Laura Carlin: “I’m doing Sober October for my dad”

Image courtesy of Laura Carlin | Facebook

Laura Carlin did not have an easy childhood. At 16, Laura’s dad passed away from cancer. As if the grief wasn’t enough for a young girl and her family to deal with, two days later her mother was on the brink of death too. Carlin shares with InQuire her story of loss, heartbreak, and bravery.

It was Christmas Day, 2009 when Laura first recalls seeing her father ill. Although her mother and father were separated, she grew up in a large and loving family. It is not hard to imagine that Christmas was a warm and happy day for the Carlin’s, making her dad’s illness even harder to deal with. “He was just a completely different person that day, which was hard because Christmas was his favourite day.” At the time, they were unaware of the cause of his illness, but seeing a loved one suffering on Christmas day was more than enough to unsettle the family, leaving them confused and worried. This was, unfortunately, only the first of a difficult series of events that year.

Laura’s dad got progressively worse and five months later he was diagnosed with stage three bone cancer. It spread quickly and aggressively. The harder cancer hit, the harder it affected the whole family. “My older brother stuck to himself which was really upsetting at times.” It was not long before Laura’s dad was referred to St Raphael’s Hospice. Leaving Laura and her family in a state of emotional purgatory. “My mum would have to drive us to the hospital all the time, every day.” Laura expressed that even going home to have dinner or go to bed was the hardest part of the day. “I always wanted to stay,” She told me. This left their days scattered and disoriented, with the desire to be close to their dad but the unavoidable continuation of the world around them.

Every day got harder. “I just remember seeing my dad in so much pain,” Carlin told me. A heart-breaking state that no child should ever have to see their parents in. At times, it seemed like things were moving on as normal. “It was a weird time. I attended school like all the other kids, they gave me a pass to allow me to get out of doing homework and things like that. But things like that were so important to my dad so I had to do everything like a normal student.”

“At the time, you were just waiting for it to happen. Death. It was a horrible feeling, knowing that pain was coming, and not knowing when.” Laura and her family wanted to prepare for the morbid and inevitable grief that was fast approaching them but that was made near impossible when not wanting “to pass up what little time you may have left” with the person you love most.

Image courtesy of Laura Carlin

In July 2010, Laura’s father passed away. The night before, Laura and her siblings were home after a long night with their dad at the hospice. At the time, her mother was pregnant with her partners’ children. The next morning Laura woke up to her sister telling her that their mum had gone into labour. Her mother, knowing their father only had moments left, drove her children to the hospice and herself to the hospital to give birth. Her dad passed away that day.

As if the intensity and pain of saying goodbye to her father were not enough. Two days later, her mother was still in hospital and had lost 7/8ths of her blood. “The doctors told us she wasn’t going to make it.” The on-call doctor was hours away, leaving a trainee doctor to try and save her life. “I couldn’t bear to think that I could lose both of my parents in a matter of days.” Once again, Laura and her family were left in a state of emotional disarray, waiting on what seemed like another inevitable death. Luckily, the young trainee doctor saved her life. Laura still had her mum. The kids had to be separated. With their mum still recovering in hospital and their dad gone, they were divided amongst family members. This made things difficult. Even then, Laura knew they had to come together. “I’ll never forget what the nurse at St Raphael’s Hospice told me: ‘What you’re feeling is unique and no one else will feel the same, but you’re not alone.’” This mantra of not feeling ‘alone’ is something Laura and her family took wholeheartedly, and something she still repeats today. “Even though we were separated we’d check up on each other constantly. The whole experience made us really close. We tell each other everything now.”

Seven years later and Laura Carlin, the Kent Union’s Vice-President (Postgraduate Experience), courageously talks to me about her third-year doing Sober for October in honour of her dad. As she sat across from me telling her story, she radiated bravery.

Since coming to the University of Kent, Laura has fallen in love with charity. After a friend dragged her to her first Raise and Give (RAG) meeting, she was hooked. “Doing charity work has just become second nature to me now, I don’t think twice about it.” Her passion for helping others led her to become RAG’s vice-president during the 2018/19 term. Many students are aware of Laura’s work for charity and the impressive amount of money she’s managed to raise. But for Laura, Sober for October is not just raising money for any charity. It is about helping people like her. Families like hers.

Image courtesy of Laura Carlin

Macmillan Cancer Support launched the ‘Go Sober for October’ challenge in 2013 and they raise thousands of pounds yearly. “It means so much to be raising money for Macmillan because they help the families that mine once was and they help the patients that my dad once was.” She informed me that to those families assisted through Macmillan support make a world of difference. There are around 165,000 cancer deaths in the UK every year and what you could spend on a drink on a night out is enough to pay for a call to help the families get through the loss of their loved ones. “I might not be able to bring my dad back, but I can help others go through what me and my family went through. Because seeing my little brother go through depression, seeing a seven-year-old lose the will to live, kills you and Macmillan helps people get through that grief.”

This is Laura’s third year doing the challenge. She completes it successfully every year without fault and will continue to for the foreseeable future. Upon asking why she felt so strongly about a sobriety challenge rather than any other, she informed me that as well as honouring her dad, being an advocate for not drinking at university is important. There has always been an Americanised drinking culture that surrounds university and its students. Binge or excessive drinking has been a long-term problem that has ended in damaged physical and mental health problems. The first sober October she did was admittedly very difficult. October is the time for pre-drinking, society initiations, and exciting events to help you forget about looming deadlines. There is constant pressure to drink. “This just made it more of a challenge for me, from then on I was in it”. Laura Carlin is a role model. After everything she went through, she has continuously picked herself up and carried on. After her father passed away, her mother was in the hospital and her family was split up. She still managed to keep going. One thing that stuck with me when talking with Laura is when she said this: “Pain is pain and you can’t quantify pain, but it doesn’t mean you have to deal with it alon