paid for a lot of the things we would do in Shout Out for free, and as much as I’m an advocate for volunteering, I also need to afford to live. I had a good chat with the facilitator of the group, and we decided now was a good time to move on, before I began to get frustrated or stagnate.

My friends and I joke about ‘adulting’ all the time. We all seem to bounce between changing lightbulbs and colouring in, buying non-slip bath mats, and consuming frozen frubes, navigating tax and eating our tea off disney plates. We’re fumbling our way into adulthood with much hilarity and the occasional unmitgated disaster.

Part of this adulting is learning when to let go of things. Working out what to take with us, and what to leave behind. Knowing when it’s time to stop, breathe, and regroup. It’s not easy! Occasionally there will be times when it is clear that something needs to go, and sometimes it might even be a relief to cut something out of life, but more often than not, it’s really difficult. There are no right and wrong answers and no guidebook. It’s just life. It’s giving things a go, experimenting with things, taking risks and watching what happens.

I find it hard to move on because I’m leaving Mum behind. But I can’t remain in the place I left Mum forever. It’s not possible, and she wouldn’t want me to. She would be telling me to get up, get out, and live life. We’ve all got to keep on keeping on, and learn when it’s time to let things go.

 

Some days are just HARD

Nothing specific has happened today. Well one or two things, but nothing of great significance (compared to Mum dying, anyway… I compare any challenges in my life to Mum dying, it’s a pretty effective tool for minimising any stress). The whole country feels somewhat unsettled after the EU referendum which certainly isn’t helping, and my Facebook feed is pretty unpleasant. It was noticeable in The Hut today that many members were more anxious and/or flat than normal. I had two appointments. Neither were bad, in fact they wer both pretty positive, but both contained things which are difficult to hear.

Nothing ‘bad’ has happened. Some days are just hard.

I’m tired, I’m not sleeping well at the moment. The sleeping tablets I’ve been off and on for the last 10 months (sleeping is hard when closing your eyes prompts images and memories of a very poorly Mum) aren’t cutting it right now. It takes ages to fall asleep and once I do, I wake up all night. It’s not ideal, and all day I just want to nap. I’m tired, and I don’t just mean sleep tired.

Life keeps throwing up challenges and sometimes they’re cope-able-with, sometimes they’re cope-able-with-a-bit-of-help, other times it can feel hopeless. Perhaps I’m not making any sense, but I’m not sure I understand myself right now or that I have the words to explain how I feel. I feel mute.

I miss Mum, that much is clear. I want nothing more than to run home into a Mum hug. I want my Mum to look after me, to help me through the difficult days. I want to text her when I’ve had a tough appointment, I want to let her know when good stuff happens, I want to ask her advice on which food containers to get for my cupboards. I want her to come into my room on the mornings when the world feels bleak and I’m unable to move, to bring me some cornflakes with skimmed milk and brazil nuts, to get my clothes out for me and remind me how to get dressed, just like she used to. I want to go into her room at 2am when I can’t stop crying, to sleep next to her in the big double bed, to feel safe.

I want to feel safe, anchored and ‘me’ again.

Dad: Picking Up Where We Left Off?

I was in a well-known hardware shop last week and I saw a girl who was probably about 3 or 4, being pushed around on one of those trolleys you only get in big hardware shops (they’re sort of like a platform with a handle, rather than your standard shopping trolley) by her Dad. It prompted such a clear memory of doing the same with my Dad… only instead of it being one child it would normally have been two or three. Saturday or Sunday afternoons, being pushed on one of these trolleys by my Dad, feeling like I was on Aladdin’s carpet. Everything was right in the world, I was safe with my Dad buying something exciting like wood and then we’d go home and have tea, have a bath, and go to bed listening to The Archers play on the radio in the next room.

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My relationship with my Dad has got buried somewhere in Mum’s illness and death. It got put on pause on February 8th 2014 when he text me to find out where I was (I was living at uni at the time), came and picked me up, and told me in the car that my Mum’s cancer had returned and that there was no cure. I don’t know how he ever found the words to tell me, and then to tell Mum’s’ family and friends, but he did.

Mum became ill for the first time when I was 18. Dad brought my brothers and me into the kitchen and told us about Mum’s cancer. He told us Mum had caught it early and that we shouldn’t be overly worried. We cried and hugged each other, but we were calm. I went to work that afternoon. Mum bounced back from cancer round one, and wasn’t diagnosed with terminal cancer until around 9 months later.

Once Mum was diagnosed as terminal, Dad would drive me backwards and forwards to uni, clocking up miles and miles, allowing me to continue my education as well as spending valuable time with Mum. It was Dad who learned all the biology behind Mum’s condition, Dad who learned how to care for her at every step, and Dad who became fluent in doctor-speak. It was Dad who managed all of the visitors coming in and out of our house, Dad who spent hours every day on the phone to people updating them on Mum’s condition, Dad who slept downstairs next to Mum, there for her night and day. It was Dad who was next to Mum when she died, Dad who really was there ‘til death do us part’, Dad who had to ring the GP, the coroner, and anyone else you ring when someone dies. It was Dad who rang me when Mum died, Dad who spoke to me as my world fell apart in a university stairwell, Dad who gave me a hug when I walked through the door later that day.

It’s Dad who’s left in a big house, in a small village, with three offspring and no wife.

When Mum was ill, Dad and I spoke about it a lot. At the beginning of Mum’s illness, Dad asked me to explain a few bits or bobs using my A-Level biology knowledge. As Mum’s illness progressed, Dad and I would spend half an hour in the car together between uni and home at least twice a week, which was a lot of time for talking. We would talk about Mum’s symptoms, her level of care, sometimes about what life would be like without her. We rarely talked about things that weren’t in some way related to Mum.

Mum and Dad had so many plans and so much they were looking forward to, together. Without Mum, Dad’s lost more than his ‘other half’: he’s lost his best friend, partner in crime, and confidante. They had plans to travel, to do charity work, perhaps to foster after we’d all grown up and moved out. They had other plans, ideas, hopes and dreams that I know nothing about.

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As for Dad and me, I’ve got to learn to become a daughter again. Our relationship paused two years ago, and in that time I’ve changed in so many ways and so has he. I’ve had to grow up quickly in a lot of ways, but in other ways I’ve got stuck in time. I’ve also not moved away from home in the same way as many of my peers. I’ve moved away from home physically, but I’ve got very used to going backwards and forwards on a regular basis and contacting my family multiple times a day; something which the majority of my peers definitely do not do.

Dad and I have had to start navigating this whole Dad-daughter-motherless-grief thing. He’s my Dad… but I don’t have a Mum anymore, so to some extent he’s been plonked in the role of Mum-and-Dad combined. Things I used to go to Mum for, I now either have to find a close female friend, or go to Dad. He’s got to do things he didn’t used to take sole responsibility for like remember what we have for birthday teas, or buy the odd bit of clothing.

There are times when it’s been really, really hard. Dad has never shied away from challenging me and my decisions, and as much as I love that and respect it, it can be hard when we disagree on something and I don’t have another parent to run to. Without another parent to mediate, it can then take a little while longer than it might have done to resolve anything like that. Admittedly, at times, I’ve felt like I’ve had to be a ‘Mum’ to my brothers. My Dad told me when Mum died that we should never let anyone tell us what Mum ‘would have wanted’, and that I was not my Mum, and I was not my brother’s Mum. But that can be hard; I remember things Mum did for me, like buying my favourite foods during revision periods, and I want to do the same for my brothers (this particular one resulted in a few kilos of milk bottle sweets arriving at my Dad’s house).

Working out how we all relate to each other as a family is just one more difficulty in the mountain of change that occurs when someone dies. I know that we will get there and I’m really glad we’re close enough to work through these things together.

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Father’s Day

Mother’s Day was hard… that was to be expected. But Father’s Day? I didn’t think that would really be of any significance. Turns out I was wrong.

I was just sort of going about my day earlier – standard Sunday stuff; cycle to a shop, attempt food shopping, feel proud for actually buying some salad and not adding to my ever expending washi tape collection etc. I was feeling a little more anxious than usual but wasn’t really sure why.

On my cycle home, I realised it was a Father’s Day thing. It’s not uncom218 (2016_04_23 16_52_32 UTC)memon that I dream about Dad dying, or Dad having cancer. For a long time after Mum was diagnosed I panicked at every text or call, terrified that someone else close to me was ill or had died. I’ve got a bit better at that now which is handy because I don’t think it’s healthy to panic innumerable times a day. The dreams still pop up every now and again but I don’t normally worry about it during the day any more, apart from today.

It feels odd being a daughter with only one parent. It feels odd having a Dad without a Mum. My Dad is great in pretty much every way, but it’s weird having a Father’s Day without a mother. I don’t really know what to do or say. We focussed so much on Mum while she was ill, I can remember every Mother’s Day, but I don’t remember Father’s Days, I don’t remember what we used to do…

Today has prompted lots of anxiety, a few tears, and the majority of the day spent buried under blankets, crocheting and watching various comedy programs. It caught me by surprise. I’m not alone in it, though. I’m in a Facebook group with other young people who have, or had, a terminally ill family member. I posted in there earlier today and a number of people responded with similar feelings.

Grief is a funny thing and there’s no rule book for it, no logic, no handy flow chart to guide you through. You just have to take each day as it comes, and sometimes that means spending the day buried under yarn, engrossed in TV, and I think that’s okay.