Amy, who used to look after her Mum, shares her moving story with us for Mental Health Awareness Week.
What was your caring role like?
I first started caring for my mum beginning of October 2021, through to the day she passed away the end of December 2021. Initially with my Mum’s cancer diagnosis it seemed she wouldn’t need intimate care, just simple help while she rested and recovered from treatment. However, her illness slowly went downhill over the months, and in October she became reliant on an oxygen machine. This meant I would cook all her meals for her, help her to and from the bathroom, and do all the house chores.
The beginning of December is when my caring role became more my daily life than anything else. At this point she was in a hospital bed in our living room and would only be able to walk with a frame to the toilet and back.
I would make her food and drink when she felt like eating, change her bedsheets while she was in the bathroom, and would help her walk between the two rooms as this was starting to become exhausting for her.
Towards the end of her life, I would also help her in the bathroom with intimate care, and started to help her with things she could no longer do alone like eating and drinking.
How did caring affect your life?
In the last month of my Mum’s life, caring became my life and she was my priority as always. At the time I had pushed back university to the year after, as it was unclear at the time how her illness would progress. I did not see anyone other than family who would visit and help with looking after Mum, as well as nurses and doctors at the house. I was working part time while caring, and so my main social interaction would be at work. While it was a good distraction, it just made me anxious to get home to know that Mum had what she needed.
Did you ever deal with loneliness?
While caring for my Mum I felt very lonely, like no one understood the amount of pressure and worry I was under while we waited for her to pass, as at this time we were told she only had a few weeks to a month left. At the time I was 19, and so no one in my friend group understood what responsibility I had. The only exception was my boyfriend, he witnessed the rollercoaster of my emotions while I processed each bit of news that was given to us, and he was my main support system throughout everything. I would say in all honesty I did not deal with the loneliness at all. It wasn’t a concern at the time, my focus was my Mum and I put myself second, which in hindsight was not very healthy.
How has the grief of losing your Mum impacted you?
A part of me died the day that my Mum passed away.
Despite having enough forewarning that she would not live for long, nothing prepares you for your Mum to not be here anymore. I was as close as anyone can be to their Mum. She was not only my Mum but took on the role of my Dad and best friend, and so I lost three people that day. The grief doesn’t end or get any easier for me personally. Each day is just as hard without her, the only difference being as time goes on that pain becomes another weight that I bear and carry with me. I fell into quite a deep depression for a period after she passed away. My whole life was turned upside down and everything changed for me. Grief itself can be isolating and put you into a pit of despair that seems endless. While grief is something that we all sadly will experience collectively, it is a unique experience for everyone, not one person’s journey will look the same as another’s.
What would you say to other young people going through similar things? What has helped?
To those out there in a situation where you’re directly caring for a family member, or are part of a group looking after someone, please remember that you need to put yourself first, even at a time like this. I understand that sounds ridiculous, and impossible. I pushed away all help that was offered to me, as I felt like I could do it all alone, which is impossible for anyone, not matter how strong willed you are.
As my Nan would say to me, once the weight of my role was clearly affecting me emotionally and physically, you’re no good to anyone if you don’t look after yourself. It is very easy to be consumed by the role of caring, allowing it to remove everything else from your life and slowly you lose yourself to it as well. If what I am saying resonates with you, I recommend accepting help that is being offered to you, even for little things like doing tasks and taking some weight off your shoulders.
What has helped me since my Mum passing is grief counselling and just talking to anyone that was willing to listen. Time is a healer; I remember thinking I would feel the same awful way for the rest of my life after she passed. And now four months on, each day is still a struggle, but I can carry on a little bit easier. If expressing your emotions isn’t your way of healing, then I suggest you explore other ways of coping. Such as writing your thoughts/feelings into a journal, letting out stress and tension with exercise or distracting yourself with an old hobby you haven’t done in a while, for me it was yoga, and I am very happy to be back into a routine with it.
You may be someone that has no idea how to go forward in the process, and that is completely ok. There is no guidebook on this, the task is just thrown at you, and all you can do is handle it in the best way possible, for yourself and for your family.
Thank you so much Amy for sharing your powerful story.
Remember, you are not alone. You can call us on 0800 181 4118, we care because you do.