Life and Death

*Trigger warning – death and loss*

I’ve never really been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. Why try and set yourself up to fail in the most miserable dark time of the year? (Eternal optimist, me!)  But maybe this post does fall into the ‘New Year, new you’ sort of vibe, though the subject matter not so much.

When I set up this blog I promised myself and my readers that I would always be honest about what we’re going through and how I’m feeling. I didn’t think it would be fair to hide any aspect of our journey because the whole point of it is to share, so that hopefully others on the same path could recognise their own problems and feel a little less alone.

On the whole I’ve stuck with that, but there’s one area that I’ve often skirted around and avoided tackling head-on. Mostly because I was scared about how people would judge me after reading it. I’m still scared, but a conversation I had recently made me realise that I may not be the only person who has had similar thoughts on this topic.

I think about death quite a lot. You tend to when your child has been diagnosed with a life-limiting condition. (I never quite understood the family member that told another MPS parent that they ‘focus on death too much’.)

But of course death is never a simple subject to touch on. I’ve never lost anyone very close to me. Grandparents and friends, yes. But not a parent, or partner, or child. So I can only imagine the pit of grief that swallows you up after it happens. I know it can never be easy losing a loved one, whether it is fast or slow, expected or not. And I hope I will not offend anyone by what I am writing here. But it feels particularly cruel to face a long, slow decline for someone you love more than anything.

So here goes. Deep breath.

I have sometimes wished my son would die.

Not now. Not while he loves life and embraces it with such obvious relish. But if I could choose, I would choose a swift and merciful end for him rather than losing him bit by bit. And in my darker times I have wished that it was sooner rather than later, just to take away the agony of waiting for it.

One of the very first things I ever read about MPS when Pudding was diagnosed was the Wikipedia page. It refers to a case from 2004 when a father suffocated his 10-year-old son who had Hunter Syndrome. That has haunted me ever since. Never in a million years would I do something like that to my darling boy and this is not a blog post about mercy killing or euthanasia*, but I guess I understand part of why he may have done it.

Faced with the prospect of my son spending years losing the ability to talk (which he mostly has done), to walk, to swallow; thinking of him having more pain as his joints degenerate; knowing that he may be hit by seizures and by the end may not even recognise his family… there have been times where I’m certain I could not go through that. Maybe that makes me selfish, putting my wishes foremost.

Or is it? Is it selfish to hope that your loved one, whether 7 or 70, can live without pain, physical or mental, and can die with dignity? The reason we have these thoughts is because we love them. And love makes us want to end any suffering.

As with anything I write in this blog these are my own thoughts and emotions and I’m simply offloading. I may be in a tiny minority but I’m going to feel better for having said it. My thoughts may change, as so many things I’ve written about have done. Maybe as his condition worsens I’ll be more and more desperate for him to cling onto life with both hands and never let go.

Right now, as I’m writing this, Pudding is clambering onto my lap with his tablet, resting his head heavy against my cheek, his warm bulk blocking my view of the screen and making it pretty awkward to type. I simply can’t imagine him not being here.

But I will always hope for the best for him. In life and in death.

Pudding in front of some greenery. He looks a little pensive or worried.

 

*I do happen to believe that an adult in their right mind with a life-limiting condition should have the choice to die at a time of their choosing, but know that this is a topic fraught with problems and presents a number of ethical issues.

 

Christmas contemplation

Christmas is one of those times of year when we often look back and see how life has changed. Sometimes for the better, sometimes worse.

Pudding in front of a large model polar bear.

I’ve been in a contemplative mood lately. Partly because of the memories that are turning up on Facebook at the moment: three years ago Pudding had just been undergoing testing for the clinical trial that he is now on. Having been through months of heartbreak after diagnosis, the trial brought all sorts of different emotions and worries – would be accepted into the trial? would it make a difference? how long before the treatment would be made widely available?

Three years seems like a lifetime ago now, and although I sometimes speak with other parents who are only just at the start of this MPS journey, it can be hard to remember, truly remember, what those first few months were like. The vagaries of the mind can be quite useful – protecting us from the worst horrors so we (mostly) don’t get stuck in the same loop for ever.

I know I’ve been through so many states of mind – despair, guilt, anger, hope, frustration – and they come and go in unexpected ways, spiralling through the months and years. Never linear, sometimes bursting back in when I think I’ve waved that one goodbye. I’ve come to realise that emotions don’t behave in the way I used to expect.

But lately one has still caught me by surprise and I don’t quite know how to label it. Content isn’t quite right as that implies I’m happy about the situation (I am often happy too but that’s a separate emotion) yet resignation is wrong because it’s too sad. I think the best I can use is acceptance.

I’ve talked before on the blog about accepting this new path, but I guess there is a difference between reluctant acceptance of something that we can’t change and this new feeling of calm deep inside. And that is despite, or possibly even because of, the fact that I do now think we will have to say goodbye to our gorgeous boy way before his time.That will always be something I would change in an instant if I could, and I know that any of those emotions can come back and thump me in an unexpected moment, but for now this is where I am.

All Around the World sticker book. Fold out scenes with 400 animal stickers.Oddly the thing that made me realise it was this book. I bought it five years ago, long before Pudding’s diagnosis and intended to give it to him when he’d grown up enough to be able to use it. Every year I have looked at it in my present drawer and known that time hadn’t come yet. He is nearly seven now, and I’m not sure he will ever reach the stage of being interested/able. And it’s time for it to go to someone else. Previously when I’ve given away a part of the life he will never lead, it has been almost a physical hurt. An arrow to the heart that says, ‘This wasn’t what you expected’. But this time? Acceptance with a smattering of fond nostalgia.

Actually, maybe I was wrong to throw out the word content earlier. I am happy that it will go to another deserving little boy. Content does have a place in this life alongside MPS, and I shouldn’t feel bad about that.

Since moving house, life does seem to have got onto a more even keel. And when I snuggle up on the sofa with my Pudding watching his wholehearted enjoyment of a film, or when Hubby tickles him and brings out his deep chuckle, or when he bounces in excitement with a snowball in each hand, that is what I feel. Deep, deep love and content.

On an end-note, I’d just like to say a thank you to each and every one of you for reading my emotional ramblings and following Pudding’s journey. Wishing you all a contented and loving Christmas!

House move

I’ve mentioned this before in passing but not really said much as I don’t want to jinx it going through. But as it has sort of been taking over my life I guess it’s time to rectify that.

When I’ve mentioned the perils of moving to friends, a few people responded with the fact that moving house is meant to be one of the most stressful life events. I usually replied jokingly that diagnosis of a life-limiting illness tops that. But the reality is that the arrival of MPS into our lives has directly affected how stressful I’ve found these last few months.

Life is generally full of peaks and troughs of stress and emotion, but since Pudding’s diagnosis my underlying stress has been reset to a much higher level. While I can cope with the usual everyday stuff, anything extra on top of that has become so much harder to deal with.

The difficulty of keeping the house tidy for viewings (anyone with children will understand that special pain), the disappointment of the first two offers falling through, the endless forms and legal stuff have all taken their toll. And joy of joy, stress has blossomed into the new symptom of anxiety.

Mental health has become much less taboo to talk about but it still feels hard to admit how I’m finding it. Logically I can reason with myself that the sky won’t fall in if I can’t find a particular document, but yet every time I have a communication from the solicitor my body reacts. I now only have to see notification of a new email for my heart rate to go up and it becomes more difficult to breathe. Of course, 9 times out of 10 it’s something else entirely – a harvest festival letter from school or the latest sale on at my favourite shop. But each time, that anxiety builds and some days it is immobilising.

We are hopefully now getting to the end of the process and will be able to exchange contracts soon. And I am trying to focus on the positives. The house we going to has more room inside and out for Pudding to play in (and for T to escape from him when he’s hitting). We’ll have the potential for a downstairs bedroom if we need it. The cul-de-sac location means less chance of him being in danger if he escapes. And a detached house means that I need worry less about noise.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut still those fears nibble away at me. ‘It can all fall through at the last minute’. ‘You’ll have to start all over again’. At least one bonus about our current health concerns is that Pudding seems to have stopped getting much taller at the moment, so is less likely to grow out of his current bed and small room… Maybe another year in this house is possible. And I won’t yet have the wrench of leaving the house where both my boys were born. (Technically as we’re taking the rug with us I could still point and say “that’s where it happened”!) Though I’ve already had the tears when I painted over their height marks on the wall.

Cross fingers I’ll be able to share more positive news in the next few weeks and hopefully my emotions can get back to a more even keel. In the meantime, thank god for cuddles and fun with my little Chucklemonster every evening. There is a lot to be said for living in the moment!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sorry, this post has been a bit of an emotion dump, but do you know what? I’ll probably feel better for having written it, so no apologies to anyone who has had to read it!

 

Can I love MPS?

The other day I watched my eldest, T, shooting zombies on a computer game and telling me enthusiastically about the gun he’d just got (ON THE GAME!) and how machine guns were the BEST. I sighed and wondered why with all the amazing toys and books we have around, it is simulated violence that wins out.

And then I had a bit of an epiphany.

His brother, Pudding, may laugh at cartoon violence but he will never get involved in blood-thirsty shoot-outs.

I read a lot of blogs about other disabilities and one of the discussions that I find both fascinating and thought-provoking is differing views of autism. Parents of children with autism often struggle to adjust to this different world and use strongly emotive language about it. Whereas adults with autism will point out that autism is a part of them and to say you hate autism is to say you hate them.

That discussion has often made me think about how I refer to MPS – I’ve frequently said I hate it and wonder what adults with the same condition would say about this. The trouble is, I guess, that when I write I often use MPS as short hand for ‘Mucopolysaccharidosis Type II (Hunter Syndrome) – the severe version’. It’s just simpler to write. And whilst there are adults with other types of MPS or the attenuated (milder) end of Hunter Syndrome, there are NO adults still living with severe Hunter Syndrome for me to ask.

If my son was diagnosed with cancer or caught a life-threatening illness, that would be less complicated – I could rail against that to my heart’s content. But MPS? Without MPS he would be a completely different boy. How can I hate something that is a part of him? And yet, how can I not hate something that will take him from me before he becomes an adult?

And yet, and yet, and yet. There are bonuses to having my boy with MPS. The lack of interest in violent computer games is just one of many.

He may never tell me he loves me but he will also never scream ‘I hate you!’ in the heat of an argument.

Pudding aged 3He may not ever find ‘the one’ special person in his life. But to him, everyone is special.

He will never get drunk and fall in through the door at 2am.

He may not join in nursery rhymes but he will also never disturb the whole street by playing thumpingly loud music.

He will never judge anyone based on their race, religion, gender or any other construct of society.

He will always need help with things but will never look at me with contempt because I can’t manage the settings on my phone.

He will never demand the latest toy craze because ‘everyone else has one’.

His uncomplicated joy in life is contagious.

And he may attract stares sometimes but he will also continue to bring many wonderful people into our lives.

There will always be the health aspects of MPS that I rail against and if I had a magic wand I would cure him in an instant. But there are things that I can celebrate about MPS as well. My emotions and thoughts around this topic will probably yo-yo though the months and years depending on what is happening around us. (I think another blog post is forming in my head about separating out the different aspects of health/disabilities and what it is that actually bothers me.)

But the one thing that will never change is that Pudding is my gorgeous boy and I love him with all my heart.

Speech

‘He still can’t talk!’

It was just a comment from a six-year-old outside Pudding’s school. Honest surprise that in the term since my little boy had left mainstream his speech hadn’t miraculously improved.

What that child didn’t know is that his words made me cry. It had been a pretty rubbish day for a variety of reasons so I guess his comment affected me more than it would normally.

But the hard truth is that Pudding says far less than he used to.

Speech and language therapy (SLT) was the first intervention that we had, starting when he was two years eight months, even before he was diagnosed. I had heard all the usual comments –  ‘Mine didn’t talk until he was three’, ‘He’ll probably start speaking in full sentences’ – but I knew that something wasn’t right. It wasn’t just that Pudding didn’t speak, but it was his lack of understanding too.

Early SLT sessions started working on trying to encourage two words being put together. Not just ‘More!’ but ‘More apple’ or ‘More juice’. We never got anywhere with that one!

Slowly though, his understanding of instructions improved and his vocabulary climbed to over 50 words. He even managed to work on his own sentences – in 2015 we were over the moon when he came out with ‘Where de moo?’ as the pantomime cow went backstage. Getting on the trial (which should in theory halt any deterioration in the brain) I thought that his language may continue to improve though I never hoped for any miracles.

In the last year or so I have lost that hope. Slowly, so slowly that we barely noticed, many of his words have been lost. He still chats away in his own language but recognisable words are fewer (with the exception of some random outliers – ‘Des a Bunny!’ shouted at top volume is a joy to hear).

Pudding wearing a crown of flowers and grass.

At the end of term we of course got a report from his new school and it was a lovely read. Apart from one sentence that suggested a target for him would be to use ‘Yes’ in appropriate situations. He actually did say ‘yes’ even before ‘no’ appeared (an early sign that he wasn’t an entirely normal child!) and continued to use it really well. Yet now, ‘no’ is often used for both.

He used to melt hearts with his enthusiastic ‘Dank Kyou!’ but he doesn’t say it anymore.

He used to shout ‘Duck!’ when Sarah and Duck came on TV.

I’m not even sure when I last heard ‘Mummy’.

I have come a long way with acceptance in the last year. It used to be that when I saw a young child chatting away to their Mum my heart would sink as I wished that I could have that with my Pudding. I know now that that will never happen. And the other week I was so proud of myself for feeling nothing but simple enjoyment as I overheard a conversation on the bus where a lady was answering every question under the sun from her inquisitive two-year-old. I marvelled that it didn’t hurt as it always had.

I can be content with my Pudding as he is, but I don’t want to lose any more of him. After the latest positive hearing test, I can’t stick my head in the sand and put his lack of speech down to hearing loss. It may still not be the start of the long slow Hunter Syndrome decline, but I have to face the possibility that it could be.

And that is a scary thought.

Facade of fortitude

In my last post I was really pleased to be able to share a documentary that featured Pudding and me. And even happier that it’s been shared and viewed by so many people. I’ve always said that the more times his lovely face is seen, the more chance there is that someone somewhere will recognise MPS the next time they see it.

What I have more issues with though is the comments that follow. Nobody has said anything horrid – quite the opposite in fact. I’ve written about this before. Strong. Brave. Amazing. Inspiring. All lovely things to say – but it doesn’t really feel like they describe me. In fact it makes me feel like a bit of a fraud. I can think of a few words that describe me better – grumpy, lazy, unreasonable, demanding, to name but a few!

Joking aside, just like anyone I’m a mixture of positive and negative aspects. Just an ordinary person trying to cope with this frankly sometimes shitty hand of cards that I’ve been dealt. You would all do the same. You really would.

Whilst I feel like I’m nothing special there are others in the MPS community who I think are. They are dealing with the same horrible diagnosis but with an extra helping of difficulty: money troubles; single parenthood or a troubled relationship; no family support; two or more children with the same condition. They are the amazing ones.

Maybe I have the words to express our story better than others but again I’m not special there either. I haven’t really written about the blogging event I went to last week (apart from just a smidgeon of gushing about the lovely Gethin Jones). But it was a brilliant evening celebrating the writing of many better people than me. It also served as a reminder that while Pudding’s condition is life-limiting, it is not at present life threatening. Two very lovely ladies stood out for me – Little Mama Murphy (writing about her profoundly disabled son), and Living with Lennon (Lennon sadly died in August last year). Both their awards were very well-deserved. They too are the amazing ones.

I’m ok with not being amazing. There will always be the times where I feel like a fraud or know I’m acting strong despite all the fear and anxiety churning along underneath ready to drown me. But for me, it’s enough to be enough. As long as I have the love and support around me that helps me to keep going. As long as I can make my gorgeous Pudding break out into irrepressible giggles. As long as I can feed my family and juggle those appointments. And as long as I remember to allow myself the occasional wobble without losing myself completely, then that’s fine with me.

Pudding in front of some greenery. He looks a little pensive or worried.Perhaps I should change the tag-line of my blog – Facing the future with a facade of fortitude…?!

Escaping the dark tunnel

The last few weeks I’ve felt a bit like I’ve walked out into a wide green meadow after a long dark tunnel. Whilst I was in the tunnel it didn’t seem too bad – I was coping with it – but it’s only once I’ve left it that I realised what I was missing.

As a SEND parent or carer it’s easy to neglect one’s own mental health. You spend so much time focusing on all the things that have to be done right now, and the worrying about the future, that you never realise that somewhere along the way you have lost yourself.

Pudding wearing a felt toy shopping basket on his head.Lately I’ve been trying to work out what’s changed to make me feel different. After all, Pudding is the same gorgeous trouble he always is. His diagnosis hasn’t changed. The future is still uncertain. It’s just my own attitude that has changed. Some of it has been down to things that I’ve been able to control, and some of it has been external factors.

I know I won’t always maintain this improvement so here’s my own personal ‘How To’ guide on how to escape that tunnel!

Sunshine: Obviously I’m not ominpotent and so this is a commodity that’s been in short supply lately! But there’s no denying that the weather makes a big difference to my mood. So when the sunshine appears make the most of it, even if it’s only to step outside the door for a moment, turn your face up to those magical rays, close your eyes and breathe.

Music: Music can have such power to move us, to trigger tears or uplift us. My new car has a working radio and CD player and I hadn’t realised how much I had missed this. Now I am rediscovering the joy of staying sat in the car once I reach my destination just because Ravel’s Bolero is too damn brilliant to turn off. (Obviously this only happens when I’m alone because otherwise…well…kids!). Whatever floats your boat – classical, show tunes, R ‘n’ B – indulge yourself.

Friends: A good laugh and chat with friends just can’t be beat.

Good food: Let’s face it, kid-friendly food is boring. A beetroot and mackerel salad, dark salted caramel chocolate, a special meal out – they can delight the senses and make me think life is worth living rather than just enduring.

Clearing out: Ticking things off the To Do list, clearing out a cupboard or divesting yourself of a responsibility that is stressing you out really can feel like a weight is lifted. Lately I’ve finally been getting round to doing some much-needed decluttering in order to eventually sell the house. The more I get done the better I feel.

Of course, the problem is that none of this really works when I’m in the depths of the tunnel. Music makes me cry, the thought of getting anything done sends me into a spiral of anxiety and I am so good at convincing myself that no-one could possibly want to spend time with me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo how to get past it? One thing at the MPS conference this weekend really helped to clarify my thinking about how things have been in the last few months. My favourite psychologist showed this diagram (and sorry, I don’t know who should be credited!). Essentially it shows that what you think about something affects how you feel which in turn informs behaviour, and so on. Round and round. Negative thoughts lead to negative feelings and behaviour that doesn’t help the situation. This was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me as it is so true: now something has happened to interrupt that cycle.

When Pudding starts throwing, instead of getting frustrated I have re-framed it in my mind, recognise it as communicating his need for attention, and can deal with it calmly. When we’re out and someone gives us ‘that look’, I can choose to think of it as the reaction of ignorance and prejudice rather than a comment on my parenting, not let it hurt me and continue enjoying our day. Of course, I ain’t going to be perfect at this all the time, but who is?!

But (and it is a big but) when you are stuck in that long dark tunnel none of this common sense advice actually makes a difference. If it’s so dark that you can’t even see your hands in front of you, it is unbelievably hard to step forwards.

In which case it is ok to ask for help. Whether that is medication, counselling, respite or even just a shoulder to cry on, anything that can help break that cycle of negativity will simply make you a better parent.

Life is hard enough, parenting is hard enough, let alone adding in all the extra complications of a SEND life. Asking for help is not an admission of failure.

So next time I hit a dip I will try to come back and read this. Perhaps it will help.