“We definitely needed that break. It proved that we can do it on our own. The three of us.”
Grandmother, Gillian, told us she was ‘over the moon’ about taking her granddaughters away this summer. After a difficult few years, it was the first time the three had been away on their own, courtesy of the YHA project 90, a scheme providing breaks to families in celebration of YHA’s 90th anniversary.
Gillian is bright as she tells us how the girls went off to school happily this morning, on their first day back after the summer holidays. Plans for the rest of the day involve ironing, and getting the house organised with the girls out for the day. It’s a regular household scene in the first week of September, but it’s been a tough few years for Gillian, whose husband passed away suddenly just before the pandemic hit.
“The day my husband died, I had a heart attack.” Gillian explains that what she experienced that day is known as broken heart syndrome, after being her husband’s carer throughout their marriage. “We were together 24/7 for 42 years. When he died it was a massive, massive thing to me.”
Concerns about the pandemic alongside being the sole carer for her granddaughters created new worries. “I am frightened in case I get covid. For the girls mainly. And you know if I got covid, who would have the girls, where would the girls go if anything happened to me?
“I’ll do shopping once a week now, whereas one time I would go every day. I still haven’t been on a bus since he died. It’s just the way covid and everything made me feel.”
There has been lots of support though, from the wider family, friends and the Kinship care group they belong to. Gillian’s close friends from the group were also supported by us to have a break of their own, alongside Gillian’s – to make their own family memories, but also there for each other on this first milestone break.
“If they needed any help I would help with the twins, and if I needed help, they would help me as well. They’re really good. You know, where I’m friends with them, and the girls get on really, really well. It was nice for the girls to have somebody there to play with as well. They’re really nice people.”
And there’s been family time on their own too, with early morning walks for just the three of them, as well as an eager start to the holiday. “We went early and dropped the case off. I took the girls to the park and we stayed there until everybody else turned up as well.”
The break offered an opportunity for Gillian. Days at the beach, at the park, relaxing at the on-site café and laughing with the staff. It has helped restore some of the confidence that she’d lost over the last 19 months, leaving her and her granddaughters feeling refreshed. And having the space to grieve.
“I needed that break away from being stuck in the house in a rut. It was something that I knew I had to do, and I hadn’t done it, but I’d been given the opportunity to do it.”
“When I stood on the beach, I broke down. Whenever we used to go to the beach when our kids were little, we would stand for hours just watching the waves. It’s just so relaxing and I burst into tears because that was what we would have stood and done. But I think I’ve proved to myself that I can do it now.”
There is no doubt that the break has been a big step for Gillian, a turning point in her changed world. Just 2 nights away gave her the courage to try new activities with the girls this summer, supported by the kinship group, including a trip to Cadbury world, a safari park, and another overnight stay. And there are new plans for the future now too.
“We probably will try to go away next year. But I know I can do it, because I’ve done that Berwick trip. It’s proved that I can go back somewhere where I went with my husband. It’s very important for just me and the girls to go away on holidays. We need to have that break from the house, and from the rest of the family and friends.”
And as the routine of home life returns with the girls going back at school, this is a welcome sight after the home-schooling of lockdown. Gillian will have time to herself again, and rediscover more of herself.