We started Other’s Day because when we were going through the worst times in our lives, having somebody else there who got it was like knowing the world wasn’t going to collapse around you. So, in a time when everything feels very uncertain, we want to bring that to as many people as possible, and thankfully are surrounded by an amazing community who wants to do the same. We put the call out for people to share their story, and the things they’ve learned from it, in a bid to let anybody who’s struggling know that a) you’re not alone, and b) there are ways you can help yourself through this time, and – dare we say it – come out of it a stronger, more compassionate person. Read on for some generously shared wisdom from some truly amazing people.
Flora’s story: when I was ten my mum had breast cancer and went through treatment successfully – but a few tiny cells woke up again a decade later. She fell ill pretty quickly and died in 2009. My Dad and I soldiered on together, but then he developed fibrosis and died in 2017, a few months before I turned 30.
This much I know: grief moves in waves. It doesn’t disappear, but you do get better at handling it. Every experience of grief is unique to you, and there’s no ‘wrong way’ to do it. Anything you feel – anger, lethargy, numbness, jealousy, guilt, humour – is totally valid. Grief makes you feel isolated because while your world has changed drastically, nobody can truly see the damage but you. My best friend once said to me, ‘None of us can understand what you’re going through, but we’re here to help in whatever way we can.’ Tell your people when you’re feeling the grief-waves most strongly, even if doing so makes you feel vulnerable.
Emma’s story: I lost my Mum to breast cancer when I was 26, after a lifetime spent worrying that she’d die in a car crash or some freak accident (why, yes, I was an anxious child, thank you for asking). Before she died, so much of my Mum’s life unravelled, including her relationship with my Step Dad and her stable living situation. I was in the room with her – just us two – when she died, which is a lot when you’re still forming as a person. So, I did what I do with everything I find difficult, and put it in the emotional lock box. Eight years on, I’m still taking little bits of it out to look at and work through. It’s a slow old process, but I’m getting there.
This much I know: grief is rarely just about losing that person – there are usually a million other slightly-to-quite-shit things going on at the same time, and a whole bunch of complicated emotions to boot. Whatever those emotions are, they are valid and part of your story – try to express them or write them down to get them out of your head. Give yourself time. You might not want to sit still, but if you can, do. Your brain needs time to unpack everything that’s happened, and as much as you might feel like now’s a great time to file your socks alphabetically, that might be a sign that you need to spend some time on yourself and just be sad, angry – whatever’s there. I would not be who I am today without the experiences that made me. In the fug of awful that is losing one of your most-loved people in the world, there is also growth, strength and self-knowledge. Know this, and know that you are stronger than you probably know, right now. And, finally, seek help. Find a meet-up, find a therapist, find somebody who can offer advice or support who isn’t connected to you emotionally. Your situation is real, unique, and you deserve a little bit of help coming to terms with it.
Emma Slade’s story: When I was 28, my mum died. It doesn’t sound young. It sounds like you’re an adult. Like you should be able to deal with a tragic life event without losing your shit or turning to casual alcoholism. But the truth is my mum was diagnosed as terminally ill 5 years prior. I had been living with her death since I was 23. And honestly whether you’re 28 or 23 – losing your mum and realising mortality will reduce anyone to a child. It reduced me to a child. I felt disconnected from the world. I’d even go so far as to say I felt disconnected from the earth, as though my roots had been suddenly snipped. Floating, untethered. Even though I had my dad and brothers I felt alone in a way that I had never felt before. In the first year after she died I would wake up in the night many nights anxious, panicked that something truly terrible was about to happen, but quickly I realised that it had already happened. Terminal illness is a kind of grief that has a specific kind of sadness to it. I think this is because its’ as though the stress of waiting for the finality of death can be a whole different type of grief, a different phase. It’s like you experience it all twice and you still suffer the shock of your loved one passing, even though you were supposed to know it was coming.
This much I know: If there’s one thing I know about grief five years on – it’s that everyone grieves in their own way. And that’s ok. Someone else’s grief is not yours to question. I went to work the day my mum passed because I needed to be busy. I needed to immerse myself in something where I could be in control that day. I needed distraction and to not let people down, and I won’t let anyone tell me it was the wrong thing to do. Grief doesn’t have an end date like people seem to think it does. I don’t think there are seven stages, there are too many stages to count and in my experience in the end it makes sense to grow around it rather than strive to ‘get over it’ or ‘deal with it’. That kind of language just doesn’t resonate with my experience. Be kind to yourself, stay in bed if you feel like you have days where you need to and you can get away with it. Loneliness might be more real to you so if you can find someone you trust, a kindred spirit, someone who has also gone through or is going through grief I found that immeasurably helpful. The month of my mums’ passing is difficult for me every year. Not just the day but the whole month. It sneaks up on me a bit like my period. I never really realise it’s coming – it always seems unconnected to my erratic behaviour but like clockwork it’s a dark cloud of sadness that usually lasts for a good few weeks. I’ve learnt to just immerse in it rather than distract myself. I look at old photos of us in good times and listen to her favourite music. It’s terribly sad sometimes, and there are a lot of tears but it helps me. Maybe most poignantly, I have noticed that since my mum passed my approach has changed. I know it sounds like a cliché but I booked those trips I always wanted to go on, I arranged parties and get together and trips to Paris with friends. I went to Amsterdam with my Dad and we walked around town for 5 hours of every day talking. I’ve lived abroad, spent months on the French Rivera drinking Rose and enjoyed waking up by the sea (and swimming in it). I’ve begun to learn a language. I’ve got married and even delivered a Ted x talk. I try to throw myself into life rather than dwell on death.
You can find Emma at @emmasladedmondson
Meg’s story: I have a woman who gave birth to me, but not a mum. The woman doesn’t deserve the title. She left the family home officially when I was 12, I’m now 30. Up until 12 her behaviour was horrendous.Ages 12-20 was awful and I had a few turbulent years of her still being like a ghost, around until I cut all contact in my early twenties. I’m now filing for a injunction order, so she is unable to contact me directly or indirectly after frequent episodes of harassment, abuse, gas lighting and attempts at coercion post contact cutting. There has been lies upon lies, financial abuse, blackmail, threats, emotional/psychological abuse, damage to property and a lot I have blacked out.
This much I know: You are never alone in this. Find the people that can help and support you/ make you safe, both personally and legally if need be. It’s okay to ask for help. You are not odd or strange. Your circumstances are not as unusual as you are led to believe. Yes, that person really is like that. Don’t let them gaslight you. You’re not crazy, it did happen. Have the strength to say ‘Stop’ to anyone who tries to belittle your experience or action taking. You do not need to forgive or ignore everything because society classes that individual as your ‘mum’. Home is not ‘where mum is’. Home is where you choose to make it. If you work in healthcare, it’s okay to not sit through the child safeguarding clinical update. Chat to the practitioners beforehand. You’re going to be okay – it takes time.
Clare’s story: on Father’s Day, 18th June 2017 my world changed forever. My beautiful and perfectly healthy 7 month old baby daughter went to sleep and never woke up. 12 hours after this photo was taken I was watching a crash team in A&E try and breathe life back into her lifeless body. They couldn’t.
This much I know: Mother’s and Father’s Day are extremely painful for those of us with an empty chair at our table. I should have a 3.5 year-old little girl sat there giggling. I’m not strong or brave – I just didn’t have a choice. My now eight year-old daughter was five years old when she lost her sister suddenly. I lost half my children – she didn’t deserve half a mother. I had to carry on. Two months later I was unexpectedly pregnant again with my now almost two year-old rainbow boy. I had to carry on.
It’s your grief; grief is as unique as a fingerprint. Take your own path and fuck anyone who judges you for it. People WILL judge though, as they want you to behave a certain way – the way they would. A grieving mother comes in many forms. My version was to set up Sunshine Digital Media, my now award-winning business. Charlotte was my sunshine and I wanted to do something in her honour to make her proud of me. But because I carried on getting up every day, got pregnant again fast, set up a business and ploughed on, it doesn’t mean I’m fixed now or I’ve forgotten her – I just had to carry on. You get to remember and honour the one you lost in any way you like. I have Charlotte’s ashes in a sunflower tattoo on my wrist, which gives me a great deal of comfort. I have Charlotte’s garden in my back yard. We have Charlotte roses, grow sunflowers, plant bright and colourful flowers, place unicorn gnomes, fairy lights and plenty of sparkle – it’s a bit tacky – everything a three year-old girl would love. My heart is not just broken, it’s been pulled into a thousand tiny pieces in the most torturous ways, but my love carries on. The pain will never ever go, but now I know that the pain of grief is the love you have for that person. My love is other worldly. I love someone who is in heaven (I have to believe there’s a heaven), someone I can’t hold or touch or nurture, but I am still her Mother and I always will be. Days like Mother’s Day accentuate my grief and rub salt into my wounds – it’s inescapable. Tomorrow morning I’ll smile and get excited at the cards my kids have made me and let them make a fuss of me (until they get bored) and I’ll shed a private tear from my beautiful sunshine Charlotte, then I’ll carry on.
You can find Clare at @clare_sunshine_digital
Abi’s Story: Other’s day I haven’t seen or spoken to my mother in almost 8 years, except a 5 minute call I made to her, to tell her I’d had a baby. I don’t really know exactly why we don’t speak, somewhere along the line, I’ve both consciously and unconsciously forgotten the details. It’s an of accumulation of some tricky family circumstances, misinterpreted behaviours, poor communication, high tempers, divorce and ultimately what would now be diagnosed readily accepted as her ill mental health. I come from a family of letter writers, growing up between the UK and the Middle East with older sisters at school in England, parents and a little sister (me) living in the desert, it meant a lot of air mail. To give the full back story we’d be here way too long, but the précised version includes, moving to the UK in the 1960’s, racism, marrying the wrong guy, living between two countries, financial privilege, the Gulf War, nervous breakdowns and all the bits in between. In the run up to our “maternal break up”, my mother took to writing some choice words and sticking them in the post (to one of my sisters and I). I wrote back and never heard a peep. Actually, I think I got a, “happy birthday Abigail” text once. I had no idea why she didn’t write back, email, call, so I accepted it and just cracked on with life. Not long after my daughter Romy was born, in a moment of “I’ve just had a kid” emotion, I called her. To cut to the point (she answered), I told her I’d had a baby and asked her why she hadn’t got in touch after receiving my letter. Turns out, she hadn’t opened it and instead had left it on her sideboard, walking past it every day for 3 years, some form of mental torture. Apparently, she didn’t want to know what I’d written. Nice one, that answered my question, so the call ended. Haven’t heard from her since. My views on estrangement have only really been shaped in the last couple of years, in fact, I’d never even thought of my situation as estrangement. Those that know me well will know I’m not big on emotion, at all. So for me I’m very much ok with not having her in my life, it’ very easy for me to take a pragmatic view and see that I hold value in so many other relationships. Of course there are moments that it’s been a bit of a f*cker. The toughest part was when I became a mother. Despite having 9 months to prepare, I knew that I would be doing it without her around. So many times I’ve wanted to ask, “what was I like a baby?”, “did I do x, y, z as a kid”. The idea of seeing her with her youngest daughters kid is a nice one. I accept that I can’t compare notes on first words, first steps, first holidays and all that stuff. Also tricky is navigating the questions that an inquisitive five year old asks about where my mum is. “Is she dead?”, “was she mean to you?”, “will you be mean to me when I’m older”, “what’s her name”. Ironically, as I’ve grown up, I now recognise a lot of traits in my mother that I actually really value. Strength, determination, focus, resilience, loyalty (arguably to not me). When I reflect on my childhood and younger years, things that may have frustrated me then, I am know able to digest and see in a different light. It doesn’t change the facts, but it makes me more comfortable dealing with them. My husband and plenty of friends have asked me if I want to / why I don’t get in touch with her. Fact is, I did once and it didn’t result in much. I also feel like as the parent, she should be the one coming after me; there’s no way on this planet I’d ever give up on having Romy in my life. Also I’m too stubborn – a bit like her.
This much I know… Advice is not something I’m big on taking (another trait we share), but in terms of what I’d say from my experience; don’t fall into the trap of thinking that family is meant to be the way it was sold when we were young (depending on your age, you may already have dodged that one). Don’t hold yourself or others around you to daft romantic ideals and feel that you’ve somehow got it wrong if you have a different experience. Be honest and open, don’t be ashamed of your situation because it is different to others, sharing your experiences with people close to you is really helpful. Other’s day is a marvellous idea – the “other’s” in my life are amongst my favourite humans on the planet, truly remarkable individuals who are a joy to be around.
You can find Abi at @abi_evh
Robyn’s story: I have a funny route to Other’s Day. In a physical sense I have a mum. She’s out there. I hear things about her. My family all see her. We live in a tiny Lancashire village so from time to time I see her. In the car. In my Grandad’s yard walking the dog. About. But she isn’t a Mum in the way I’ve come to understand it. My mum doesn’t provide care or warmth or encouragement. She provides at best some cracking jokes and a unparalleled moussaka and at worst a side helping of physical and mental abuse. She’s just not a good mum To Me. That’s where my Nan came in. She was the sun: warm and enveloping and pure joy. She made me feel safe, and loved, and special and just mummed me. When I was 24 she died of womb cancer and it was was like years of emotional eclipse. If it hasn’t been for a few key people armed with head torches and endless flasks of tea I’ve have been sunk.
This much I know: do grief your way. There is no right or wrong way to do it. I went for full theatrics and wore my grief like a large, sequinned cape demanding people paid attention to my INFINITE HEARTBREAK. That’s what worked for me. Emma popped it in a little beige box and sat on the box and prodded people with a stick if they came near. Both are valid. Both are necessary. Both worked for us but maybe not you. Ask for help. Take it a minute at a time at first, then an hour, then a day. It will hurt for longer than you want but less time than you fear. It will soften, the edges won’t be sharp and it will become a dull ache. You’ll dream of them again. You’ll think of them without crying. They are still there, knitted through every inch of you so smile about the fact that it’s only so unbearable because you lost something so extraordinary.