Parenting without your Parents
In December I was lucky enough to work with the amazing Clemmie Telford from @motherofalllists to talk about my own grief after the loss of my parents. Take a look here:
"Christmas eh?! Funny old time of year. Let alone at the end of THIS year. Many people love it, but for lots of us (me included), it can be tough. Here Carys Worsdale opens up about grieving her parents at Christmas." (Clemmie Telford, 2020.)
Christmas Day in 1995 – Michael Jackson’s ‘Earth Song’ was number 1 in the charts, POGS were the best-selling toy that year and everyone tuned into Noel’s House Party at Crinkley Bottom while tucking into the tin (actual metal tin) of Quality Street chocolates.
Christmas Day in 1995 for me, I was eleven years old. It consisted of opening presents in a quiet and dimly lit hospital room. My Mum was lying on the bed trying her best to be happy but really struggling. I was oblivious to the seriousness of the situation. The reality was, that after years fighting a battle with a rare cancer, my Mum was dying.
I remember desperately wanting the Sylvanian Family windmill and my Dad saying “This is probably the last year you’ll want toys for Christmas, you’ll be in secondary school next year”. But I had made my mind up; that badger family needed an upgrade.
My Mum died in those weird days between Christmas and New Year. I don’t remember very much about that time, apart from the day that she died. I was allowed to go into town shopping without any adults, for the first time ever. It seemed such a huge step. When we arrived home that afternoon, I sensed things were a little weird.
My Nan and Grandad were in our living room. They lived over 3 hours away in Stoke-on-Trent and a visit from them was a rare treat usually. My Dad asked me to come into the kitchen, sat me on his knee and told me that my Mum had died. My reaction was “are you joking?” and “Dad, I’ve never seen you cry before”.
Now as a parent myself my stomach churns at having to have such a conversation with my own child. What an utterly heart-breaking time both of my parents had been through.
To add to the bad news, it also turned out that the beloved toy windmill was missing vital pieces. It was the last one in the small toy shop in ourwest Wales town. I was given the cash instead.
So much growing up happened that Christmas; far too early and serious for any girl to have to deal with.
The funeral came around quickly. I felt it hard to express any emotion. I remember laughing to myself about the hat my Headmaster had on and found it very uncomfortable when he hugged me on the way out.
My Mum, Jane Worsdale, was such a strong woman. She was the perfect combination of overly caring / taking no shit. She made THE best chips. She used to lie with me every single night, tapping my back, until I fell asleep – often falling asleep herself and missing the soaps, so my Dad used to say.
Despite the terrible loss, I had such a lovely childhood in the Welsh countryside. I told my Dad that again and again when I was older. My parents were fab, I grew up being shown pictures by Impressionists artists and listening to Bob Dylan and The Beatles on repeat. We always had an always an open house policy to visitors.
I had dealt with the most devastating event, seeing my strong and loving Mum deteriorate in front of my eyes. But it didn’t feel that sad or even real, maybe because I was so young, or maybe they were just bloody good parents.
After that awful Christmas, the ones going forward were quite sad. I tried my best to cheer my Dad and two older brothers up but there was little joy in any of our hearts, just the memories of that horrible year and everyone missing the centre of our own universe.
During secondary school and until I was in my early twenties I completely stopped talking about my Mum. And this is what really haunts me now.
I didn’t know how to talk about her. I couldn’t tell my Dad how I felt, or what I remembered or even ask any questions. And he did try, every single day. But I had no words.
I didn’t even tell my new friends at school that my Mum had died. I wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed but I just didn’t like attention and never wanted that awkwardness.
There are no rules when it comes to grief – everybody deals with it differently, there is no right or wrong. I decided early on that silence was how I would survive those already tricky times of being a teenager and young woman without the support of my Mum.
And it worked for me for a really long time.
I loved school, was surrounded by great people, my Dad was an absolute superstar and he was my best friend. He bought me sanitary products for the first time, put me on the pill when I got my first boyfriend at 17, we’d sit and have pub lunches together and spend summer holidays watching the test match cricket while eating battenberg cake. I was so lucky.
My Dad, Ron Worsdale, was ridiculously clever and witty. He had dealt with a lot of loss in this life, but it had made him stronger. He lived in New Zealand for a while in his 20s, had seen Jimmi Hendrix live, was a qualified secondary school teacher, registered nurse, published poet, played guitar, loved a nice glass of wine or beer, a game of snooker and a good book. What a legend! But the one part I hated; he loved to smoke…!
In my final year of University in 2007 the cough that he had always had, got worse and became painful. He took himself off to the GP; I went to that appointment with him, where the dreaded “I’m sorry Mr Worsdale, but it’s cancer” was announced. They sent him for scans and within weeks he was taken two hours away to Swansea to remove the cancer.
Twelve years after the loss of my Mum, I was here again. But this time as a young adult, responsible for his care, responsible for all the house admin and desperately trying to finish my dissertation on British 19thCentury landscape artists.
That Easter they removed his left lung completely, it got complicated and he was in hospital for a long time. He came home in June, a shell of the man he used to be, he didn’t want to eat, or get fresh air, he was in a huge amount of pain and that summer was pretty horrible.
He saw me graduate with a 2:1 that July, he was so skinny, gaunt and fragile. But he saw it and my overall grade was higher than his! So, I’m so grateful for that.
An evening in September he couldn’t make it to bed, he told me to call an Ambulance. The cancer had spread, he was back down to Swansea for radiotherapy, chemotherapy and eventually to be with his wife again. He was the worst patient. He felt humiliated.
I wasn’t there when he died, but I saw him a few hours later and he had a smirk on his face. Which helped me find a bit of peace.
Guess what happened next… I didn’t deal with any of my loss.
Sure, I would cry every now and again and I missed him terribly, but I lived my life to the maximum.
My twenties and early thirties were great fun. Travelling, going to festivals, working in art galleries and surrounded by loving friends. I did what I knew best, I locked away my grief and lived my life to the fullest. This time I openly talked about my Dad, but I never dealt with my grief and the vulnerability I felt.
So… here I am talking about everything properly for the first time. My son William is three and a half and this is the first year he actually knows what Christmas means. He is giddy, he’s counting down the advent calendar and we’ve sent off a letter to Santa.
My grief finally hit me about two years ago when my son was about a year old. It’s hard to describe, but how I’d imagine it would feel to have a mountain collapsing on top of me while also finding my feet as a mother of a sleepless baby.
Motherhood can make you feel so vulnerable. It wasn’t just about me anymore, there was a gorgeous boy to keep alive and well. I couldn’t run away and have fun. I continuously spiralled down the paranoia that if I got sick, what on earth would happen to my son. I would have regular anxiety attacks if I felt the tiniest bit unwell or out of control.
The biggest reality hit me; I had no support.
I didn’t have those people available at a drop of a hat to come and help or call for advice or to reassure me. I had no idea if I had allergies as a baby, or if I was a good sleeper. I now live in Hertfordshire and am over four hours away from those friends who supported me through my twenties. I have no village!
I was diagnosed with “mild post-natal depression and anxiety” about a year into motherhood. I saw some therapists, did some CBT and worked so hard on real self-care. To regain some of my identity, I started a Hypnobirthing business and am now my own boss, helping new parents feel empowered for birth.
The mindful techniques I have learned through my teaching have been invaluable as a mother on a daily basis.
So, it’s December 2020, 25 years after my courageous Mum said goodbye to this world, and this is the first time I’m writing and speaking up about how bloody hard it is to parent without your own parents.
I feel this fire in my belly to speak up, reach out to others, look for support and hopefully support others in a similar position.
It hurts daily that my Dad can’t see how cheeky and cute my son is, and it’s so sad that William will never know how much he would have been loved by my own parents.
I think this time of year encourages all these emotions to mix together in quite a full on and lonely way. When you’ve lost your own tribe, Christmas really does kick you in the gut.
Christmas is a very difficult time for lots of people, I will forever feel torn between having the best time and feeling heart broken.
Whether you live far away from family, you no longer speak to loved ones or you’re dealing with loss – I am sending you all my solidarity and virtual hugs during these holidays.
I try to use the mindfulness techniques I teach my pregnant couples when I’m feeling overwhelmed, sad or a little lost.
Here are a few things that help me this time of year:
I love a good cry, alone! I don’t want cuddles or sympathy; I just want to let it all out – it’s an ugly, snotty mess, but it helps me feel so much lighter afterwards.
Try and talk to family or friends about the people you’ve lost. Keeping their stories alive is so important.
Simple mindful things like help so much: Going for a walk outdoors, eating all of your favourite food or getting lost in a cheesy film (oxytocin isn’t just important for birth)!
And always remember to raise a glass to those we miss while at the table tucking into your turkey dinner.
If you’ve resonated with my story do get in touch – I’m hoping to use 2021 to start helping parents suffering with the grief by running online mindfulness workshops for parents. I’d love to hear from you.
Thank you for listening and thank you Clemmie for having me and encouraging this much-needed writing to happen.
I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. 2021 can only get better, right?? Big Hugs, Carys xx