Nothing can prepare you for losing a parent. Articles, magazines, websites, self-help books, they all give you tools and strategies to cope with your loss and not one of them worked for me. They tell you to focus on the good times, remember the happy moments. All of that is tremendously hard when you know you will never hear their voice again.
The day I lost her is one I'll remember always. Being told she was gone. It hit me like a freight train. I screamed I was being lied to. Of course, I wasn't. Who would lie about such a thing. I knew she was ill. I knew deep down it was a matter of time, but that doesn't make it easy. I remember thinking 'she'll get better', I thought she would be cured. But there is no cure for cancer. And day after day families around the world are given the heartbreaking news they will never see their loved one smile again.
This was my mum. My protector. My provider. My world.
I was 16. I was a good kid. I did my homework, I did after school activities, I performed in shows, I made my mum proud. As her only child she loved me with all her being and the feeling was very mutual. Yes, we argued, we had our moments, I was a hormonal teenager. There was a time I used to hate myself going over every argument in the last few months she was alive, but that did me no good. I've let go of that now.
That morning, I calmly called my head of year at school and told them I wound't be returning. I called my mums work and gave them the sad news. I tried to keep organised and busy, as my mum would have wanted me to be. I was just 16. It wasn't until a few weeks later I broke down and that was when my life spiralled into depression. I make no secret of my battle with my mental health as I tried, and failed, to cope with the loss of my mum. I quit school, I got a job, I carried on. But there's only so much front you can give when you haven't properly grieved.
And so I grieved, for years and years. Not fully accepting it. Not wanting it to be true. Going through the denial, the anger, the bargaining and all of the other steps they tell you about on a photocopied leaflet in a fluorescent lit waiting room.
My tale of depression and baking my way out of it is another story. What follows now is something different. This one is for her.
Brought up by my mum who was a single parent, having no siblings and having lost my grandparents by this point as well, there wasn't many people in my life who I saw every day who knew my mum. Memories and reminiscent conversations were scarce. Photos over the years had been lost and damaged and in the end, I wasn't left with much.
August 2015, on what would have been my mum's 62nd birthday, I found a picture. One I didn't remember seeing before. It was of my mum standing outside what looked to be a Tudor building. It intrigued me. I had no idea when it was taken, where it was or who was with her. After a quick search of the name on the building, I discovered it was only half an hour down the road from me!
Armed with my camera and a sat nav, Tim and I drove down and found the exact building. I got out of the car and was awash with so many emotions. I stood where she stood, saw what she saw and we recreated the shot.
The building looked a little worse for wear, I hear there was a fire. The garden is overgrown and the shop was shut. I have no idea how long had passed between these two photos but it hasn't really changed that much.
Skip forward to summer last year, I was looking through photos of a family day to the beach. My mum in a bikini top and shorts, my nan in a summer dress, my grandad in short trousers and a hanky on his head and a 4 year old Britt in a polka dot swimsuit (my love of polka dots started from an early age, clearly!). I was sure this was Leysdown. A beach I have many, many happy memories of visiting in the summer holidays. Tim and I drove down there, picture in hand. I looked around and remember feeling so disappointed. This wasn't the location. I was at a loss as I didn't really remember us going anywhere else.
We got ice cream, played mini golf and enjoyed our day out. But I was determined to find this beach.
Turns out, I wasn't that far off! It was Sheerness beach. On the same island and a short drive away. On our next free weekend we drove down and even though as I stepped out of the car, there wasn't the familiarity I had in Leysdown, as I held up the picture and saw the surroundings match, tears filled my eyes.
I sat on the plinth where my mum rested in the sun, looking over at my nan who took the picture. Tim sat where my nan did and we got this shot. You can see by my outfit compared to my mum's the weather must have been slightly different!
The last photo I have to share with you is one that has been in a frame for 15 years. Wherever I have lived, wherever I have ended up, it has always come with me. It's a photo of my mum and me that is rather special. It was taken in 2001 on my first and only foreign holiday, with my mum, to Mallorca. I remember getting sunburnt on the first day (some things never change!), my mum looking so beautiful in the sun with her Italian olive skin and long black hair. We had lost my nan earlier that year and she took us away to just be together and celebrate life. It was just a few months later she would be diagnosed with terminal cancer.
The bottom photo was taken last June, around my birthday. Tim and I didn't book our holiday so close to this location on purpose, it was a happy coincidence. When I saw we would be going there, I simply had to find the location of this photo. I cried when I saw it. I felt so grateful to be there again.
In these three photos, I'm sitting or standing in my mum's place as she now lives on in me.
My blogging and baking may have helped me out of one of the darkest times of my life, and for that I will always be thankful. Whilst I am aware my depression and mental health was sparked by the passing of my mum, I am also aware my grief is a different matter. It's a different kind of pain. One that stays with you. One you find ways to learn to cope with.
This is my way.
Everything I do and have in my life I dedicate to my mum. I would not be the strong, confident business woman you see without her. She taught me to go after my dreams, no matter how big they are. She taught me to always believe in myself, even if I didn't think I could do it, even if I didn't think I was worth it. She taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to. She instilled so many values, morals and lessons in me that I will be grateful for, for the rest of my life.
I feel so lucky to have had her as my mum, to have been blessed with her presence, her humour, her smile, her laugh. Those memories are so precious to me and now, these recreated photos have a special place in my heart too.