The heaviness of loss, to finding Christmas light!

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Christine had suffered a series of significant losses – her two brothers and her dear mother had all passed on within a short space of time, and as her mum’s full-time carer, when her mum passed away Christine was left with a huge void in her life.  This was an incredibly difficult time – with great uncertainty about the future.  This is when Christine found our Employment Specialist Chantelle – who became her Christmas angel!  Chantelle worked with Christine to update her CV and within 14 hours of applying for a temporary Christmas job at a well-known high street retailer, Christine had attended an interview and been offered a permanent position!  Here Christine tells us her own uplifting story…

How you hear me now is not how I was back in January last year; last January was a dark place for me.  I had looked after my mum for five years whilst she suffered with vascular dementia; three and a half of those my mum lived with me so I could give her 24-hour round the clock care.  I was fortunate that my husband 100% supported me, but my daughter also has her own health challenges – nocturnal epilepsy - and fits when she sleeps.  This all caused so much constant worry for me.

Looking after mum was full on.  She passed on during Christmas last year.  It was a terrible time.  On top of the loss, we had to wait six weeks to say our goodbyes as there was a backlog due to COVID.  All the arrangements were in place, but we couldn’t say our goodbyes until the end of the January.  It just felt like forever. 

Just before my mum passed on, my two brothers had died as well – just two weeks apart from each other.  I was just grateful that due to the dementia my mum wasn’t aware what happened to her two sons.  I was so busy with mum, I didn’t have time to properly grieve for my brothers.

Mum was bed ridden for the last two years of her life – there were no shopping or holidays for me – such luxuries just didn’t exist.  I had no social life at all as I just didn’t have time to meet friends or go out as mum needed 24/7 care.  We did have carers, but they only stayed for 30 minutes, and there wasn’t enough time for anything; maybe a cup of tea.  I also couldn’t sleep properly as I was always aware of mum needing me, and even now I can only sleep for 3 hours as my body has got so used to that much sleep.  It was emotionally really hard going – anyone can do the physical caring – but staying mentally strong is tough.  But I didn’t want my mum going in a care home.  I wanted to look after her at home.  I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

When mum passed on, I went from hardly any sleep – and providing 24-hour care cleaning, changing clothes, breakfast, washing, laundry, medication, lunch, more laundry, changing her pads, medication, dinner, etc – to nothing.  At the very end mum was so poorly she had to go into hospital and when I came back from the hospital it was a massive shock to my system.  I had hours to spare but I didn’t know how to fill them.  I tried to keep myself occupied, but there’s only so many times you can clean something that doesn’t need cleaning anymore. 

I called my GP and said, “I can’t do this – I can’t just do nothing – I need to do something”.  I’d finished my housework at the latest by 9am.  Then I’d just find myself sitting in the front room until 5.30pm when my husband came in.  We didn’t have much money – my husband was the only breadwinner – so when energy costs went sky high we could cope, but we didn’t have lots of money to spend on going out and doing other things.

Mum’s caring company said I could have a job with them – I even did the 2-day caring course – but it felt too soon, as seeing someone like my mum would just trigger me.

The GP referred me to a counsellor and I was signed up for a 10-week course.  The counsellor just asked me what I wanted to talk about and I said I wanted to be occupied.  I’d even spent time getting my dog Alfie trained up as a therapy dog – because mum loved being around him so much.  But that wasn’t enough to keep me occupied long term.  The counsellor asked if I’d considered going back to work.  I didn’t want voluntary work - I’d done that, and it hadn’t worked for me.  However, the time felt right to consider paid employment, which would also help with the household bills.

That’s how I was introduced to Twining Enterprise and Chantelle, my Employment Specialist.  I felt instantly comfortable with Chantelle – I only wanted to work with her.

Chantelle was so professional, and I found myself being able to open up to her.  I think it’s her personality.  I felt like I only had to tell her what I wanted to.  I didn’t feel the pressure from her to say anything more.  She’d be fine with whatever I chose to share – so I felt like things were on my terms and this felt safe.  I’m good at keeping my feelings to myself.  I don’t want to burden people with how I feel - I don’t even want to open up to my family.  I hold things in, and I don’t let things out.  So, professionally, Chantelle was really good for someone like me – I felt there was no pressure to open up if I didn’t want to.  Chantelle asked me what the best job I ever had was – so I told her about a market stall selling ladies fashion that I used to run.  I absolutely loved working on that stall – sourcing the clothing, taking it to the market, meeting the customers and re-stocking for next time.

Shortly after working on my CV with Chantelle, she messaged me asking if I could meet up sooner than we’d planned as she had something that might interest me.  It turned out to be a temporary Christmas job at a massive high street ladies fashion retailer – I couldn’t believe it!

Chantelle just really got on with things – there was no waiting around.  We filled the application form out that afternoon.  Chantelle helped me by doing the mechanics whilst I told her what to say about my work experience.  I heard back almost straight away with a link to interview times – but there was a glitch in the system and I couldn’t book an interview slot.  I’m not one to panic so I just decided to phone head office and they told me to ring my local branch, which I did, and I ended up speaking to the store manager!  He asked me when I was available for an interview – so I said I was flexible – and he said 10am the next morning!  All I needed to worry about was what to wear!

During the interview I wasn’t nervous, because I’m good with people, but I still kept the mindset that this was my first paid job interview in a long time and it would probably just end up being good experience, but wouldn’t necessarily lead anywhere.  But then a funny thing occurred… during the interview they pushed the temporary positions to one side and asked me whether I’d like to be doing one week on and one week off.  She said to me “you know this is a permanent position though” – and so I asked, “Is this a paid job?” and when she said yes, I just started crying!

I’ve been working there two to three weeks now and now they’re already relying on me.  They’ve asked me to keep an eye on the new people.  I feel like I’ve been there for ages!  I love it there and I’m getting paid too!

Within 14 hours of putting the application online, I’d done the interview and got the job!  And a permanent one at that!  I keep saying to my husband… “I still feel like I’m dreaming”… because it all feels so good, it feels so nice.  People ask me how I’m getting on and I say “I love it”.  I never thought it would happen – to be told you have an interview and then be told you have a permanent job, all within a matter of hours, is just so amazing.  My husband didn’t even believe me!  When I called Chantelle she said “stop it” she didn’t believe me that it was permanent.  The difference in how I’ll feel this Christmas, compared to last Christmas, is huge!

I feel like I’m in a bubble at the minute.  It feels like a dream.  I can’t believe how quick it has all happened.  I feel like I’m in heaven.  I love going to work and I’m getting paid for it too.  Thank you to Chantelle for being there for me – getting on with things, supporting me, and letting me share as much or as little as felt comfortable.

Now Chantelle is working with my daughter too – she’s down because of my mum and her medication – so my daughter is now with Chantelle.  My daughter has seen how happy I am now and she’s hoping to get some of that same Chantelle magic.  Chantelle is also still providing me with support on the job and she’s now looking into other financial reductions I might be entitled to.  She really is my Christmas angel!

If I could sum up my experience over the last year, I’d say it’s like being down in the deepest darkest hole and then suddenly this massive rush hits you – like being struck by lightning - and you’re up in the heavens.  Now I’m working with this retailer I feel I’m able to fulfil any of my dreams – some that were not possible before this job.  I think in life there is always a light if you want to go towards that light and find a way out.  If I’d given up, I wouldn’t have got to where I’ve got to, today.

To anyone reading my story - if you feel like I did, or you are going through the same situation, please don't give up, it's okay.  All it takes is for you to ask for that help.

I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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