Eighteen year old Hannah Fleetwood shares how her life has been changed completely since she lost her mum, Elaine.

My mum passed away a day before my mum and dad’s wedding anniversary and a day before my sister’s 14th birthday. On that day, my family and I all congregated in the hospice where she was so lovingly looked after. We sat down to have lunch and my aunty passed my dad a card, which was from my mum for their wedding anniversary. My dad laughed through tears and said I’ve got hers here too, do you think I can get my money back? My mum spent hours writing that card and still to this day we can’t make out what some of it says. We’d lost such an amazing woman that day but we hadn’t lost ourselves and we weren’t going to. My mum put it best, as she always did, when she wrote: “There will be times in life where you will miss me more intently (well you better!!!) These times will pass. If you listen you will already hear what advice I will give you, I will never be far away! Don’t let me going become a major, self defining moment in your life. Go go Hannah follow your dreams”.

It’s been over a year since my mum passed and boy has it been hard, in more ways than I thought it would! My mum had secondary breast cancer and died about 2 months after we found out it was terminal, so I was prepared for her to pass away, or so I thought. We had two months of making memories, looking through old photos, going through jewellery, asking all our questions and advice, lots of crying but also lots of laughter. I vividly remember my mum dying, we were there for her last breath (I’m glad she had family surrounding her) – but I hate that sometimes this is one of the memories that pops into my head when I think of her. Honestly, watching someone die is numbing – you know exactly what is about to happen and you want to stop it but there is nothing you can do. That was not my mum at all! My mum was completely the opposite, full of life and joy. So for that to be one of my memories of her is unfair. I can’t get it out of my head, and I’m not sure I ever will, but I have a thousand much happier, more beautiful memories of her that I can hold onto.

“Go go Hannah follow your dreams”

I was supposed to go to university this September but decided that the only sensible thing to do was to defer my place. That was a hard decision but it was definitely the right one. There was no way I could go to uni and leave my family after losing mum so recently. I would feel too guilty. At the same time it felt so unfair that because my mum had passed away I had to put my life on hold, it was like one bad thing after another. I live at home with my dad, younger sister and adorable dog. Without mum we are left with a massive hole. You’ll never ever be able to fill it but you’ll find a way of growing round it.

Sometimes I feel as if I was holding the family together but I’ve realised that this is not my responsibility

My mum used to cook, clean, drive my sister and I to where we wanted to go, do the washing, lots of ironing and do a full time job. I simply do not know how, it still amazes me! However it now meant that these chores needed to be done by others. At the time I was in my last year of A levels and so was far too stressed and busy to do anything when I got home, my dad was filling out lots of paperwork to prove my mum had passed away (who’d have thought?!) and my sister was only 14 years old, what 14 year old should take on this responsibility? This caused several arguments, blaming each other when things didn’t get done. It was horrible to argue about something so stupid when you knew in the grand scheme of things it didn’t make a difference. Don’t get me wrong my family are very close, but I’ve had many crying phone calls with people as I ask them why is my family falling apart after a massive row. If my mum was here she would just make it all better. With having a year out I’ve been able to take on a lot more of these roles and relieve the pressure a bit, but next year is another challenge to face. Sometimes I feel as if I was holding the family together but I’ve realised that this is not my responsibility. I have to go on living my life and next year is something my dad and sister will have to figure out for themselves, but I will always be there for them.

Relying on dad

My mum and dad are two great parents but entirely different in their own ways. My mum was a massive emotional support while my dad is a very practical person. You may have done the cooking and tidied your room but if my dad comes in from work and sees the washing up isn’t done he’ll point it out, even before he says hello. My sister and I found this very hard, we felt attacked and not appreciated. We had to learn that this is just because my dad, my sister and I all work very differently. We find it hard to understand why the other would say/do things. My dad is very aware of this and tries his best to fill the role of both the practical and emotional support, and he does an amazing job but he’ll never be my mum as well! To lose your wife and be left with two teenage girls sounds like a nightmare but my dad has cared and loved us in a way I cannot explain. I hate the fact that my mum is gone so much but I don’t think I would have got to know my dad as well as I do now, so in this horrible nightmare I enjoy this positive thing.

I’d give anything to hear my mum say “how was your day” one more time

The one thing I really miss about my mum is sitting down and having a good chat with her (and her cuddles!). It’s not really the same with my dad, if you tell him too much at once he can’t cope! I miss coming in and telling her something about my day, even if it was a really simple thing like I had my favourite chocolate bar at lunch. She’d just sit and listen and she’d always know the right thing to say if something hadn’t gone my way or I’d fallen out with someone. I remember receiving a card from a lot of my friends and classmates at school, after my mum had passed away, and it honestly made me so happy. For a split second I thought I must go and show mum this. Then the sudden realisation set in as I realised I had this card because she had gone, that was a horrible feeling. Many of those moments have happened again when I’ve said I just need to call my mum, or say my parents when the person I’m talking to knows about my mum. I’ve started to forget what my mum sounds like and this really kills me inside. I’d give anything to hear my mum say “how was your day” one more time. However, I do have her words in a book she wrote for my family and I’m eternally grateful for these, which are by far my most treasured possessions.

Joy in the future

Before she passed away, my mum told my sister and I that she didn’t want us to lose our last years of childhood and so not to take on the role of mum. I’ve found that very difficult because I’m naturally a very caring person. I want my sister to feel like I look after her and she can come to me whenever she needs to. It’s a narrow line between being a sister and acting like a mum and I’ve crossed it a couple of times – but it’s hard being the older sister, you just want to make it all better. My sister has often said to me “you’re not my mum” and that makes my heart so angry. I felt very taken for granted at first but now my sister and I find things, usually a programme we like to watch or dance around the kitchen, to do together so we can just be sisters again.

People who I meet in the future will never be able to meet the wonderful women I call mum

I find the future very hard to think about because I know my mum will never be in it. As time goes by, the longer it is since I’ve seen my mum and that’s a horrible feeling. It’s horrible to know my mum will never see me get married, after many hours of watching Don’t Tell The Bride together; she’ll never see her grandchildren, even though she loved children so much; she’ll never know the degree I’ve chosen or see me graduate and people who I meet in the future will never be able to meet the wonderful women I call mum.

Just make sure you talk

I know I’m still in the process of grieving and I know that it will still take years. However, my mum gave me my smile and joy (her middle name was Joy and it’s so fitting!), and nothing can ever take that away from me, even her death. I don’t feel sorry for myself at all. My family and I have a very positive attitude about the whole situation – I believe that I will see my mum again one day in her heavenly body, and this keeps me going. Even when you feel totally alone, there are so many other people out there going through similar things. Just make sure you talk about it. I have a newfound love for people after this past year – the support people are willing to offer you is amazing. Without my family and my support network, this journey would have been a whole lot harder. I can’t tell you that it’s going to be easy but I can tell you that in the end, everything will be ok.

If you have a story to share, email letstalkaboutloss@gmail.com – we’d love to hear from you.

2 thoughts on “We lost mum, but we hadn’t lost ourselves

  1. Hannah, that was such a lovely post to read. I didn’t know your mam very well, I know your Auntie Gill better, but having read this I have to say you’ve done her proud, she did a good job with you, and your dad and sister.
    Laugh, cry and most of all, remember with pride the lovely mum you had.
    Pat Bulmer, Elim church, Sunderland.

    Like

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