Having the courage to believe

This week, I attended my 8-year-old son’s parents’ evening. Like many parents at this time of year, I was keen and somewhat nervous to see how he was getting on.

In the past, before my eldest child died, I was guided a lot by the grades my children achieved. Abi, my eldest child, always did very well. Effortlessly getting good grades due to her natural affinity to the school system and learning. My second child was similar; a good all rounder with a creative flair. My son has found learning at school harder to adjust to. As one of the youngest in his class, he was at a slight disadvantage to his peers. He’s bright enough and loves maths, but he’s not keen on writing or reading in a structured way. He tends to worry about getting things wrong and will simply ‘switch off’ when he can’t handle something. Yet he’s happy and his confidence in himself is growing all the time.

When Abi died, my perspective on many things changed. Everything seemed insignificant… of course it was… but it was such a big thing to adjust to that no one warned me about. I suddenly didn’t know what to care about anymore. But as their routines didn’t stop, I needed to somehow find a way to continue to support my children’s schooling. Our children need to see that we care about all the things they do.

Three years on, I’m in a fairly happy place with this now; my focus centres on my children’s overall happiness and wellbeing. The grades don’t really matter. Clearly, I see the value of learning essentials such as English and mathematics, but I’m not fussed about them achieving the ever-pressured targets set by the government. I firmly believe in a rounded education that includes sports, arts, faith, hobbies and just plain old having fun.

It was something the teacher said that struck me the most about his progress. He was sat at a table with his peers and they were talking about God and Jesus. Everyone except my son said they didn’t believe in Him, they made jokes about Jesus and giggled about it. It wasn’t a deep theological debate this was just 8-year-olds having a chat. But my son went against their opinions and admitted he believed in God, and he said this with simple and honest courage in his convictions. The teacher noticed this and commented on it to us.

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Back-to-school emotions

I love September. It’s a bit like my New Year. September is usually a lovely month weatherwise, I feel refreshed after the holidays and I’ve usually had a spring clean in readiness for the new school term.

But I’m deflated this year. Last year was different, odd. I was about three months pregnant and completely focused on that. The pregnancy hormones and tiredness kept me occupied.

This year, I have my healthy baby who brings laughter to our house daily. Yet this year my grief emotions are surfacing again for new reasons.

My second daughter left primary school in July and tomorrow will be her first day at secondary school, the same school Abi attended for just six months before she died.

I remember us taking photos of her. That ‘first day’ photo. I have to do this again, see my daughter dressed up ready to start this big new stage in her life, just as Abi was.

Abi was so excited about growing up. She was awake early every morning for school, had everything ready. She spent months choosing her school bag, and deciding how to wear her hair. My other daughter hasn’t gone near any of her school stuff. She’s not interested in her bag or how she will look. She’s not looking forward to it one bit. Abi headed off to meet her friends an hour early! My other daughter wants me to walk with her. While she’s very mature for her age, she’s emotionally more attached to home and me, and her anxiety holds her back. I believe, though, that secondary school will be the making of her.

My stomach will be in knots for her and for the loss of Abi for some time to come, as she walks the path that Abi took for just six months… and when that time is surpassed, perhaps it will get easier for me as the experiences will be ones that Abi never got to live… It’s just another mountain to climb on this journey through grief.

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Abi on her first day at secondary school

Giving up the guilt about screen time

Screens – tablets, phones, computers, TVs, kindles – how much do you love yours?

I’m in the ‘love them a lot but hate them a little bit too’ group.

The use of smartphones and tablets in particular is such a contentious issue it seems, but we all still have them, and have come to rely on them and the technology they give us at our fingertips, even if we actually dislike it!

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Our joy and sorrow this Father’s Day

My heart can’t help but ache for my darling hubby as yet another Father’s Day arrives, his second without Abi.

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When we met, in 1996, I was dating his rather unsavory friend. It wasn’t serious and a bit of an experiment for me, which naturally didn’t work out. But what did work is that through him, I met the man with whom I would share my life.

I’d been single a short while when we met again by chance and, as we chatted, for the first time I noticed his kind, sparkling blue eyes. They say that the eyes are the window to the soul and I realized that for a long time I’d been looking for ‘love’ in the wrong places.

I saw him and something clicked in me. It was as though I knew the man before I’d even got to know him. It wasn’t the usual feeling of being swept away with supposed desire, or being tempted by swagger or materialism. It wasn’t even love at first sight. It was simply that I saw him and knew.

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An epiphany in the garden

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At the weekend, I had an epiphany.

As the weather was hot, we got out the paddling pool and spent time in the garden. The first time this year.

At first, the children were reluctant to join in (much to my hubbie’s annoyance as he’d spent the best part of the morning getting the pool up and filled). But it wasn’t long before the temptation of the cool water beckoned and they relaxed, got in and had a good splash around with dad.

For those minutes, I could hear nothing but squeals and laughter and, rather than hush them up, I wanted to turn it up! It was like music to my ears.

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It’s our crystal wedding anniversary!

Today, my husband and I celebrate 15 years of wedded bliss. 15 years, wow!

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I can still remember how I felt back then, 15th May 1999; how nervous I was on our wedding day, but how certain I was too.

We always mark our anniversaries. We think it’s our special day to remind ourselves where our love started and to celebrate all we’ve been through together – good and bad.

We give each other cards and sometimes gifts if it’s a special number. We write loving messages in our cards to say those things we don’t always find time to say (which now get a snigger from our children!). We’ve certainly had our challenges over the years, but even when we’ve been pushed to near breaking point we have kept tight the invisible thread that holds us together.

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What a baby sock taught me about grief

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This tiny sock, apart from being utterly cute, revealed a lot to me about how my shopping habits have changed over the past 14 months.

Abi had not long turned 12 and, now that she was at secondary school, she had become more interested in fashion; New Look was a particular favourite shop of hers.

It was great shopping with her; typical mum/daughter time like I imagined when she was little. I loved our sprees and would happily spend money on clothes for her as it was a pleasure to see her growing up. She was great company. But then she died…

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Surviving grief

Surviving my bereavement is not something I feel I’ve achieved by any means, yet, but I am beginning to see that in order to survive the loss of my child, I’ve needed to find and maintain a balance between grieving and living.

‘Surviving’ feels like an unusual word to use when I consider that it’s me who is still here with my life ahead of me, but the grief that I’ve seen and have felt has the potential to end that life – socially, mentally, physically or even literally. It’s a scary prospect that sorrow and despair – and, dare I say, an unavoidable self-pity – could easily eclipse everything and everyone that was once so important to me. Nobody knows just how grief will affect them until they are faced with it.

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A small request…

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Please, Mum and Dad…
My hands are small, I don’t mean to spill my drink.
My legs are short – please slow down so I can keep up.
Don’t slap my hands when I touch something bright and pretty. I don’t understand.
Please look at me when I talk to you. It lets me know you are really listening.
My feelings are tender – don’t nag me all day. Let me make mistakes without feeling stupid.
Don’t expect the bed I make or the picture I draw to be perfect. Just love me for trying.
Remember, I am a child, not a small adult. Sometimes I don’t understand what you’re saying.
I love you so much. Please love me just for being myself, not just for the things I can do.
(Author unknown)