Watching Your Best Friend Die… And How To Deal With It

An interview with my mother.

‘When you think of death, you imagine nothing. I can’t think of her and imagine nothing.’

25th September 2015, 9pm, Ann, my mother received the news that her best friend Debbie’s cancer became more aggressive than ever. Debbie, my mother’s best friend of almost 4 decades, was recently relieved of her cancer that attacked her kidneys, liver and stomach, only through death.

‘Cancer is cruel, it strips you away as a person. You look at the person and sometimes you can’t even recognise them. They turn yellow, they are in pain constantly, it hurts them when they laugh, and their smiles seem like they take effort.’

The day after the bad news was spread, my mother began spending every spare moment with Debbie, I accompanied her 90% of the time. My mother lost her Father a few days after her wedding, and from then on, my Mother struggles with losing people, like everyone does. My mother became a beam of light for Debbie, always bringing meals, and magazines, taking Debbie outside when it was possible, trying to be positive about the situation.

‘As much as you are struggling to keep it together, you have to give that person the best time you possibly can. Things come to an end, life comes to an end, which is why we as human beings have to make the most of it. Sitting in the garden is a thing Debbie loved, she could hear birds, and the children leaving school around the corner from her house, the hustle and bustle of the world gave her that bit of life she needed.’

Debbie’s cancer had been with her for almost a year; sometimes it would go away, but it would always come back. Starting as Breast Cancer, she tackled her way through chemotherapy and radiotherapy whilst my mother patiently stayed with her, and would rub her back as Debbie vomited from the poisons of the therapies. However, that fateful day when the news was told to my mother, she was told that Debbie will not see the New Year. The cancer became so aggressive, it had spread and was not stopping anytime soon. A week later, Debbie moved into a MacMillan hospice, where she could access the pain relief medication, and have nurses to take care of her when my mother couldn’t.

‘It got to the point, where she was in so much pain; I wanted to take the pain from her and have me suffer instead. The pain relief only helped a little, she was constantly in pain. Her smiles became more effort for her, and when we laughed hard, she would hurt afterwards. She told me, ‘As much as it hurts, I want to laugh. I want to feel happy for some brief moments before I go.’ When she mentioned passing I always told her to be quiet. ‘Ann, you don’t know how badly I want to stay, but my body will not let me. You’ll have to laugh for me, and remember our decades of laughter and fun, shenanigans and beautiful, silly moments we’ve had. These are the moments that give me life.’

My mother, as she talks to me about this, is calm and collected. We sat in a coffee shop just two days after Debbie passed away; she did not well up or stumble on her words. She spoke softly, smiling as she spoke, with a distant memory glimmering in her eyes.

‘Watching her pass wasn’t easy. You don’t get over that easily, let me tell you. However, I’m glad she’s no longer in pain. You cannot watch someone you love dearly suffer any longer than I had. Her passing has liberated my mindset, I know this could all change soon, however, I have learnt a lot about how to deal with this grief of losing your bestest friend in the whole wide world.’

My mother having arranged the funeral along with Debbie’s partner Michael, has arranged what is going to be a beautiful day for all those that knew and loved Debbie.

Debbie

‘That is the day I officially say goodbye. She will always be with me. I will always talk to her when I am having a bad day; I will tell her that I miss her and wish she were still here. I will ask her if heaven is beautiful, and to reserve my seat next to her. I will talk to her about the fun times we had as reckless 21-year-olds. I will talk about how much fun you’re having as a reckless 22-year-old. And I know that she will be listening, she always did and always will.’

My mother has an action plan to deal with her grief.

‘Grief takes time. A LOT of time. But know that I am coping well. I want to pass the information on, and let people know that they are not alone. Death is inevitable. How you deal with it and grow from it is down to you. You are not weak, you are strong. Time will pass, and you will not feel this way forever.’

My mum withdrew from her bag, her notebook with scribbles and to do lists packing out of the seams and read;

‘Number 1. Take your time. Know that you can take as much time as you need. But one day, you are going to realise that your dearly passed beloved would not want you to be sad forever. It may feel like it, but time passes. Talk it out with other friends, cry over memories, and take your time.

Number 2. Preserve every memory you have. I have always kept photo albums, and I have about 10 photo albums purely dedicated to Debbie and I’s friendship over the past 4 decades. Look through them regularly, and remember the memories embedded within those snapshots. Never forget.

Number 3. Appreciate those who are still around you. Hug the ones you love, and be thankful that they are there. Seek support through them, small acts of kindness greatly improve your mind, and talking is therapy.

Number 4. Create a legacy. Be this charity donations or voluntary work. Help others. It is rewarding not only to you, helping you through this tough time. But you could affect someone else’s life in greater ways than you can imagine. At the end of January, I am dying my hair bright pink, and then at the charity pub gathering I am shaving it all off, all in the name of Debbie, the end to cancer, and the nurses who took care of her.

Number 5. Continue to love them, and love yourself because of them. As the days go by, I know I will adjust to life without Debbie. I learnt a lot from her. I’m so happy I got to spend 39 years of my life with her. She is responsible for many things in my life; meeting my husband, my love for UB40, my dirty sense of humour, and my ability to see the best in people.’

My mother smiled, and stated the interview was over. She was tired of talking and was hungry. She wanted a bath and to look through photo albums, have a glass of wine, and laugh with my dad at how silly Debbie’s haircut was back in ‘88.

Grief takes time. But we all learn from it.

 

Why Women Should Look Into Using MoonCups

The blood isn’t that icky.

MoonCups and similar products have been around for quite a long time now, and I still marvel at the amount of my female friends that have no idea what they are. We are living in the world of technology and the internet. How do you not know?! With regards to women’s health matters, MoonCups are something that really could change things for women, of all ages, backgrounds and lifestyles.

I purchased my MoonCup last year in March; this was after I completed a short radio documentary surrounding the UK’s Tampon Tax. I interviewed Laura Coryton, I asked young women around university their thoughts, and did an analysis of the information I collected. One young woman introduced me to MoonCups, a product I had no clue of, and I then questioned why that was.

MoonCup is a product based company which is made by women, for women. Having won multi awards, I was astounded that I had not heard of them before. I looked on the website to find where I could order one myself, only to see that they are sold in Boots. How did I not notice these beautiful little lifesavers?!

I purchased a Size B (for women under 30 years old)  MoonCup from Boots for the small fee of £21.00. Once home, I watched the youtube video instructions to see what the general gist of it all was. I was amazed at how simple it looked through the lovely woman showing me how to bend the little silicone cup.

I’ll be honest with you, actually using the MoonCup for the first time took me about 20 minutes.

However, once I popped that thing up there, I couldn’t feel it. I questioned whether I had done it right, and panicked for another 20 minutes thinking I had lost it and would have to do a serious amount of vaginal excercises to get it out.

I googled (modern day cry for help) the right way of insertion; I had done it right. I relaxed, and sat down, still could not feel anything. This was great! I was actually a little bit more comfortable whilst on my period (!), you know, cramps were there still. I read the instructions stating that when I needed to empty my cup, to pull on the stem that just sits outside the labia, and empty the menstrual blood into the toilet, and then wash it out and reinsert. At first I was thinking, Ok, I have a couple of hours until I have to do this, definitely find a bathroom with a sink in there, not a public bathroom. I read the instructions further; depending on the flow of your menstrual flow, you could empty it between 4 and 8 hours.

I walked to my lecture, and sat bored out of my mind for 3 hours. I knew I wouldn’t have to empty for another hour at least, so I told my female friends about my new investment. ‘So you’re gonna like just store it all in that cup and just put it down the loo?’ said one of my friends. ‘Yep, and then I wash it in the sink and reinsert it.’ She looked at me with a puzzled look on her face. ‘You reuse it? What? No! Seriously?… Ok, I want to hear all about it when you do it, please?’

As I sat in a disabled bathroom on the top floor of my building that is nestled away, with a sink perfectly placed by the toilet, I emptied the cup to the toilet. I looked at the contents that had left my body, and looked quizzical. I looked at the redness of the toilet bowl, and marveled in the colour, I spoke to myself aloud.

That’s my blood. Not just any blood. Potential baby-making assisting/protecting blood. Magic blood. Moon Blood.’

I rewashed the cup in the sink, clearing the rest of the red away, until it looked spanking new again, and reinserted it (within 7 minutes!). I washed my hands with the soap provided, did a bit of a jiggle to make sure it was up there safely, and exited the bathroom with a smile on my face.

‘How was it?’ said my friend, eagerly awaiting the answer.

‘Liberating.’

The gist of the MoonCup from my first experience is; throughout duration of my period, I mustered the technique of insertion by the 3rd time I needed to change it. The instructions read that the MoonCup can last up to years providing that you clean it and use it properly. Until it splits or breaks, you’re good to go! From reading those instructions; I realised that I had spent £20 on something that will last for years; something that will save me a lot of money through the years. I calculated that if I continued buying Tampax Pearl,  I would have spent £27.48 within 12 months. I used to go through at least 1 box per month. The realisation that I would be saving nearly £30 a year on something that I cannot exactly control amazed me, particularly as a student. I had converted.

I will say it clearly, MoonCups are not for every woman. Each woman is different. However, MoonCups are branded as a ‘middle-class product’ or ‘ethically minded.’ I do not think this is the case; there are plenty of reasons why ALL women should simply research them and make a judgement for themselves.

They are eco-friendly; producing much less waste than products such as tampons and pads, which are non-recyclable. Being eco-friendly is something mankind should be looking into more considering the rate of climate change.

It’s discreet; when it’s inside you, you can barely feel it. When not in use, there’s a cute little pouch you can put it in and carry it around as you please in your bag.

There are plenty of health benefits; MoonCups are made from pure silicone. They are not bleached, fragranced or contaminated with God knows what. Due to a legal loophole, tampon and pad companies do not have to disclose what fragrances they use. Also, with the MoonCup you’ll never feel that little pang down there, and you can’t put your finger on what it is. It’s toxic-shock syndrome. Yep, TOXIC.

MoonCups allow you to embrace your menstrual blood. It’s not gross like the stigma usually entails. An incident happened whilst I was in between classes, where a guy I knew studying engineering walked past me with a bloody hand. He had wounded his finger on one of the big machines they have in one of the buildings, used to saw through heavy metal. I grabbed some tissues from my bag, and told him to put the pressure, and asked if I could look at it.

‘You don’t want to see it; there’s blood everywhere, it’s gross,’ he said, as he winced as I moved the tissue back from the wound to replace with fresh one.

‘You know that a lot of blood leaves my vagina every month for about 4 days. I’m kinda used to seeing a lot of blood.’ I replied, as I put a new tissue over the wound as we walked towards the reception desk.

‘Huh, I never thought about it that way.’

This interaction happened about on the 2nd day of my period; using the MoonCup for the first time. I smiled at my own thoughts embracing my body as a woman, who has these mystical, magical moon blood cycles (menstruation, if you want to be technical) and embraced my new way of thinking.

It’s about time we change our way of thinking.

 

How Amy Poehler’s Audiobook Stopped Me From Breaking Down on the Train

Monday 4th January, 9.45am train to Birmingham Moor Street. The first day back at university since before the Christmas break; I had to get back into the swing of final year uni stresses. A ‘good luck, Chick’ from my Mum and off I was ready to embrace the big push of final year’s final term.

For one of my modules, I am project manager; meaning I manage 47 other people (students…) for a ‘Two Week Takeover’ of our university’s student radio station. The stress is real. However, I enjoyed the stress before Christmas, I like being in control of certain elements of how things run, and I like giving out a positive mental attitude and motivating everyone to do well in this project.

But that Monday morning… by 7 am, I was let down by a member of my management team, again. By 7.30am, I had the social media team complaining and whining about a team member, asking me to do something about it. By 8 am I already had 10 other people messaging me with problems about this and that. By 8.30am, my assistant reminded me that she was not going to be with me this week because she had to train for her new BBC job. By 9 am, I remembered that I had forgotten (the irony) something extremely important to bring in for my Head of School. By 9.30am, I was worried I was going to miss the train because I did not sleep the previous night due to nerves about this morning. By 9.45am, I was on the train and needed to sit and breathe, I could feel the panic swelling in my gut, I could feel my brain swirling with so many names and numbers, and to do lists.

I usually read books on the train, but a few days prior to this incident, I gave Amazon’s Audible a try (free trial, of course, I am a student). I never usually read autobiographies, my mini library (shelf) at home consists of; Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, A Song of Ice and Fire series, Into the Wild, On the Road, and many more. No autobiography sat on my shelf, though.

I purchased Yes Please! by Amy Poehler with my free credit, (thank you student perks) and began the book on January 2nd. Amy Poehler’s voice has made me laugh when she discussed her time on SNL, and her early career. Her parents voices have made me gush when they spoke about her as a child, Kathleen Turner’s voice made me shiver as she read an excerpted passage about the good ol’ days of the 80s, and Seth Meyer’s voice made me smile like the Cheshire Cat when he read his own written passage about his best friend Amy.

 

 

AMY2

 

On the train, I began to feel sick, I had 10 people calling me. 23 emails came through. 12 Facebook notifications. All regarding this uni project. I began to crumble. I could feel my breaths get quicker and shallower. My eyes started to water up. It was coming. I looked up towards the dim lights on my London Midland train and shuffled about saying excuse me to the business type, smartly suited gentleman as he gruntled. My cheeks were flushed, and I could feel the burst of tears about to happen trying to get out of my eyes.

And then Amy spoke to me.

‘Apology letter from the brain.’

I turned the volume up, and tried to centralise and focus.

‘Hey there, I’m sorry, ok, can I something, I admit I am not perfect. No one is perfect. That is a fact. Speaking of facts, don’t you think we all need to take a minute to decide who is right and who is wrong, every side is different, but it seems my side is more right. I’m not just saying that because it’s my side, I think a lot of people would agree with me if given the chance. If i upset you in some way, please know that wasn’t my intention, I didn’t know how sensitive you were, it’s obvious I can set you off very easily. That’s not an insult, it’s just an observation. I think it would help if we could talk about this more, and argued about this more of who is telling the truth. I would like to see you in person and tell you how the situation has affected me, I may use this opportunity to bring up other times you have hurt me in the past; if possible, I would like to hurt you back. Either way; I want to be in control. Until then, take care, and please remember I reached out first.

I remain,

The Brain.’

I focused on Amy’s voice, pretty much telling me that it was my brain thinking this way. My brain is in control of my almost – panic attack/burst of tears/breakdown. I stopped overthinking what was happening on my phone, wiped my eyes, took a sip from my water bottle and continued to listen.

‘Apology letter from the Heart’

I was ready for this one. I needed Amy to tell me it was going to be ok.

‘Hey there,

I’m sorry, I found it hard to tell you this, and I realised my apology maybe too little or come too late. It is important for me to let you know that I’m sorry for what I did or said, or what I didn’t do or say. I was wrong. I make mistakes, I hate that I made one with you. I’m reaching out because life goes by so fast, and I just don’t want my one life to go by without expressing this to you. I want to do and be better.

This apology is yours, feel free to do whatever you want with it. My hope is that it gives you comfort but my goal is that it doesn’t cause you any pain.

Again, I am truly sorry.

Thank you again for taking the time to read this.

Love,

The Heart.

P.S. I’m Sorry.’

Within that brief moment, Amy Poehler was my saviour. Her voice and words told me that it was ok to feel like sh*t when you’re out of control. When you’re not in control, that’s when anxiety kicks in.

I am also a person like Amy, who apologises way to often, even when things are not my fault. I stopped scratching at my arms, (a habit I have when things are not going so well) and said sorry to myself for causing horrid, raw lines all over my forearm, and gently rubbed them.

I finished chapter 11; 2 minutes, 23 seconds, I blew out a sigh of relief and looked towards the window, and realised things would not be so bad. It is true that as long as you have control, you control what can happen to you.

And for the first time, I had control over a panic attack/breakdown.

Audiobooks I have found, is a nice easy way to deal with tough times, especially when you feel completely overwhelmed with the amount on your plate. Having someone who is successful and someone you admire tells you about how they were in your position once, and how they overcame it, is actually pretty soothing and encouraging. I heavily advise those that suffer mental health problems to try audiobooks, whether you want to listen to Harry Potter (most likely my next audiobook), but I do advise an autobiography by someone who is successful and someone you admire. Tina Fey; Bossypants, you are next.

(An open letter to Amy Poehler.)

Amy,

Thank you. Thank you for your honesty, and your words. Thank you for being real, and teaching me to love myself, and to remember that I am in control of what happens to me and my future. Thank you for making me laugh and cry both at the same time. Thank you for empowering me as a young woman, and sticking up for women and being a true inspiration to me.

Please continue being who you are.

Love, (because I love you and you are awesome.)

Siobhan