I’ll never forget the moment I found out my good friend’s four-year-old son had passed away: the world stopped for a moment, my heart sunk and I froze.
How could this actually be possible?
It’s the kind of thing you see happening to other people and, though your heart breaks for them, you just never imagine it will happen to you, or someone you know and love. Claire had posted on Facebook that they’d taken Jakey into hospital, but never did I imagine things could become so desperate, so quickly.
Jake was diagnosed with an aggressive form of neuroblastoma and within two weeks of his first visit to the GP, Claire said goodbye to him as he slipped away in her arms. I just… my heart breaks for her and no words will ever do justice to the amount of pain I know she was feeling.
The thought of being told your child has cancer is just beyond my imagination, even more so now I have my beautiful son Harry in my life. No parent should ever have to say good bye to their child. Yet so many do because of this awful disease.
It’s really important to remember that childhood cancer is rare and that there’s a lot of information out there to support anyone going through it. Cancer Research UK explains that some of the common symptoms are:
For a long time, what happened to Jake really knocked me for six. I’d spend night, after night listening to Claire’s song for Jake. The words are beautiful and incredibly poignant as they are about the Taylor Swift’s godson who also passed away at the age of four.
Every year on the anniversary of Jake’s passing, I’ve bought a balloon and sent it up to him in heaven – just like we did at the funeral. And every year when his birthday comes around, I buy a slice of cake and enjoy it in his memory.
I think I just really feel the pain that she went through, or at least I try to. The fact such a good friend was going through this made me feel awful and I wanted to try and do something to help.
The first time I was due to meet her after he’d passed away I actually Googled some advice on how I could support her, what I should talk to her about. Claire and I have always been incredibly open with each other, that’s one of the reasons we have become so close. I was determined to make sure that didn’t change.
When we meet I try to let her lead the conversation, I want her to be able to talk about Jake if that is what she wants on that day. And we always talk about him in the present tense, I never say ‘was’.
I think Claire finds comfort in feeling that Jake is with her every day and I want to be a part of that with her. He is her third beautiful son, he is little brother to her two eldest boys and now older brother to his stunning little sister.
In the months after he passed I tried to message her regularly, not to ask how she is (the answer to that was surely too hard to express), to give her a chance to talk if she needed and to let her know I was there
Sometimes we talk about absolute rubbish too… my break up with my ex, the lad I quite fancied at the time, her new partner. I hope I helped her to feel some semblance of normality while she was going through something so unimaginable.
I wrote a note to Jake on the day of his funeral, it promised him that I would do everything I can to help look after her. I hope I am keeping to that promise.
She’s been incredibly brave, you see. She doesn’t think it, but she has been so, so strong. Every day that has passed she has had him on her mind and yet she’s continued being an amazing Mum to all her children (and step children too).
For some time afterwards, she was really honest on social media about how she was feeling, I was so proud of her for opening up and letting people see the real her. Sadly, as time has gone on, not all of the responses to this have been positive and I’m gutted that has meant she has closed off a little.
For me, it’s so important for people to be able to share their feelings on hard topics like this. Not just because ‘the rest of us’ can learn more about the situation and take value from it in the future – but because it helps those who are suffering.
It still astounds me that anyone can be anything but supportive of someone who has been through so much, particularly when they are mothers themselves.
Friends and family have rallied to raise funds in Jake’s memory. Many have donated to Sheffield Children’s Hospital who looked after him when he was unwell.But the most wonderful thing of all is that she and her beautiful youngest son have become an inspiration to so many of us.
It just amazes me, the way so many people have pulled together to support Claire and to remember Jake. It’s testament to what an incredible woman she is and what a mark he has left on all of us.
I think that’s why I wanted to write this really, to tell her how bloody wonderful she is. She has got through (and still goes through, every day) the hardest thing anyone can ever go through.
She’s done it with a real dignity and more importantly an honesty that has meant not only can people understand what she is going through, but she allows Jake’s legacy to live on.
Harry would have been in awe of the bundle of energy that Jake was and I know he and Ellie will both hear so much about him as they grow up. Because that gorgeous, crazy little boy really does live on in her, her two boys and her baby girl. He’ll never be forgotten and he’ll always be an inspiration.
This post originally appeared on my blog in October 2017.
I’ve just stepped out of 5 Live’s ‘Mum Takeover’ – a wonderful event that saw parents with all levels of experience talking about life with children, and agreeing that mum guilt is a universal problem.
In the room with me were three of the women I would say have influenced me the most since having my first child, Harry, 16 months ago:
Giovanna Fletcher – whose smiley videos have got me through many a rough morning with the baby. Harriet Shearsmith – whose unfailingly honest writing makes me feel normal. And Sophie Mei Lan – whose experiences with mental health are being bravely used to help others.
I’m in awe of these women
I feel like I should be sat on this bus now filled with inspiration, raring to go and knowing everything that’s concerning me can be overcome. But I’m not, I’m feeling like a failure.
These aren’t women who have intended to become role models, I don’t think their goal was to be put on a pedestal by people like me. In fact, the reason I admire them so much is because they portray what it’s really like to be a mum – exhaustion, frustration, self-criticism and all.
Sophie, in particular, would be the first to shy away from the compliment I have given her. To tell me I’m great at what I do and an amazing mum – but, at the moment, my head just won’t hear it. I feel like I’m just not good enough.
I felt like what I’m going through isn’t anywhere near as bad as some of the ladies (and men) in that room.
There were two issues for me while watching Anna Foster present the talk show which was broadcast live online: I couldn’t relate to a lot of what was being said (and that made me feel guilty, like I’m not getting this right), and I felt like what I’m going through isn’t anywhere near as bad as some of the ladies (and men) in that room.
Sophie has experienced severe psychosis since having her second child, a truly terrifying ordeal that she felt might result in her little girls being taken away. One lady had given birth to a stillborn child just ten weeks ago, while another became upset when talking about looking after her sick husband.
My issues simply cannot compare to those – and I feel like that means I don’t have a right to be upset about life being shit. I have no right to feel like I can’t go on, when a mum who has lost her child less than three months ago is out there talking to the public to encourage an open conversation.
One of the panellists, DJ Neev from Kiss FM (a channel I’m far too old for now!), spoke of how she’d had suicidal thoughts because she thought her daughter would be better off without her.
Now, I can relate to feeling like my child would be better off without me. I can’t tell you the number of times I have planned in my head to pack a bag and just go away.
This week, I drove Harry to my partner Luke’s place of work with the intention of leaving Harry there, getting back in the car and driving away.
It was only when I got there, worried about embarrassing him and people finding out exactly what is going on with me, that I changed my mind.
I constantly live in fear that someone will realise how crap I am at this and take my beautiful boy away from me – but worse are the days where I actually will them to do it, where I beg Luke to make it so I don’t have to do this anymore. Mums at the takeover spoke of being scared social services would remove their children – I’ve had times where I actually want that to happen.
DJ Neev talked about hitting rock bottom, explaining that was the point where she was able to snap herself out of it and pull herself together – and that is another part I cannot relate to, I have neither the energy nor the self-confidence to get myself out of this. I just keep plodding on feeling lower and lower each time the sadness of it all hits me.
I’ve always been quite a driven person, I’ve lacked the organisation to keep it up for any length of time, but I get the ideas and inspiration and long to make them come true. That was until, gosh, 12 months ago perhaps. I’m shocked to realise how long this has been going on.
I think it all started with Harry’s four-month sleep regression, the damn thing ruined my life and we’ve never really recovered. I feel like I’ve got everything wrong because my child doesn’t sleep and, according to the whole flipping world, that’s my own fault.
Slowly but surely, I’ve just felt more and more like I’m not very good at this motherhood thing and I’m not actually right for it. I think of the friends who have said to me for years, ‘you’ll be a natural mum Amy’, and feel like I’m letting them down. This isn’t coming naturally.
Then I think of the people who laughed when I said I wanted kids, ‘you’d never cope Amy. The lack of sleep, the need to be organised, the focusing on someone else… you can barely look after yourself’. Maybe they were right.
Tuesday reminded me that I’m not alone, that everyone struggles – but that just makes me feel worse, because they’re all coping with the things that go wrong and I am not.
Losing my job and having a baby in the same year has completely knocked my confidence and that seems to be the root of it all.
I have no faith in myself as a mum, as a worker and definitely as a ‘homemaker’. Pfft, that’s my biggest failing… cleaning, washing, organising – never been me, never gonna happen. And that makes me wonder – was I just not meant to be a mum?
I wasn’t planning on sharing this. As we speak I’m waiting for my first meeting with a counsellor, having self-referred on the recommendation of my GP and I was going to wait until after that to publish this post.
But I felt like it was kind of my duty to talk about how I’m feeling, to raise awareness of what life is like for some mums, what so many of us go through.
Because there’s not a lot of people who know the extent to how tough I’ve found being a mum. In public, with friends and family, I put a brave face on and enjoy life. But behind that smile, I’m falling apart.
The Mum Takeover event was inspirational, and it is so important that 5 Live have given airtime to help people like me. But every mum there seemed to have it all together. They were talking about the things they’d been through and got over. They were giving advice based on what it’s like when you’ve got your head around it all.
Mine is a story that’s still at the beginning, one of a girl who’s still trying to work out why it’s all gone wrong and what on earth she does to solve it – if it’s even worth bothering.
A girl who’s simply fed up of feeling so sad.
This blog was originally published in December 2017, I decided to re-share it as I hope other parents will benefit from knowing they are not alone if they feel this way. If you'd like to chat about the things I've experienced, please do drop me a private message on Twitter or Facebook.
My name's Amy and I'm a Social Media Consultant with a two-year-old son, Harry.