It’s coming up to the first anniversary since mum died and it’s been a strange time. I really hadn’t appreciated how significantly life would change after being a carer. When you’re caring for someone, that’s how you see yourself, often above any other label you may use. First thoughts in the morning and last thoughts at night are about the person you’re caring for. If you have paid employment you’re always playing the “what if?” game; “what will I do if I can’t work, if I have to suddenly take time off, if I can’t meet deadlines?” If you have family responsibilities there is always the fear that, at any time, you will be forced to choose. Which is most important, caring for your sick child or stressed partner, putting yourself first if you need to see a doctor or are recovering from illness, or taking care of your relative with dementia?
It becomes impossible to be impulsive, or to take holidays, or to visit friends for a coffee, or to go shopping. These things so many of us take as read, they’re part of everyday life.
After mum died I found life opening up and offering me unlimited possibilities. I could go on holiday, see friends, spend more time with my children. I found myself feeling guilty at relishing all these things, because they only became possible after mum died. I found it difficult to deal with all the choices. I had time on my hands and lots I could be doing, but was still in the grip of bereavement and guilt.
We ticked off the “firsts”; mum’s birthday, Christmas, funeral anniversary. Family dynamics (which had changed significantly over time) started to shift and to settle back into a different, warmer and more caring place as we shared our feelings and thoughts. No longer united by the intention of doing the best we could for mum but by being siblings with a shared history and experience, albeit different from each of our perspectives.
I had always considered myself to be resilient; family and friends labelled me as “strong, a coper, the go-to person” but the first year made me realise my vulnerabilities. There is no easy way to move on from being a carer, you have to take it a step at a time, a tear at a time, slowly plodding through each day and trying to deal with whatever life throws your way. I learned to ask for help and to be open about my feelings, to reconnect with old friends I’d not had the time to spend with, for such a long time. They never judged, but just listened and cared. Mostly, I reconnected with myself.
I realised how much support there was for me online; people I’d never met and only engaged with on Twitter helped me adjust, allowed me to ramble on and on about mum and to share pictures and snippets of our time together. For many of them it was a message and a thought, but each one of those made such a difference and they will never know just how much it meant and how much it was appreciated.
I will never regret the time I spent with mum and know I made her feel loved. The light in her eye when I entered the room, even in her dark last days, stays with me still. She gave me so much more than she ever knew. She taught me patience and empathy, and I learned to be creative in finding solutions to help her and learned many new skills as a result. Mum taught me to appreciate the joy of everyday things, and I rediscovered the sentient part of me. We shared our hopes and thoughts, we glowed in the light of a lovely mother and daughter relationship.
And now as I approach the end of the first year I’m in a much better place. I’m looking ahead. I can recall all those happy times with mum when we laughed and danced together, watched rugby, sang songs, and hugged – there were lots of hugs. I can look at old photos and listen to mum’s voice on the many recordings I made and although they make my eyes prick, that’s ok.
I’m moving on and looking ahead, and that’s a good place to be.
There are pages on my website to help if you’re on the same journey. Take a look a the tabs under the HOME section.