“Having just finished GCSE’s and with the whole world in front of me, caring for my dying Mother at home and losing her just before Christmas is not what I had imagined I would be facing as a 16 year old.
I lived alone with my Mum, Judith, and a week before I started sixth form she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Mum was a social worker. She was caring, creative and really good to all of her friends. We were really close but when she became ill, things changed. All of a sudden I had to learn to care for my Mum by myself, I had to learn to cook, clean and learn basic medical skills. Mum was in so much pain and although district nurses visited, every night I was on my own.
When you know that you are going to lose the person you love, obviously you want to have as many happy times as you can but… that is not the reality of caring for someone who is dying. When I was awake in the middle of the night, helping Mum to go to the toilet or cleaning up after she had been sick. I felt so alone. I knew that my friends wouldn’t be doing the same. It is so easy to feel that you are the only person in the whole world who is having to do this sort of thing, that you are the only person who has got a Mum who is dying or that you are the only one who has lost a parent. You can’t underestimate the help you need when caring for someone who is dying or how much there is to do. If I’d had more help that would have made a difference.
Finding someone to listen and making sense of my feelings: I first heard about the family and bereavement support at Tynedale Hospice after my teacher at school told me about Emma. Emma, one of the practitioners, had visited my school to help other children whose loved ones had died. I visited the Hospice’s Rainbow Room, a special, safe and colourful place where young people like me can begin to talk and make sense of what we are feeling.
I wanted to keep school separate from everything that was going on at home and although my friends helped, often they didn’t know what to say.
I met with Emma and Carla from the Hospice every couple of weeks and kept in touch via email and phone and it made the world of difference.
Thanks to their support, I could talk through my feelings, get them out in the open and process them in my own mind. I understood that it was ok to be angry, to be cross at Mum and that it wasn’t wrong to be feeling that way. I also understood that I wasn’t alone. Without talking I would have gone mad.
Mum was happy I could go to the Hospice and in the weeks before she died, visiting the Rainbow Room and talking helped me to understand my grief better – even when everything around me felt out of control.
Treasured memories: Carla gave me a notebook to write in – during one of the first sessions I wrote down words that reminded me of Mum – it was helpful to have something physical to do. I also created my ‘Mum box’ – a box of memories about Mum, and even now I go back and add to it. It’s good to have the box there.
Sometimes I find it quite hard to remember Mum before she was ill. My main memory of her is the person that was dying but the Mum Box helps to remind me of all the happy moments we had and with the help of Carla, I’ve been able to hold onto safe memories, like Mum and I sitting in the garden and Mum working on her tapestry as ‘Boo’, our cat played around us!
Unlimited support: Mum died, aged 47, on the 9th December 2016. I felt overwhelmed and for a long time I didn’t feel like talking or coming to see Carla and Emma, so I had a break – I always knew the support was there if I needed it and that helped. Nearly a year later, I was invited to take part in the teenage Film Club at Tynedale Hospice and I accepted. I met with 5 other teenagers, all of whom had lost a parent. Together we have put a film together that helps explain our experiences, talks about our feelings and what grief is like. Recently we went to Broomley Grange Activity Centre and I braved muddy tunnels and high wires in the trees before sitting down with my film club friends around a bonfire to toast marshmallows and reflect on our shared experiences and achievements. We had all been through horrible things but the day was fun, challenging and helped to take our mind off things.
I am taking back control! It’s been more than a year since Mum died and I just keep in mind that this happened to me and there is nothing I can do about that but the emotional skills it will have equipped me with will last me my whole life. Nothing will ever, ever be as scary as going to my Mum’s funeral, and if I can face that, then I can face anything. Soon I hope to go to University to study chemistry. Looking back, it’s been good to have the opportunity to reflect, pause and try to put what I’ve been through into words.
Grief is a weight that you carry around, it is unexpected and it will get you at the worst of times. You can’t decide what day it’s going to be, grief will decide. But it does get easier and you learn to live with it and it’s a bit nicer when you’ve learned how to live with it.
I had no idea what to expect when I came to the Rainbow Room at Tynedale Hospice but I was shown so much care and given more support than I could ever imagine. I had the opportunity to say what I was thinking without judgement and I received support from such lovely people who go out of their way to make a difference. The support I’ve received from Tynedale Hospice is unique and something I couldn’t have accessed anywhere else.”
Tynedale Hospice at Home’s Family Support Service provides help to children, young people, individuals and families who are facing bereavement or who have been bereaved. Our services are free and available to all and you don’t have to have been touched by our Hospice care to receive this service. To find out more, please call 01434 600 384.