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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Being prepared for the winter of life

This morning, I read this brilliant blog post by Cheltenham Maman about how anxiety over our children’s health and wellbeing can affect us. The post provides some sound advice for helping to manage parental anxiety so it’s certainly worth a read if you’re struggling with this. I also wrote this post last week about how I feel so consumed by the hypervigilant state that being a bereaved mother has put me in.

In Cheltenham Maman’s post, she wrote something that struck me.

Liken it to other things in life that are certain; winter will come each year but we don’t let it dampen how much we enjoy the summer.

We can be anxious – and therefore depressed about our anxiety – every day of our lives, worrying about something bad happening but, just like we ‘dread’ the cold, dark winter months, we also look forward to the summer and make the most of the warmer days when they do happen.

This is powerful stuff!

Yes, just like life and death, we need to make the most of the better days, the healthy days, the young days, the carefree days. It is inevitable that winter will come, death is something no one can escape from, so try not to waste precious time worrying about the cold while you’re bathing in sunlight.

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Yet there’s a caveat to this beautiful metaphor.

Because we know that winter is coming, we make plans about how we will cope with it. We get the boiler serviced, we insulate our homes, we buy in supplies that protect against the frost, we buy a new warm coat, we eat warming, hearty foods…

We prepare for winter and so winter, while still cold and dark, is more bearable and we can see hope in the spring and summer just around the corner.

So why not prepare for death? Prepare for the worst?

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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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I should be organising your 16th birthday party

I’m at a loss. How do you ‘celebrate’ your child’s birthday when they are dead?

I should be chasing around here and there, buying balloons, presents, sorting things out, baking an amazing cake.

Instead I sit here and can only do these things in my head, while my stomach churns with longing and my eyes sting with tears.

You, my darling girl, will be 16 tomorrow. It’s such a special age to be, a milestone, yet one we cannot do anything about.

I want to throw a party anyway, invite everyone she ever knew, pull out all the stops regardless of the fact she’s not able to go herself. I know she’d want a party.

But this isn’t a celebration. It’s an awkward, messy, unhappy time. I wish I could be one of those mums who puts on a brave face and arranges a get-together to celebrate … but I can’t. The thought of Abi not here chokes me up just thinking about it.

Abi

 

I’m not allowed to cry tomorrow; the children are nervous, wondering if it’ll be a gloomy day. It won’t, but it means my heart will beat even slower than normal as I keep my emotions locked away.

I just have to get through it. I’m sorry darling. We haven’t forgotten you, we just don’t know what to do. To do something feels like losing you all over again, to do nothing feels just as bad.

Release a balloon, light a bloody candle, make a wish upon a star… it means nothing. She is in me and I’m in her always, but I know she is safe and happy where she is. I can see her at sixteen, she has grown up in heaven. I know there will be many more birthdays and milestones without her to endure.

No matter how many children I have, she is always my first, my Abi. The one who started all the love.

Dear Lord, It is only because you created such a wonderful child that our hearts hurt so much in grief. I pray that you keep especially close to us tomorrow. Ease the pain in our hearts by your comfort and give us strength to face the day. Thank you for your countless blessings on us, and for keeping our girl safe. Amen.

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A grand day out – what Mummy did on her day off

With having to stop breastfeeding Naomi, I knew I would feel sad about it – the transition to the next stage is always emotional. However, I decided I’d focus on the positives, one of which being able to leave her so that I could have a break. Six months with a baby 24/7, not to mention the nine months of pregnancy and three other children to look after is tough. And as much as I adore my children, having some time for me is essential to my mental well-being.

So I’d asked my in-laws (who absolutely love spending time with their grandchildren) if they’d have Naomi for a few hours. They jumped at the chance and made it very easy for me to leave her. I knew she would get their undivided attention.

I was unsure what to do with my day off. I had about five hours of freedom and I know all too well that this isn’t that long! I wanted to use the time wisely but also not overload myself.
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The hypervigilant mumma – will I ever switch off?

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So we’ve been a bit ill again.

Jake’s been the worst hit this autumn. Normally a very healthy child, he’s had a chest infection, sickness and now another cold virus that has brought him out in itchy hives.

On Saturday, I was home alone with Jake and Naomi. Daddy and Joe were at the football, and Jen had gone to a friend’s house. I was making a good dent into clearing up, as we have moved Naomi into her own bedroom, and I then needed to change Jake. As I was doing so I noticed raised red spots all over his legs which he wanted to scratch. I was quite alarmed as it’s most unlike him and he’d been eating well all day.

I undressed him and found more of these strange red marks on his arms. Worried, I phoned 111 and within half an hour I was talking to the consultant on the phone. With Jake not having any worrying symptoms other than this itchy rash, she was happy that he didn’t need to be seen and said it was likely viral or a reaction to something he’d eaten. As he had had another cold, I put it down to that. It was what is called ‘nettle rash‘.

Thankfully my sister lives close by so she was able to pop out and get me some Piriton and Calamine lotion. And, once dosed up, the rash started to look less angry.

I phoned Daddy at the football game. While I didn’t want to disturb him, I knew that he’d want to know this had happened. He was understandably worried but I reassured him that I was keeping a close eye on Jake, who was watching all the telly and eating all the chocolate at this stage!

As I sat there, I considered the state of hypervigilance we are living in. With young children, it’s natural to be anxious – it’s how we survive, but our personal anxiety runs much deeper now. I am so close connected to them that I almost feel everything they do, trying to absorb their pain or unhappiness. We are ready to act in an instant, we never switch off and we are always on guard. That’s not including the times when they get ill, when it goes into overdrive! Sometimes I feel like I might collapse with anxiety.

It is exhausting – physically and mentally.

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The fine line between love and hate

Shocking celebrity deaths, Brexit and now Donald Trump… if anything, you can’t say 2016 has been boring!

Trump is not a man I like, his views worry me and the fact he now is one of the most powerful men in the world worries me even more. However, through the how’s and why’s, I’m trying to believe that much of what he has said in his campaign is hype, to attract attention, to get people engaged in whatever shape it takes – a bit like a child being told off for being naughty because negative attention is better than none.

Seeing the news about violent protests and lives lost following the election of Trump, I was reminded of this post I wrote 18 months ago, after the Conservatives got into power. Yes, I’m afraid nothing changes, and we are just as sore losers when things don’t go our way.

Whether someone throws a stone at someone who doesn’t agree with them, sends angry messages online, or gossips behind their back, the physical impact might be different but the basic emotion is still the same – hate.

Trump hate. Political hated. Social hatred. Many of us wonder where this comes from. Why, when we all want to live, prosper and be happy, do we end up caught up in these vicious battles?

I wonder if it is because hatred starts at home. Hatred starts with just two people.

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