These words have been lingering in the back of my mind now for some time, difficult to write but necessary for healing. Part of me feels that writing all of this this down and publishing it on the internet for anyone to see is a very strange thing to do. But then I remember that people have been doing exactly this in the form of memoirs and diaries published in books for centuries.
Writing down events and feelings is purgative and cathartic for the writer, even if nobody reads them. Sharing our life experiences with others however, has an even greater healing power, going further than the self – it can help heal others too.
I’ve felt it plenty of times. Life is full of shared stories and this is how we learn, grow and love, and form meaningful connections with others. So i’ve decided that it’s good to share.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. … There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” —Rachel Carson, Silent Spring.
I posted this quote on Instagram back in April, when I was trying to pull myself out of a well of fear and grief. Twelve days later, I said goodbye forever, to my beautiful, brave mum, Julie.
The past few months have been pure hell. Sure, my day to day has looked mostly normal, but the days have been interspersed with terrifyingly dark moments and inside it has felt like drowning. To get up, get dressed, cook and eat, walk the dog, do a good days work, sleep (or rather not sleep) has felt like the hardest thing in the world. On top of these things, put on a brave face, drive to the hospital, watch my strong, fierce mum slowly lose the ability walk, struggle to eat, to dress… anyone who has cared for a loved one through illness will know the pain.
My mum was an incredibly strong woman. She fought through more challenges in life than any one person ever should and she never had anything in life come easy. She had to work extremely hard for everything she had, and when I say that, I truly mean everything.
“She made broken look beautiful and strong look invincible. She walked with the Universe on her shoulders and made it look like a pair of wings.”
The last four years have been the toughest for mum. She was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma and Breast Cancer within the space of one week, back in 2014. Shortly after a mastectomy operation and starting chemotherapy, she had a major heart attack, caused by a blood clot – a devastating side effect of one of her chemotherapy drugs. She had two cardiac arrests and doctors saved her life twice in one day by giving her CPR and using a defibrillator. As if this wasn’t enough for one person, she was then diagnosed with a condition called AL Amyloidosis which is rare but commonly associated with Multiple Myeloma. There is only one SAP scanner to monitor and diagnose it in the whole of the UK. I think it may be the only one in Europe and certainly one of only a few found worldwide.
After mum’s heart attack, things looked bleak and she could barely walk, but over time she improved and eventually she appeared so well, you’d never know all that she had been through. She achieved clinical remission of her Multiple Myeloma, the Amyloidosis was kept at bay and her Breast Cancer was effectively cured by her mastectomy. She remained on maintenance treatment to help keep things stable but she did have bouts of relapse which required more aggressive treatment, but through it all she was still my wonderful, determined super-mum, always looking after the needs of others as well as her own.
In November, we threw my mum a surprise party and she celebrated her 60th Birthday, not looking a day over 45. She was so beautiful, I often saw men giving her the eye when we were out together and heard things like ‘this must be your sister’. Do you remember that tv programme ‘My Mum’s Hotter than Me!’? yeah, that. I am super proud of her for so many reasons, but I really hope I get some of those good ageing genes!
After Christmas, Steve took me, my mum and her friend away to Yorkshire for NYE as a birthday gift for me. I’d wanted to take her for ages but her illness meant she didn’t always feel well, or had so many hospital appointments to attend it was difficult to make it happen. We had a lovely week together exploring the North York Moors and mum finally got to visit her friend who moved to the Dales many years ago.
Shortly after this, my mum needed to start more aggressive chemo again. We thought that this would be the same as every other time. Mum would feel sick for a while, but then she would feel better again. Instead, she got worse and worse and very quickly. From January onwards my mum was in and out of hospital constantly. It all happened so quickly, we didn’t see it coming.
On the 14th of April we went to visit mum after a phone call to the ward revealed she’d been unwell in the night. When we arrived she was talking as normal (or as normally as she could for someone so unwell) with a lovely nurse by her side and relief washed over me. A doctor came to talk to us about DNR forms and mum said ‘you’re not getting rid of me that easily’ which had us all smiling. Only an hour later, her heart gave up. She was so strong to the very end, telling us how much she loved us and that she was sorry if she couldn’t make it to my wedding. My heart broke into a million pieces as I told her it was okay, and I watched her go.
In the days that followed, I felt every variation of every emotion there is to feel, mainly sadness and anger. Why was she continuously discharged from hospital when she kept getting worse? Why didn’t we know how bad things were? How could we continue without her? If you’ve experienced grief, you’ll know how nuanced it is.
Mum’s passing brought me starkly into the present, intensely into the now. The past four years i’ve not been very present, perhaps even longer than that. I’ve been living a life of fear and regret. Worrying about the future, fretting about the past. The majority of 2018 i’ve spent depressed and anxious. I’ve been having counselling and CBT regularly and I popped my first antidepressant at the beginning of April, desperate to cope with all the fear and worry. Planning a wedding at the same time has added extra pressure on top of all of this and the daily demands of life. Life has had so many question marks – will my mum be able to come to our wedding? What if she can’t? Do I cancel the wedding? What’s the right thing to do? What if we cancel it and she’s okay and could have made it? Mum’s passing wiped away all of these questions, leaving only one option. To keep on keeping on.
There has been some peace among the sadness. ‘Bittersweet’ is the word I’ve been using to describe the past couple of months. Through all this pain there have been so many things to treasure. I’ve felt closer than ever to those around me. There have been kind gestures from friends and kind words from strangers. I’ve experienced such an outpouring of love from everyone around me.
I’ve learnt of lot of lessons lately, one being that the worst in life brings out the best, it is true. Bittersweet is definitely the word.
I wish I could say that death is a new experience for me but it’s featured heavily in my life for the past 10 years, losing too many loved ones. I said goodbye to my Dad 9 years ago, so I am now an orphan at 28 years old. I know i’ve been lucky to have had my parents for as long as I did and to have had such good ones. I know everyone is not that lucky. It’s that I tell myself, when I feel anger or jealously creeping up on me.
Both of my parents worked extremely hard to provide for me and my brothers, sacrificing a lot to ensure we had the best upbringing as possible. It is their hard work that has given me the ability to dream, in ways they never could. And for that I will be forever grateful. Thanks to my parents, I have a really good life. A much easier one than they ever had.
Realising all of these things makes me determined not to waste it.