This blog has been posted during #ChildrensGriefAwareness Week 2017 to remind children going through a loss that #YoureNotAlone
Hi! I’m Gem, I’m 15 years old.
Ali Etherington, a phenomenal woman, who always put her children before anything – even herself – is my Mum. She has five amazing children and I’m the little baby of them all.
One weekend in 2015, a few months before the summer, Mum had to go to hospital to get the results of some tests she’d had; my siblings and I went for a lovely walk to pass the time. I was delighted to see Mum after spending the whole day worrying, I knew everything was going to be ok. I could just tell, the look on her face, she was fine…
But that’s not what happened.
“It’s cancer honey” she said.
I cried and cried until I was ready to talk. And when we did, I knew from that moment she’d be a fighter.
“I’ve got to have an operation to remove the lumps” she said in the softest and sweetest voice. On operation day, Mum went in and I went off to school. I got home and text her numerous times to make sure she was okay! “I’m fine, I love you” she replied.
Days passed by and I really wanted to see her, so my sister Charlotte took me in. At the sight of Mum looking so ill I cried, but I tried to break out a smile. I didn’t want to cry in front of her. She was so strong that I wanted to be the same.
A few days later she was allowed to come home. She was in a lot of pain but very determined to get out of the house, so we went out for a short walk. It was so nice to see her smiling.
The next stage involved a lot of chemotherapy to try and get rid of the cancer. This was tough not only for her but everyone around her. The week she was on chemo she wasn’t allowed to do anything and on her week off she physically couldn’t do anything due to how ill it made her feel.
I just wanted my mummy back….
But she was so strong. Despite Mum always feeling so low, she somehow managed to always keep smiling!
Unfortunately, after 6 months of chemo, the doctors said there was nothing more they could do. We all knew it was going to be Mum’s last Christmas with us.
Christmas Day was very special. Millions of presents that no one would ever expect, the smiles on everyone’s faces. Mum had made sure it was one to remember. She may have been ill but she was certainly still a legend to us!
We then got the news that it was only a matter of months until she would pass. But she was determined to make the most of her life! She planned a massive party to get everyone she loved together one last time. Everyone came, all her amazing friends made it happen and she couldn’t have been happier. By the end of the night she was laying on the sofa absolutely shattered.
“We love you Mum”
On the day of her 51st birthday, I woke up all excited to give Mum her birthday present. I’d spent ages putting a video together with everyone she loves in it saying happy birthday.
I ran downstairs to find paramedics on the scene, I was scared, I had no idea what was going on!
“Gem, I don’t think you’ll be going to school today, Mum’s very poorly” said my brother Nath.
Two Rowans Hospice at Home ladies were there making sure Mum was comfortable. I was still unsure what was definitely happening to her.
“Gemma, come here. I need to explain to you what’s going on. Your Mum is very, very poorly, and she’s dying” said one of the nurses.
I couldn’t help but cry.
“Can I see her?” I said.
“Of course, go right in” she said pointing to Mum’s room.
“Happy birthday Mum!” I said giving her the biggest hug ever, trying not to put her in any discomfort.
“Thanks Gem, I love you” she replied.
“I love you too” I said.
About an hour had passed and Mum became very weird, she couldn’t really talk and her breathing was funny.
The nurse told me this was it, and helped me to gather the family.
“We love you Mum” we all said in unison, and she slowly went.
The day continued, family and friends came over. It was overwhelming how much support we got. I went to school the next day and people were asking if I was OK. I obviously wasn’t but I know they were just trying to be nice.
But soon the reality of not having Mum there hit and it was hell! I needed to say that final goodbye, so, with the help of my sister Tiff I planned the perfect speech for her funeral, and before long the day had come.
Make up done, hair brushed back, dress on….. I was ready.
I read my speech to my Auntie Sally and she started to cry. I tried to comfort her. Thoughts went through my head: what if I make everyone cry? That’s not what I want to do, I want everyone to know how happy my mummy was.
What if this whole speech was wrong?
But I promised Mum I’d do this for her. At the church the whole place was filled, all there for my Mum. I gave my speech with Auntie Sally by my side the whole way. I got through it!
My Mum was now my angel in heaven.
When I went back to school it was tough. I realised I’d been trying to hide and it all hit me like a ton of bricks. I put so much pressure on myself to do well, because I know Mum would want me to be doing well at school, and it was stressing me out.
I also felt like everyone else just forgot what I’d been through, like no one cared about me, except my best friends Alice, Matt and Kat. I don’t know what I’d do without them, I could just FaceTime them whenever I felt low.
I was terrified to have my birthday without my Mum, and it hit me in the evening that Mum wasn’t there. I cried and cried but my siblings and I were there for each other.
A week before my Mum died, she requested I get the support of Rowans Meerkat Service at Rowans Hospice, which can give children the help they need to get through a bereavement. Sophie from the service worked through it all with me, and told me to remember that things will get better, it won’t always be this bad.
She kept me going, she believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself.
As a result of my experience with the Meerkats, I have a few pieces of advice for other young people if you ever lose a loved one:
- Always remember that things will get better, the hole in your heart will slowly heal. It takes time though, there’s no quick fix.
- Always tell someone how you’re feeling, the best thing is to have someone to vent to. Let your feelings out, don’t keep them inside.
- Have activities that you enjoy, for me it was football.
- You can have happy days, it’s okay to be happy. Don’t feel bad, it wasn’t your fault. There was nothing you could have done to change it, and they’d want you to be happy.
- Follow your dreams.
- Find a way that works for you to release your anger or emotion, for me it’s writing and playing football.
Since then, there have still been many ups and downs in my life, but this really helped me to get through my experience. And although we still struggle sometimes and there’s no book of guidelines for our situation, in the end it will work out, I know it.