I never thought that cancer would become part of my story, but it has. It has completely changed my life and my journey, despite the fact that I’m extremely lucky that I haven’t even had it myself. Yet everything has changed.
It was 6.14am when I watched my beautiful mummy take her last breath. I was just 26 years old, and she was a mere 56 years old. It is something I will never forget and something that I never really believed would happen.
Sure, she had been living with secondary breast cancer for a few years now, but I think in order to cope day to day you never truly accept the fact. The fact that life may continue on without her; the person that brought you into this world and was by your side through everything. You just cannot comprehend it.
It was almost 6 years ago now, in 2015, and honestly I still don’t really believe it’s happened.
To her, to me, to our life.
That devastating morning, I remember sitting in my back garden eating jam on toast. It was almost October but still very mild and honestly the fresh air was a blessing. My auntie had suggested it, as we had been cooped up in the house waiting by my mum’s side for days. I hadn’t eaten a thing for around 5 days and had barely slept at all, too afraid to miss the moment.
Myself, my brother, my auntie and my mum’s best friend were a constant in the house. We took it in turns to occasionally lie down or attempt to eat something. But how can you simply allow yourself to rest when your mum could, according to the district nurses, go at any moment.
I felt as though I may just have a nervous breakdown or perhaps just explode. My legs would uncontrollably tremble and on occasions I felt so nauseous it was unbearable.
Later that day, through streaming tears and gasping breaths, I started to search for support. I wanted to speak to other young women who had been through the same and come out the other side. Twenty or thirty-something women who had also lost their mum’s to cancer. You see, I wasn’t classed as a young adult, as this tends to go up to aged 18. But the other generalised grief support was mainly aimed at older adults around 40 plus. This wasn’t me.
I felt as though I had different challenges to face in life ahead of me.
Even thinking about it today, the thought of getting married and having children without my mum around pains me and panics me. The first reason is rather selfish, in that I won’t have her here to help with all the plans, the dress appointments and to be with me in the delivery room. But the main reason is that I know how desperately sad she was that she wouldn’t get to be here herself.
We had always watched ‘Say Yes To The Dress’ together and discussed what I would love and how fun it would be to finally be in that position, trying all of the beautiful gowns on. We would always chat about baby names together. My mum was a teacher and completely and utterly adored children. She was so desperate to be a grandmother and she honestly would have been THE best.
So it physically hurts me to think that she will never meet my children. They will never know her crazy laugh, her generosity and her warm embrace.
She didn’t want to leave me. She worried about it and me endlessly. We had been a team for many years now and we needed each other.
So how do you carry on, as a twenty-something who now has to face a whole life without her mother?
I’m not sure that I even know now to be truly honest, but I can tell you that you do carry on.
The hole is still ever present, but life grows around it and you gradually feel a little less empty day by day.
The road through grief is definitely not the way that it is described online though. The 7 stages don’t reach you in a perfect time frame or order. You just can’t prepare yourself for it. The supposed stages came to me at random moments and with no warning, all out of order.
Even now, when I’m back to ‘normal’ life each day and not crying all the time, a wave of grief can hit me out of nowhere. It generally is triggered from a memory; walking past a shop where you often went together, or a song that is played on the radio.
You are suddenly thrown into darkness again. A stabbing pain to the chest and an inability to breathe. It generally only lasts a minute or two now, sometimes even just a second, but in that moment you feel as though you will never be happy again. The world loses all beauty and you don’t know how you will carry on.
But then, again, you do carry on.
And I can promise you that the world still does have beauty left in it, and there is so much to see and do.
I lost my mum aged 26, and even though I will forever be jealous of everyone having their mums with them on their wedding day and getting to see their children grow up, I have learnt to be thankful for the 26 years that I did have with mine.
Because all you are left with are the memories, and they are so precious. Over time the painful memories of the illness slowly gets pushed to the back and you remember the fun times and the laughter. I certainly have a lot of memories of those as my mum was completely barking mad, in the best way.
I want to tell her everything that I’m doing, so I still do. I chat to her when I’m at home, and I still write her Christmas and Birthday cards. I find that it helps.
And because I know her so well, I know what she would say back. Even when trying on a new outfit in a fitting room, I can hear what she is saying. I know what her opinion would be.
And so you see, she is still with me and will always be, because a mother is already part of you.
To any twenty or thirty- something women facing the same life altering situation, I say this:
Life will be different now, there’s no denying that. But they never truly leave you, and this life will still be happy and fulfilling, you just need to give it time.