Carers Week: Finding a web of support

June 2024

To mark Carers Week (10-16 June), charity consultant widowed dad Josh Cass writes about how he coped as a carer for his wife when she was ill with cancer, thanks to a web of support from friends and family.

Nat and Josh

Our youngest has just got to that point where he is able to read independently (well, with a teensy bit of help) and he recently came home from school with a book on bugs. There was a whole section in it on spiders and webs. I have always been fascinated by webs, not just the ones spun by spiders, but the ones which connect us to one another. And while webs can cause entanglements, webs can also act like a safety net.

In the final months of Nat’s life, that idea of a web providing safety, support and connection was something she and I spoke about a great deal. Nat had been living with cancer for nearly three years when she died earlier this year. Sometimes, as Nat’s primary carer, but also as our two boys’ dad, I found myself talking about that web as much because I needed to believe it existed as much as Nat did. 

For Nat, I always got the sense that it was important to know that we – the boys and I – would be supported throughout those long and terrible days and months of her illness. But just as important was the reassurance that it gave her, as much as anything was able to, that we would be OK after her death and that she – through the relationships we have with friends and family – would not be forgotten. 

For me, that web was important because I needed to know that I wasn’t doing the journey alone. Obviously, I was doing it in partnership with Nat, but it’s incredibly challenging to operate as a team when one half of that team is living with a life-shortening condition. So, for me, knowing that there were people around who saw what was happening and could offer support made those months and years a little easier. 

Asking for help

Family and close friends were always there and asking what they could do to help. As Nat’s cancer closed in on her, I found myself able to ask for more practical help, but before then I just couldn’t bear the idea of living with an indefinite lasagne rota! Instead, I would ask them to remember the boys and so little treats would arrive mysteriously through the door – magazines, yummy snacks, little things which would provide distraction and amusement for a little while for us all. 

The other thing I needed from those around me was to hear words of support – that they were sorry that we as a family were having to go through this, that we were doing a good job, to keep going, and most importantly, to not doubt the decisions and choices we were making. I found it so easy to doubt myself throughout the years of cancer so to hear those words were really important for me as a carer as I navigated the complexities of Nat’s care, the stresses and anxieties the boys experienced as a result of the illness, as well as more mundane, day-to-day parenting issues. 

Since Nat died, we – the boys and I – have been consciously and unconsciously adjusting to our new reality as a family. That for me has meant learning to draw friends and family in, saying yes to offers of dinners or childcare when in the past I might have hesitated. But it has also meant choosing to be available for the boys and creating some stability and certainty after so long living our lives on a 24-hour loop. And it has meant being able to listen to our youngest as he masters reading, knowing that Nat would have given anything to have heard him read that book.

So this Carers Week, please, if you know a family living with a life-shortening condition, reach out to them, tell them they are doing an amazing job, and maybe send them a voucher for a takeaway, if you can. 

Thanks so much to Josh for sharing his thoughts this Carers Week. You can read more blogs by Josh here.

Find out more about Carers Week.