This week marks twenty five years since the death of my dad. It’s a bit of an odd time of year, if I’m honest, because my dad died two days before my first birthday so going from two extreme moods in such a short space of time always messes with my head a bit.
Something I’m asked quite often is if i miss my dad. It’s a hard question to answer because it’s difficult to miss something or someone you don’t know. I don’t have any memories of my dad, although we is talked about openly by family and friends. At times, I miss the idea of having a dad and I miss the idea of having a more conventional childhood. But realistically, the conventional childhood of two parents and 2.4 children is becoming less common and “normal”.
As a child, I can remember times when I was embarrassed by the fact that my dad wasn’t alive. That might sound odd, I think it was linked to not wanting people to feel sorry for me. When I was in year three, my class teacher asked me, in front of the whole class, why my mum had only put down for one ticket for an event at school. I didn’t have the confidence to say in front of everyone that it wasn’t a mistake, it was just my mum and I and, actually, my dad was dead. That was my normal, but so very abnormal to other people.
By the time I reached my teenage years, I became more comfortable in telling people that my dad was dead. I met other people who had experienced bereavement and I didn’t feel as isolated. As my understanding grew, so did my outspokenness. One of my biggest frustrations is being lumped under the single parent umbrella. My mum did not choose to raise mess a single parent: when you have a child with a person that you love, you don’t envisage that it will result in raising the child alone, be that as a result of divorce or separation or death of a parent. I am from a single parent family, as are many of my friends, for various reasons. I defied the statistics and wasn’t suspended from school (the opposite, I went through school without ever getting a detention), I completed my a-levels, I didn’t and still don’t have a criminal record and I was not a teen parent. I valued my education.
When you lose a parent, it’s the big milestones that can really test me. The big birthdays, the achievements, the weddings and the thought of potentially having children, in future, and them not knowing their grandfather. However, as time goes on, I’m able to see them as a chance to remember and celebrate their part in my life rather than simply suffering through these events all the time. I’ve also learnt that not everyone will get it. Please, don’t bitch about your parents in front of me, unless you have extenuating circumstances. I’ll never forgot, at the age of ten, one of my peers told me that I was lucky that my dad was dead, because it meant that it was one less parent I’d have to convince if I wanted something. Sure, I’m really lucky. Get some perspective on how truly fleeting life is. This is a club that I never wanted to join and yet I can’t revoke my membership.
Having lost my dad at such a young age, I get very anxious at the thought of losing my mum. Obviously I’m not stupid, no one is going to life forever but the thought of her dying makes me want to physically throw up. For my whole life, it’s been my mum and I, battling against the odds and ridings and ups and downs and the thought of facing life alone or without her really scares me. When I was a child, I used to panic beyond belief whenever my mum was ill, even if it was just a cold. It puts me in a situation completely out of my control and I hate that.
Life does go on, but there will be times even all these years later, I will still break down like it happened yesterday. When those moments happen, I’m not sure why I’m breaking down, because I don’t know any different. This is my reality.
This month’s guest post is written by Nattie. Nattie lives in the Midlands with her husband and two children, Grace and Amelie and her family is the perfect example of the wonder of blended families. Nattie works in with a PR company, specialising in event management. Life for Nattie’s family was turned upside down a few months ago, following Gracie being diagnosed with leukaemia.
What can I say about Gracie? She’s 10 years old, absolutely gorgeous, funny, kind, intelligent, an animal lover, a fantastic big sister and a lover of hugs and cuddles. Gracie is also a cancer patient.
Earlier this year, Grace was diagnosed with leukaemia. She had been poorly off and on since the winter and we, along with doctors, thought that it was a lingering viral infection. She was very tired, often coming home from school and falling asleep on the sofa until tea time. On top of this, she was also having a difficult time at school with friendships and she is starting to get anxious about moving to high school in September 2019. Nothing major but Gracie is sensitive and we know from past experiences that she doesn’t deal well with conflict or change, it emotionally drains her.
We were’t too worried. That is until her energy levels dropped further. Her teacher rang us to raise concerns: Grace was falling asleep in school and she wasn’t managing to take part in PE lessons, a lesson that she loved. In general, she was very wobbly and her balance was getting worse. She was sad, something very unlike Grace.
When Grace contracted her fifth cold since January, we felt that enough was enough: our previously healthy little girl was struggling and our instincts knew that something else was going on. We decided to keep her off school for a week. On day three of Grace’s week off school, she had a nose bleed, which would not stop. After the 15 minute marker, I ended up calling paramedics. Gracie was dizzy and faint and as the nose bleed continued, the colour was literally draining out of her. Deep down, I think I knew that I wasn’t calling paramedics just for a nose bleed, there was something bigger going on here.
This view was echoed by the paramedics, who told me, very kindly, that they felt that Grace needed to be in hospital now. Upon arriving, Grace had numerous blood tests and her obs and sats caused the doctors some concern.
After what can only be described as the longest wait I’ve ever endured, a paediatrition told me that I might want to consider calling my husband. I explained that he was due to pick up my younger daughter from school but would be here later. My world shattered a bit when I was told that David needed to be here now. Gracie was also asking for her daddy, in between sleeping and being confused. I rang David and told him to get to the hospital right now and then called on my fantastic friend, Essie, to ask her to collect Amelie from school and look after her until I knew more.
David arrived at the hospital and we were taken into a private room. This was the point where we were told that our beautiful little girl had cancer.
The prognosis was “good” we were told. If a child is going to get cancer, the cancer that Grace was suspected of having was the most easily treated, with high chances of going into remission.
In the space of a day, our lives went from talking about phonics and the girls’ homework, arguing over who was going to clean the guinea pig’s cages, telling the girls to eat their carrots, CBBC programmes and ballet classes to talking about chemotherapy, Hickman lines, Picc lines, steroids, bone marrow, blood transfusions and side effects.
Grace was very muddled when we told her. She understood that she was extremely poorly and would need to stay in hospital to get better. The extreme nature of her treatment plan was lost on her and we made the choice to only tell her what was completely necessary. She asked if her hair would fall out and we told her that it probably would. Grace new about the Little Princess Trust, thanks to Laura cutting her long locks a few years ago and she decided that she wanted to shave her hair ASAP and donate it. Her next question broke us, she asked in a tiny voice if she was going to die.
A ten year old child should not be having to think about their own mortality. David and I explained that all of the doctors and nurses were going to do everything possible to make her better and all she had to think about was fighting as hard as she could.
In the weeks since Grace’s diagnosis, she has had six blood transfusions and two platelet transfusions. She’s had three lots of bone marrow taken, four general anaesthetics, one of which was to place a line into her chest. She’s had more blood tests than I can count. She’s had different sorts of chemo, including having it injected into her spine, which made her very unwell. She’s been on steroids and is on a cocktail of medicines to try and fight this beast. She’s spent time in ICU with suspected sepsis and has been so so sick. She has spent most of her time in hospital, only having half days at home here and there.
Side effects have included sickness and fevers. Her month and throat have been covered in large ulcers, making eating almost impossible. Grace has had headaches which have made her scream with pain. The combination of treatment and being bed bound has caused serious muscle wastage so now our once energetic and sporty little girl is confined to a wheelchair, on the rare occasions when she manages to get out of bed. The steroids made her angry and emotional, on top of making her sleep deprived and exhausted.
Then there was the hair loss. Nothing prepared us for that, even though we knew it would happen and had talked about it. Grace dealt with it better than us, simply rolling up the hair which had come out during the night and then saying “I think we should shave it because I don’t need my hair right now.” So that’s what we did. Grace has been rocking hats since then.
Amelie is struggling. At the age of seven, it’s a huge change to get used to and due to infection risk, she’s only been able to see Grace a handful of times. Our friends and family have been taking turns to move into the house, to look after Ame, to try and maintain some normality.
Ame and Grace’s school have been wonderful, fundraising to help us out as a family. Grace’s class write a letter to Grace every week to talk about what they’ve been doing. Even though she’s not at school at the moment, they still want her to feel included. Ame’s teacher, along with teaching assistants are giving her 1-2-1 time every day, to give her the time and space to talk. The nurses at the children’s hospital, where Grace is being treated, are also helping us to support Amelie and are helping her to understand what is happening to her big sister.
I’ll be honest, my reason for writing this is to ask for help. If you can give blood, please give blood. It takes less than an hour and will literally save a life. Prior to Grace becoming ill, I hadn’t ever stopped and considered how important blood donation is. The simple fact is, Grace would not be alive right now if it wasn’t for the wonderful people how have already donated blood and I wish that I could thank every one in person for saving my little girl’s life.
As a family, we are scared right now. It physically hurts seeing Grace so unwell and it hurts seeing Amelie so sad and confused about what’s happening to her sister. Forcing your child to go through procedures which you know are going to cause pain goes against everything you believe in, as a mother. But the alternative is so much worse. I hate seeing Grace in pain and scared. I hate hearing her cries but I hope that one day, she will understand that it was all necessary to make her better. We know that we have a long journey ahead of us but our unconventional little family will only get stronger during this fight. We are Gracie’s Gladiators and we will not give up the fight.