Remembering Abi on her 16th birthday 

Having just seen Abi’s 16th birthday come and go, I realised it never gets easier. This is her fourth birthday in heaven.

Abi’s 13th birthday was ten months after she died, in 2013. It felt unbearable. She was so looking forward to becoming a teenager, she’d already been thinking about what she might do.

We had a diamond paperweight engraved with her age and placed it on her memorial, along with balloons and flowers. We felt helpless as we should be celebrating, not mourning.

Then her 14th and 15th birthdays came and went. We always seem to get hit by seasonal bugs about this time of year, so I remember last year passed without too much stress as we were all ill.

Each time it is hard as I’m reminded of everything from the pregnancy, the birth, the love, the joy, the sorrow… and watching her youngest brother playing is a reminder of the innocence of those early years with her.

Then turning sixteen. Sixteen! Her friends have changed, they are growing up, as they should. Abi should be giving us grief of a very different kind!

So what to do. As ever I began to withdraw as the day approached. Not knowing which way to turn. It’s hard to buy cards and gifts with no place for them to go…

A lovely blogging friend suggested marking the day by giving the children a present each. At Christmas, we give each other gifts as a way to remember the love of Jesus, so why not do something similar?

Our older children sensed gloom, I felt hopeless, but I needed a thing to do. So on the morning of Abi’s birthday I snuck off to the shops and bought them all a gift. With people Christmas shopping in their droves now it was the first weekend of advent, I was focusing on buying flowers and gifts for my dead child. I pretended otherwise to the cashier who chatted away about Christmas.

I bought something for me and Dad too and some beautiful bright yellow flowers for Abi. I bought some wrapping paper with cupcakes on it and that afternoon when the children were all a bit bored and tetchy we opened them together.

wp-1480432074903.jpgWe also had a cake. We sang happy birthday next to Abi’s picture, our toddler knowing exactly who Abi was and happy with singing to her picture (and his eyes closely on the cake!). The baby enjoyed her first taste of cake too.

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Abi’s birthday always seems to offer us pink, purple and blue sunsets

The gift sharing went really well and I think is a positive tradition that Abi would approve of and that could give us a consistent way to mark her birthday.

Do you do something similar to mark your angel child’s birthday?

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A letter to you on your sixteenth birthday 

Abi

I pause before even writing a word as the thought of you turning 16 in heaven breaks my heart all over again.

I’m sorry sweetheart. I know you are safe, I feel that, but I feel so lost without you near me. You’re the one who is safe, I’m the one running scared.

My mind and body are a bit stressed out. All the love you should have had, all the time, the energy I should have spent on you is bundled up inside me because it’s had nowhere to go.

I wanted you to meet your new baby brother and sister. Your baby brother is so much like you I wonder if God just gave us the same soul. The baby, too, is happiness itself. It’s as though we’ve been given these extra joyful souls to help us live with the sadness of you being gone. And we feel it every day. We laugh, we have fun, but underneath it all we are missing you.

Your sister misses you, deep down, she just hasn’t worked out how to express it. I can imagine that the pain is so great that it’s far too complicated to face. There have been so many times when she’s needed you, for company, advice, support. Growing up is hard and I know you would have been a great big sister to her. Sharing your clothes and makeup, teaching her hairstyles, sticking up for her at school…

Your brother talks of you often and I know he thinks about you more. It’s too painful sometimes for him. The realisation of what grief means, how that makes his eyes instantly water and puts a lump in his throat. He loves you still and believes Jesus is looking after you.

Me and Dad are doing OK. At times it feels we’ve clung on to our family by our fingernails, but as long as there’s something to cling to it is worth it. We are complete worrywarts now, but that’s understandable given you left us so suddenly.

Your friends are all grown up now too, all seeing their 16th birthday this coming year. It hurts a little to see them getting on and growing up without you but I know you are never far from their thoughts.

We just all miss you so much. I can still hear you. I try to imagine what you would say or do. Would you be a second degree black belt by now? Would you know what career you wanted? What experiences would you have had?

What I do know is that you would have planned your 16th birthday the moment you turned 15! I expect it would be a slap up meal or a party of some kind. there’d be a big cake, lots of friends, music and laughter.

But it’s not to be.

On your birthday, we will probably carry on like every other day. There’s no need to buy in food or balloons and decorations. There’s no need to do anything other than visit the place where we laid your ashes. There aren’t many days where I wouldn’t quite happily join you, yet I somehow strive on. This life can be so very hard but there is so much to live for, I’m not entirely sure what yet but I feel it must go on.

So keep your light shining through us, and through everyone who knew you. We love you so much darling.

Happy birthday.

Mum

XxxxxxxxxxxxxxxX

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The expectations of a grieving mother on special days

Now that Mother’s Day has passed, I feel I can exhale. I have a little more breathing space (until Father’s Day which is another tough one). I posted on Facebook yesterday about how hard I find the run of ‘special (bloody) days’ I face. It feels like I’m charging at each one like it’s a brick wall and, by Mother’s Day, I simply go splat!

If I’m honest, I have always found ‘special days’ difficult. As an introvert who doesn’t like ‘fuss and nonsense’ I have developed an association with attention on me being difficult. Difficult perhaps because I don’t like letting my guard down. Difficult perhaps because I don’t like showing my emotions. Difficult perhaps because I’m simply protecting myself from disappointment or hurt…

My childhood, brought up in poverty, was still a good life and we appreciated what we had, but it doesn’t create much sense of anticipation either. Never expecting much, trying to ignore what others have that you don’t, being more thankful for a simple homemade cake than a big party and fuss, keeping a lid on your emotions…. It’s a humbling existence, which I’m not complaining about as I’d much rather have this than be the type of person to cry into my drink because I didn’t get the handbag I wanted.

Unfortunately, as a result, I find myself being irritable and grumpy on special days. I will brush off well wishes and shush people who try to be nice to me. It’s not something I’m proud of at all and I do try to be more open to accept love from others, even my husband and children, but it’s always with a tinge of feeling uncomfortable and wanting it all to be over! I will find myself deliberately busying myself with chores just to avoid the feeling that I must ‘sit down and be Queen for a day’. I clearly have no idea how to be kind to myself!

As I’ve got older and a heck of a lot wiser, I’ve realised I’m not a bad person for being like this. I’m just not the type of person to court attention or expect a big fuss. So, with any special day like my birthday or Mother’s Day I almost ‘vant to be alone’… as Greta Garbo once said.

The expectations of performing a role or being some kind of ‘perfect’, special person make me cringe. For me, rather than feel awesome, days like these always remind me of my failings… of actually not being a ‘perfect’ mother, or not being the ‘perfect’ wife. And then I make myself feel worse as I’m irritated at not throwing myself into it and enjoying some much-needed attention! Attention I know, deep down, I do deserve but just can’t cope with.

Recently, I’ve come down hard on my older children (disciplining your other children after you’ve lost a child is an emotional nightmare, but it’s proven to be essential and worthy of a whole other post, like this one).

I’ve been unpopular. I’ve heard my name shouted and horrible words said in anger. I’ve beaten myself up as I feel tired and emotional, always trying to hold it together yet always managing to give way to my frustration, all the while trying to work out if I’m disciplining as a caring parent or just taking out my grief on them. Failing, failing, failing….

Of course, I’m not really failing, but since Abi died, the expectations of special days adds yet more pressure to me.

Now it’s the same but harder still, as I feel the expectations of grief on these days, as well as on Abi’s special days. I want to hide from the world and get stressed about how I’m feeling. Due to how I am, I know it’s no one’s pressure but mine. I clearly like to beat myself up!

This Mother’s Day was tricky but also revealed a lot to me about why I am the way I am and what I am thankful for – and hence inspired this reflective post.

Continue reading “The expectations of a grieving mother on special days”

A new way to mark the anniversary of our daughter’s death

Another year has rolled around since Abi was last here… on 6th February we were forced to remember the day she collapsed. On 10th February, we thought of the moment we sat by her bedside as the doctor turned off her life support and said goodbye. But mostly, we were reminded of the time when she was ‘ripped’ from our lives.

Three years since we last saw her, heard her, held her, smelt her, laughed with her, kissed her…

Each anniversary has been quite different.

The first was maddening, filled with panic and desperation to cling onto every single moment of grieving her. But then the hope of a new baby was just weeks away to distract us from our misery. Our rainbow baby arrived just two weeks later.

Continue reading “A new way to mark the anniversary of our daughter’s death”

I refuse to give up on Christmas even though I’m grieving

When I’ve looked at the search terms people use to find my blog, my heart aches. These are just the Christmas-related search terms for my blog this week:

‘Coping with the loss of a child, on what should be their first Christmas’
‘Christmas loss of a child’
‘Christmas cards appropriate to send after losing a child’
‘How to get through our first Christmas since my daughter was killed’
‘First Christmas after the loss of a child’
‘Coping with death of a child at Christmas’
‘Coping through Christmas without my daughter’

These words have been typed by real people, parents, living with real and raw grief, most likely in the middle of the night when they can’t sleep, through tears, in desperation for some website somewhere to tell them just how – how on earth – they can get through the next six weeks in the run up not to mention the actual days of celebration without their child. So many parents feeling suffocated by and lost in the hype and pressure to be excited.

Christmases past

Last year, I wrote this post about how to celebrate Christmas after the death of your child, which some readers may find useful, it’s certainly been read many times already these past few weeks.
Continue reading “I refuse to give up on Christmas even though I’m grieving”

Family dynamics after the death of a child

We have just returned from a holiday in the New Forest, in Hampshire, UK. We went last year our first proper family holiday since Abi died, and found it to be a very healing place to go. We found the thought of visiting our usual holiday spots simply too difficult without Abi with us.

A big part of grief is realizing that so many favourite places become out of bounds, at least for the first few years. In fact, the whole concept of ‘holiday’ has changed for us now. We find it hard to plan ahead, to choose destinations, to get excited about going anywhere without all our children with us.

This year, we invited one of our daughter’s friends with us. She’s a lovely girl who has been friends with my daughter for many years through primary school. Even though they now go to different secondary schools, they have remained close. Continue reading “Family dynamics after the death of a child”

Why we watched the solar eclipse, 20th March 2015

Losing a child changes you. It’s changed me certainly, and my thoughts and opinions about ‘what matters’. The solar eclipse wasn’t something I’d bothered to get excited about (it’s hard to be excited about anything these days), but I was surprised about how that opinion was turned around.

However, when yesterday, the day before the eclipse, my daughter came home from school and told me that her teacher would be keeping her class inside for an extra five minutes so that no one looked at the sun (and potentially damaged their eyes), I felt a knot of irritation rise up in me. This event (which in my eyes was a bit of a reminder from the heavens about just how amazing the universe is) is one of those one-offs that is unlikely to occur in my lifetime again, or even my children’s (though don’t even get me started on what I now term a ‘lifetime’; living to old age is something I don’t take for granted anymore, for anyone!).

My daughter asked if she could stay home to watch the eclipse or at least to experience it, as she’d be trapped in a stuffy classroom with no view. It was due to happen between 8.30am and 9.30am, and I thought, why not! I agreed that, if the sky was clear in the morning, both my daughter and son could stay off school to watch/experience the eclipse and I’ll take them in straight after.

I must admit I was kind of expecting a cloudy start so it’d be a fuss about nothing, but no, the sky was beautifully clear first thing and the sun was shining away. We all got ready and my daughter began to have doubts: ‘what if I get into trouble for not going in?’, ‘will they believe me?’, ‘will it be awkward going late into lesson?’. So then I began to waver too (being decisive in grief is near impossible, I’ve known myself to deliberate far too long over even simple decisions like whether to have jam or marmalade!).

I could see other families and people going about their daily routine. Other than a rather excited Brian Cox and some weather women scattered about the country, people around me seemed to be unfazed by all the hype.

But then this event is incredibly rare. It’s our moon casting a shadow over our earth, blocking out our sun. Who cares about school rooms and offices? (Although I did say that if my house was on fire, I’d very much rather the firemen were at work rather than sitting around watching the eclipse!)

My son decided he wanted to get to school on time. By 8.50am, the eclipse wasn’t really visible and was taking its time, he wanted to be at school. So I took him and came back to my daughter. She was scrolling on her phone, clearly getting bored by the ‘non-event’, so I told her to put it away and watch the facts that the people on TV were telling us about what we were seeing. He did some useful demonstrations about how the eclipse occurs and why in a million years from now we won’t have eclipses anymore as the moon will move further away from us (strange thought!). We also discovered we could use a colander to view the sun safely, so we grabbed one and went into the garden.

Again, not much happened for a while but then a patch of very light cloud came over the sun and the sky seemed to go dusky. The birds all went a bit crazy and flew back to the trees. Everything felt very still and peaceful.

We were able to take photos of the eclipse and could view it through the images on our screens, and with the cloud over the sun it was easier to look at (although we were very careful!). Our pictures weren’t amazing as we were totally unprepared but I think we managed to capture the moment well enough.

As soon as we’d got a few pictures and the eclipse started passing over, I took my daughter up to school with a note to explain why she was late. She was a bit self-conscious, after all, it’s not a usual reason to get out of class, but then I wasn’t about to make up something just because the school couldn’t be bothered to use this event as a way to educate all the children on the wonders of our solar system.

I vaguely recall the last eclipse, in 1999. I had just got married and my husband remembers going up the hill to watch it, along with a number of other people, all with special specs in hand. I didn’t go. I can’t even remember why. I was probably working. I probably thought ‘what a load of fuss and nonsense, I’ve got deadlines’.

Says it all really, doesn’t it.

I hope that in years to come my daughter will remember the morning she went in late to watch the eclipse with her mum and baby brother in the garden. It’s not the most amazing life-changing moment, but it’s far more memorable than being sat in a dark IT classroom pressing buttons on a keyboard.

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The bright blue skies became dusky and still
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The moon and the sun in almost perfect alignment, looking rather magical peeking out through the clouds
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A memorable moment when the skies changed from bright to dull

And then our world fell apart

It is already the second anniversary of this horrible day. Two years of trying to live a new life without Abi with us, yet she still feels so close. I wanted to reshare this as it sums up the day our world fell apart.

Chasing dragonflies

It is exactly a year ago today that Abi came downstairs looking pale and complained she felt really ill. Exactly a year since our world was turned upside down and inside out.

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I never really imagined what this day would be like, despite people telling me ‘all the anniversaries will be hard’.

Anniversaries? Anniversaries are a time to celebrate or commemorate something. A time to think of only that person or event, which you can forget about the rest of the year.

It’s not an anniversary of a year without Abi, it’s an anniversary of the day our entire world was shattered by something so totally unpredictable and traumatic.

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As the sun sets on New Year’s Eve, I see hope for tomorrow

As per my post earlier this month, most people will understand that this time of year is very difficult for me and trying to cope with Christmas festivities without Abi is something I (and my family) have again had to bear and get through.

New Year’s Eve is equally painful. I don’t even want to wish others a happy New Year as it feels so hard to say when I feel such grief that Abi isn’t here with us. I want to turn off all the social media updates. But I do wish us all not just a happy new year but a joyful one. One where we can all, despite our various problems and sorrows, see some joy in our lives this year.
Continue reading “As the sun sets on New Year’s Eve, I see hope for tomorrow”

Coping with Christmas after the death of your child

I’m aware I’ve not written since Abi’s birthday, and there’s a reason.

Like last year, I’ve found myself lost in a blur of grief and unable to write at all. It’s almost like there is so much to say that it’s impossible to write clearly. Sometimes I find that life is back in focus and I’m getting on with things, but then I’m reminded – constantly, what with the coming of Christmas and my duty as mum to make sure my other children feel able to ‘get excited’ – that my darling Abi is dead. That she’ll never open another present. That her Christmases are memories to me now.

Continue reading “Coping with Christmas after the death of your child”