Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be pulled into a black hole? The struggle against a force so much more powerful than yourself, the inevitability of your situation, and – I imagine – those final few seconds of complete emptiness before everything ends.
No one alive could ever know or understand the feeling of emptiness that would come inside a black hole. But in the eighteen months since I lost my mum, I have experienced a certain level of emptiness that most young adults might never feel. That emptiness keeps me up at night, stops me in the street, affects my relationships and is now a part of who I am. My name is Beth, I’m 22 years old, and when I was 20, my mum died of cancer. This is my story.
It’s not the snappiest title, I’ll give you that. It doesn’t scream bestseller. Cholangiocarcinoma – confusing, hard to communicate, unusual, the word is everything that the cancer was. It’s cancer of the bile duct, if you were wondering. This part of the blog post was the hardest to write. I still find it near impossible to think about losing mum without feeling like I am breaking in half. When I meet new people, especially those who are, or will be, important in my life, I dread telling them. I see it in their eyes when they ask about my parents and I reply only about my dad. Where is her mum, they are thinking? Who doesn’t have a mum?
Me. I don’t have a mum. At least not one I can hug when I’m sad, or call up when I get a promotion, or laugh with at Christmas. Of course I still have a mum, and I will forever have the memories of the 20 glorious years I spent with my beautiful, brilliant best friend. But the physical space she took up in my life is now a gaping hole. After the surgery she had to remove the majority of the tumour, mum had a large scar on her stomach. It kept getting infected and never properly healed. She could never have radiotherapy because it kept opening and preventing anything from progressing. My own wounds, though not visible, feel like that scar. Just when I think I’m ready for the next step, I rip open again and I’m back to square one.
In fact, mum was really lucky. Cancer of the bile duct is rare and almost impossible to cure. She lived nearly two years from her original diagnosis, and was relatively healthy in that time. She fought incredibly hard and was an inspiration to everyone who met her. She even found the strength to run a charity 5K, to raise money for Mary Ann Evans Hospice. Her death was not painful or stressful, but quiet and peaceful, surrounded by her family – who were indeed her whole world. At her funeral, the church was fuller than it had possibly ever been, and thousands of pounds were raised for Cancer Research UK, who continue to work incredibly hard to find a cure for cancer.
2nd July 2015
At the moment, as we near the end of 2016, everyone keeps saying it’s been the worst year ever. I’m inclined to agree; with Brexit, Trump’s victory, Bake Off moving to Channel 4, and all the celebrity deaths, 2016 has been a truly horrible year. It has also been the first full year without mum. The first year she didn’t live through, at all. The first of every anniversary is the worst – I knew that would be the case before I experienced any of them. But now, with 2017 in sight, all of the first anniversaries are gone. I’ve survived them all. And having just had the second Christmas without mum, I’m not optimistic. The second anniversary is pretty bad too, because that is when you realise that the last one wasn’t a one off, or a mistake. It was the cold reality of the future. She didn’t just miss last Christmas. She will miss every Christmas.
Hope for the future
It can be very easy for me to become all consumed by the emptiness I feel, and lose hope in the future. However, there are quite a few things that help me – my Christian faith and the hope I have in God’s plan for my life, my wonderful family, who truly understand how I feel, and my long-suffering friends, who have picked me up from my worst and shown me true love and joy. Talking about mum is essential for me to stay positive, and having a counsellor at university was the reason I didn’t drop out, but stayed and worked extremely hard to finish my degree and make my mum proud.
It was around Christmas 2015 that I first had the idea for this website. Being open and honest about my hopes and fears is something that comes quite naturally to me, but not many people can, or want to, share how they are feeling. For some people, speaking out loud about their grief can be a real struggle, especially when death is such a taboo and people don’t want to ask, or talk about it. I decided that what I would have appreciated, was a safe space online to talk to other young people about their experiences of loss. Young people who knew what to say, what questions to ask, and how I was feeling without needing me to explain. I was disappointed to find that such a space didn’t exist, but I simply saw that as a challenge that I needed to overcome.
Let’s Talk About Loss
So that brings me here: December 2016. I’ve bought the domain name, designed the site and written the first blog post. The idea that I’ve had for months, if not a year, is finally a reality and I’m excited to be writing again, and hopeful that the dream I have of helping other young people in my situation might actually come true. There are lots of fantastic websites helping people who have lost loved ones – and Grief Encounter is one I must mention in particular. It has fantastic resources for children and young people who have lost a parent, and its work is healing many broken hearts. I hope that Let’s Talk About Loss can sit alongside this great charity and provide a different kind of support.
I have a long way to go before the emptiness I feel in my heart is fully gone, but I hope that by talking through the taboo of loss and death, I can process my pain better and help others heal too. Every loss is unique, and losing a parent when you are young is not common, but that does not mean anyone should suffer alone. Those of us with shared experiences can support each other, and those who cannot relate, can at least understand.
So – let’s talk about loss.