Hannah & Mum
Hastings, East Sussex
Could you start off by telling me a bit about the original photograph?
“My name is Hannah Hildreth and the photo was taken in June of last year, 2014. It was taken after Race For Life, which me and my mum both did together. I did a slightly longer course than her, so I was a little bit more puffed out, but we'd both taken part in it, so Harry took a picture of us to celebrate us getting round in one piece!”
Could you talk me through the day that it was taken?
“Well, they give you a little medal at the end, whether you walk, roll or run and I found them all the other day. I think we've done it 5 times previously, it's every year down in our local park, the Race For Life for Cancer Research. We'd always done it together, sometimes me with my friends and her friends involved as well, but it's something we'd always done. After she got diagnosed for the first time with breast cancer it became more important to us to get round it and do it together each year. The year after she got diagnosed I did it by myself because she wasn't well enough, but we'd done it every year, and this was last year.”
Is it a particularly special place, does it hold a lot of significance for you?
“It's more the picture really. I've lived here all my life, so the park's got tons and tons of memories for me with friends and family, but Race For Life in particular, that would always remind me of my mum and it's something we did together, so definitely going back there today and thinking about Race For Life is significant. I'm sure that next year when I do it, it'll be significant as well to be there in that place.”
Do you go there much now as a matter of course?
"I didn't do Race For Life this year, partly through circumstance, but I wasn't really sure if it might just be a little bit too much. It's a lovely atmosphere, but everyone has their little dedications on their backs and I just wasn't sure if it was too soon for me to be in amongst that. I don't go to the park as much as I should to be honest, but I think after today I'll go back a little bit more, because it is somewhere me and my mum would go just to get a slice of cake and a cup of tea, she really loved it, so, yeah, I should go more.”
Can you describe what's happening in the picture?
“There was a few taken that day and in a few of them my mum's got her fingers up behind my head like rabbit ears, but I'm not sure if it's in the picture I chose or not, no, well in the other two she is! We've both just done the Race For Life, we're both standing out in the grassy area, smiling and looking a bit puffed out and I think my mum has a feather boa on, which sums it up really, she'd always do some sort of silly fancy dress, feather boas and tutus and that sort or thing. A smiley happy photo really, of us doing something together.”
“It's strange, because it becomes this huge huge part of your life, it takes over your life and I think sometimes people think it's separate, but it's not.”
Was that what your mum was like, was she quite flamboyant?
“Yeah, pretty much. She was a very positive person, very happy and smiley and she definitely made an impression on everyone who met her. She was very friendly and very positive, that's the overwhelming thing that I've always thought and a lot of her friends and family, just very positive. Even during things that she had to go through like the treatment and everything like that, she maintained her sense of humour, she maintained that positivity. She wasn't a pushover, she was quite a dragon in her job, she was positive but she knew what she was talking about. I think that photo's quite a good way to sum her up, she looks smiley and happy and is wearing something a bit silly. It's a good representation.”
Do you think there are any of her characteristics that you've taken on or that you can see in yourself?
“I hope so. I'm certainly trying. I think probably when I was younger if I sounded like my mum or said things like my mum I would not want that, I think most people think 'Oh God I sound like my mother', but now I think if I do ever do things that she used to do or find myself saying little phrases then I'm encouraging it and trying to make that a part of what I actually do every day. I think she was much better at being positive than I am, I can get a bit grumpy or a bit stressed, but I'm definitely trying to think about all of those positive things that she had going for her and try and adopt them. I'm not sure I would completely notice everything, I think other people around me would know more, would say I'm more like her than I think I am, if that makes sense. I'm definitely trying to keep the positivity. She was very driven as well, she was very strong and kept going no matter what really and I would say I definitely try to take that on as well. I think she helped me to be a lot stronger and I think in the situation I'm in now, it's definitely helped, her always being very strong, it kind of makes me think I can do this.”
It sounds to me like she was a great role model for you?
“Definitely. She used to say she was the accidental career girl, she sort of want to just have babies and have a family, but she started off as a nurse, then trained as a midwife, and then she went and got her degree when I was about 9 or 10, whilst working as well. Then she became an ultrasonographer, so she did scans for people who were having babies, then she became the manager of that department. She never really set out to have this big career, but she did and she worked very hard. We didn't have a huge amount when I was younger, so she did have to work a lot, it wasn't really how my how my parents planned it but things happen. She definitely was a big inspiration to me and made me think I could do things and get out there because she was, even though she had me to look after and the house was falling apart and we had too many cats! It was all a bit crazy, but it all worked and she worked very hard to make it work.”
What was it like when I asked you to find a photograph, did you know immediately which one to choose or were there a few to choose from?
“It was tricky actually, I wasn't really sure because I'd say there's, well not exactly a gap, but there's a lot of photos of us when I was younger, because that's what you do, you take photos of babies and toddlers and there's a lot of pictures of us then, but none of them were really in a specific place. We definitely did used to do quite a few things together, but we didn't really take photos of them, it never really occurred to us that much to document things, so I didn't really have a lot between when I was maybe about 9 or 10 up until my twenties, there wasn't really a lot of photos of us together in that time. We'd go to the beach, but there was no one pin-pointed place and I was inclined to choose one of when I was younger, but when I went through the photos and I couldn't really find anything that fit, and then I thought, oh yeah, Race For Life, that would be good, because there's quite a bit of back story to it.”
What was it like today going back to re-take it, how did you feel standing in that spot?
“It felt like a positive thing really. It's a beautiful day today and the park is a lovely place, no matter what you're going back there for it's just such a nice relaxed place. I love being outdoors and so did she, whether it was the woods, the park or the beach. It was a nice thing to do, it didn't make me feel sad, it just felt like a nice way to, I don't know really, kind of honour the memory I suppose, it's just a nice little thing to do. It was a positive experience.”
Have photographs of your mum been something that are important to your memories, something you've gone back to or had up in the house?
“Yeah. They've definitely been really important to me. I've had quite a few family members send me photos that I hadn't seen before and when she passed away, the funeral directors had this service called 'Much Loved', which was a little tribute page you can set up, everyone can upload photos and memories and things like that, it's a really nice idea, and lots of people put photos up that I'd never seen before and I really enjoyed that. Even at the funeral we had a big slideshow of photos going the whole time. I really enjoy looking photos, I value them and I've tried to put quite a few up in this house and once we move house and I own somewhere and making holes in the walls isn't as stressful then I will definitely have plenty of photos up.”
Would you say what we've done today has been a valuable experience?
“Definitely, I think so, yeah. It's nice to do something that is focussed on what's happened and focussed on my mum but is still a nice positive thing to do. I visit the cemetery, it's in a wooden natural area, which is lovely, so I do that quite regularly, and I might chat to my husband or some of my friends about my mum. It was her birthday on the 1st November, which was quite difficult, we had a meal with some of her friends, which was really nice. For the past six months we've been doing lots of fundraising for the hospice where she stayed, and we raised £10,000, that was our target and we managed to do that, so it's been good to have something to focus on that, well it wasn't like I was was trying to take my mind off the grief, it was part of it, but a positive part of it, and this is very much the same as those experiences, it's not 'I have to pretend everything is fine and I'm doing something else', I can talk about it freely and it's a positive, nice experience, so it's been really good.”
We talked earlier today about talking with friends and how it can be difficult for them to know what to say. Has it surprised you how people have responded?
“It was a very difficult thing. I kind of always knew that it was going to be tricky. I'm 26 and most of my friends are a similar age, if not a little bit younger, and even when my mum was poorly the first time, it was difficult for friends to talk to me, so I already had some experience of it, knowing that it's not anybody's fault if they don't know how to talk to you. That being said, when things are bad, it can be quite difficult sometimes. Because I've had to take time out of uni, I've ended up feeling quite isolated and as much as I've had my husband who's been absolutely amazing, it can be difficult. Sometimes even just going out for a cup of tea or just going for a quick walk can make all the difference and I think, because everyone else's lives have continued, and they're going to work and they've got their own commitments, and that's completely understandable.
I've lost quite a lot of confidence when I'm with my friends, I've lost quite a lot of confidence overall I think, just generally, so I'm not very good at instigating, I'm not very good at being the one to say 'Hi, can we hang out', and sometimes I've just got upset and just wanted someone to call or come over. I've had some friends who've been absolutely amazing, my best friend in particular has just been there pretty much every day, I think we've literally spoken every day since. We used to speak a lot anyway, but she really has always made the effort to check in with me and I've always felt like I can say, 'actually, no I'm not great today', where as some people, I guess, if they say 'how are you', I'm not sure they're always ready for the response 'I'm not ok'. Sometimes they go, 'Oh, I wasn't expecting that, I don't know what to say', but I think it has been something I've definitely struggled with, and I think it's been something I'm sure my friends have struggled with as well, I've no doubt that a lot of my friends have felt like they don't really know what to say and it must have bothered them too. It's difficult.
People don't talk about it, they freeze up a little bit, people don't want to talk about it happening. I think a lot of the time people don't want to talk about it because they don't want to imagine that it could happen to them, and that I understand, it's a scary subject, when it's someone you know that it happens to and you go 'Woah, that could happen to me', then they just shut down! When you're the person in the situation, I think sometimes it can be very isolating and quite lonely and it can be a bit tricky, definitely.”
In those situations, there are a lot of relationships that you've had for a long time, people have come alongside you and looked after you, but we talked earlier about how it could take very little, just to take the step to genuinely ask how you are and not be afraid of the answer?
“Yeah, I think it can be tricky, sometimes if I say I'm not feeling great people will send what I'm come to call closed messages, and again, it's nothing that they're doing wrong, and often it's a lovely message saying nice things, but it's signed off very like, 'Anyway, goodbye xxxx', this kind of thing, and a lot of the time it would be nice to have a bit of dialogue. Some messages it doesn't feel like I could write back and go, well actually I'm feeling like this... So it's been tricky to get a back and forth going about anything. People don't know how to react to you saying 'I'm not so great', but I think, the people who've been honest with me and have gone, 'I don't know what to say, I don't know what to do, what can I do?', that has actually been a lot more useful. Even just the people who've been really honest. People think they have to be, almost, well the way that people talk isn't the way they'd usually talk and I've had people just be like, 'this is rubbish isn't it, this is really crap', or something slightly stronger than that, and it's really refreshing, because you're like, 'Yeah, it is!', and it's just nice to have that rather than anything that's too serious or too heavy. I think when people have been a lot more direct and asked 'what an I do?', because I've had it when people have not known what to say, and I don't know what to say either to be honest!
Right after my mum got diagnosed I was like, 'I don't know what I'm doing, I don't know what to say either, baaaa!', so it's good to have an honest conversation and I think the people who had that approach probably felt a lot more comfortable talking to me about it, and I felt a lot more comfortable just being honest and going, my head's everywhere, I don't know what's going on. So yeah, I think sometimes people don't realise that you're not scary and you haven't changed at all, you're still the same person, you're just having a rubbish time. It's a difficult one!”
With that dynamic, if you're trying to have these conversations over texts or facebook compared to face-to-face, do you think there's a limit there to what you can portray?
“I think so, yeah, I think I've come to not like emoji's very much! The emoji heart is, well, people like the emoji heart, and sometimes it's lovely and if it comes from someone who I have lots of other contact with, it's great, but sometimes, I don't know, with the 'like' button as well, people like something and it's lovely and it does still feel like support, but perhaps not the same as a little 'hope you're ok', or even just a little message to ask if you're alright or to say 'I saw this, that doesn't sound very positive'. A heart is lovely, but a 'How are you?' goes a lot further and it's a lot more personal, and I think text and messages are good, and they're something I've relied upon a lot with family as well, because a lot of them don't live locally, so sometimes it's nice just to have a little check in, but I do think face-to-face can be a lot better. People don't really have a chance to feel awkward, if you're just there, they can see you, they know that you're not throwing yourself on the ground and screaming and crying, you're normal, you're ok. That's something I've tried to do a lot, I've tried to talk about my mum to people, just to show people that I can do it, that I'm ok, it's alright to mention. She was my mum for 26 years, so of course she's going to come up in conversation quite regularly!”
Is there anything else you wanted to share or feel like we've missed out?
“I'm not sure. I think what we've spoken about has been one of the biggest obstacles that I've faced really to be honest. I think communication with other people and feeling like I'm supported is definitely one of the most difficult things. It's probably one of the most lasting things, even though other things have got better over the last 8 months, actually, what's the date today, is it the 13th? So it's 9 months tomorrow. A lot of things have got better, but finding a way to communicate with people and still keeping my friendships strong, that's definitely been quite difficult. Like I said earlier, I've lost a lot of confidence in myself, and I get quite anxious now a lot of the time as well in certain situations, and I think I've almost been worried about keeping, well just being normal I guess. In some situations I'll think I'm really boring or that I can handle this, and it makes me worry.
My dad is wonderful, my step-mum is wonderful, Harry is wonderful, but apart from that I don't have a huge family down here, so my friends really are super important to me. Just trying to keep those relationships going, that's been one of the things that has definitely worried me and affected me. Just being able to talk about it. It's strange, because it becomes this huge huge part of your life, it takes over your life and I think sometimes people think it's separate, but it's not. I'd have people go, 'Well I didn't want to mention it because you might not have wanted to think about it', and I'm like well, unfortunately, it would be lovely if I could switch it off, but I can't. It can be quite isolating and I think talking about it is really important, it's good, it's a healthy thing to do, it's just been difficult for me to find ways to do that. I feel like I'm being depressing, I feel like it's hard to chat someone leisurely and then suddenly bring it up and be like, well actually, I'd really like to talk about this thing that's happened. It's very difficult and that's when you need people to go, 'How are you doing with everything', not just how are you, but how are you doing with this huge life changing situation that's just happened? And then you can go, well actually, this...
I think it's very important to try and find ways for people to talk about it, and encourage people to talk about it, because it's probably the most helpful thing for anyone in this situation to do. I can't think of anything else that's helped me more than just being able to chat about it and remembering things as well. I think from talking to a few people in my situation, you start to worry that you're going to forget things, forget how they sounded or you're going to forget things they said or your memories are going to get hazy if you don't keep talking about them.”