The hypervigilant mumma – will I ever switch off?


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.

Continue reading

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

What happens when we die? Explaining death to your child

When thinking about death we have so many questions and very few answers. It’s where the fear and disbelief stem from. Children are renown for saying exactly, and frankly, what’s on their minds. They also have questions which we can find hard to answer, especially when our grief is so raw and we feel lost in our own cloud of uncertainty.

Three years on my children still ask about Abi’s death occasionally. They think about death and heaven, and what it means to die. Part of them is anxious about this, another part very accepting. They have very normal and understandable feelings about death, just like we do, and we take their questions seriously.

My children know what happened to Abi. And while they do worry about death more now, they accept that her brain haemorrhage was a unique illness for her and is unlikely to happen to them.

In the early days, when they were 5 and 10, we kept them sensitively involved in Abi’s death and memorials. We didn’t hide from them what was happening and kept an open dialogue about it all. This we feel has helped them immensely to adjust to life without their big sister. They also fully believe in God and that Abi is in heaven, and again, we haven’t romanticised this to them. She’s not turned into an angel or a star or a bird. She is in heaven waiting for us to one day join her and to live again in a world without pain or suffering.

Yet still the questions come. And I love it!

I love that they always ask why. That their questions mean that they are really trying to understand this life, this world and our purpose. They are inquisitive and will not be ‘won over’ by empty phrases or ‘just because’. And Jesus made it quite clear that us adults can learn a great deal from children, whose minds are open and willing to accept that which they can’t see.
Continue reading

What Disney’s Inside Out taught me about grief and loss

I recently took my daughter, age 12, to watch Inside Out. It was a rare day that we had alone and I felt it would be a poignant film to see together.

Having researched the film (which I have to do with anything I expose my children to), I was impressed by the reviews which said the film offered a unique way of viewing how our emotions work in a way that children could relate to. I initially wanted to see the film because I thought it would give my daughter further insight into why she might feel the way she does and then have more understanding of her emotions. All this wrapped up in an entertaining Disney Pixar movie!

But I wasn’t prepared for the film to speak to me! To my grief. To make me think about Abi, too.

Continue reading

A grieving mother’s bucket list – catching frogs and drinking good coffee!

I recently bumped into an old friend, someone I’d not seen in around 20 years. We had a nice chat about the main aspects of what we’ve done with our lives, as you do, and we got onto the subject of fitness. My friend revealed she was entered into a marathon and was working out a lot to reach her targets. She also talked about some of the achievements she’d done in terms of education, travel and career. All impressive stuff!

While she wasn’t being boastful at all, in fact I found her lust for life quite refreshing, it made me realise how my ‘big plans’ have changed.

She quipped that she’d only a few things left to do on her ‘bucket list’ and would have to think of more. Clearly this woman was driven to try everything and anything, to feel alive and have a sense of accomplishment. But then she asked me what I would like to do, my mind went blank.

‘Erm… I don’t know.’

She looked at me as though I was a bit strange.

‘You must have something you want to do or somewhere you want to go in life?’

Again, blank.

‘Erm, no. Not really.’

She looked at me a bit quizzically, like I had answered in a foreign language, and then changed the conversation and we soon after parted ways.

While it was nice to see this friend, the exchange bothered me, for two reasons. Firstly, why my friend, who knew of my loss, wouldn’t instantly think that a ‘bucket list’ would not be top of my agenda, and secondly, why on earth did I not have a bucket list?!

Am I really dull to not want to climb Mount Everest, see the Grand Canyon or swim with dolphins?

Am I missing out on life by not running the London Marathon, going to Wimbledon or making a fortune at work?


I used to have plans – places I wanted to see, things I wanted to do. I used to have a huge drive to succeed in business. I used to push myself in my fitness by entering races and striving to get fitter. I get bored easily, so I like change. I was always coming up with ideas or doing something just to keep life interesting. I am still a bit this way inclined, I like to have a project on the go and I’m sure the reason I live in a bit of a muddle is so that my life doesn’t feel ‘complete’. I don’t see myself growing old and happy to sit on the sofa all day, plumping pillows and only drinking wine with my Sunday lunch… I like life to be secure yes, but also a little bit crazy, compulsive and evolving.

But my big plans changed the day we lost Abi, and it wasn’t until this encounter with a friend that I realised this.

Abi was fit and healthy. She was hardly ever ill other than the usual bugs. She was a child of big ideas and adventures – when she was 10 she wrote a list of all the countries she wanted to visit (when she was married!).

But, on 6th February 2013, within 30 minutes, she went from being well to slipping into the coma she would never wake up from.

Life is fragile, so yes, it needs to be lived and appreciated, I know that more than most. Sometimes I feel I am slowly starting to think about the future and what I’d like to do with the life I have left, but because I’ve lost the secure feeling of thinking this will be more about me aging and being incapable than being alive or dead, I find it hard to plan much about what I do next year, let alone tomorrow!

My happiness, my fulfilment, comes from pure love now. The family I have made.

From my children – all of them, seeing them grow, learn and change (I avoid feeling sad because they are moving on to the next stage, I welcome them growing up because I know it’s a privilege!).

I enjoy amazing sunsets, sunrises and skies. I love photographing nature.

Tasting a delicious cappuccino. Feeling the rain on my skin. All the small things.

Today, for example, I found a tiny baby frog and put him on my finger and showed him to my boys. That was pretty awesome to me!


My life is less about chasing dreams and more about appreciating the moment, because I will never know when it will be gone.

The only thing I have on my ‘bucket list’ at the moment is to write a book – although if I’m sure I told my friend that, she’d have rolled her eyes and looked a bit vacant – everyone wants to ‘write a book’, how dull! But I would like to write a book based on this blog, a book for grieving parents to help them navigate some of the aspects of grief that aren’t obvious – things like this!

I would also like to get fit again, although I’m focusing on yoga stretches at the moment to balance my mind rather than pushing myself to any physical limits, and I am more focused on my business at last so I’d like to see that grow further.

Just because I don’t have a clear list of ‘do before I die’ does not mean that I don’t want to do anything! Quite the opposite! It’s just that I won’t live my life with a tick list. If I swim with a dolphin or run a marathon I’ll be delighted and feel a sense of achievement, but equally, if I don’t, I won’t feel like I’ve failed myself.

Ultimately, my ‘bucket list’ is simply that I can live a long enough life to see my living children grow to be adults with families of their own: healthy, happy, faithful and loving. It might not be everyone’s idea of living, but it’ll do for me!

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

Growing up without a dad

Another Father’s Day has been and gone. For some, it was a case of grabbing a card and bag of sweets for their dad. Others go all out and have a big family gathering. Then there are those who have difficult emotions. Perhaps their dad wasn’t much of a dad, the relationship strained or absent. Then, of course, there are the bereaved. The children (young and grown) missing a dad. The dads missing a child or baby.

So many different thoughts of ‘dad’, so many emotions, and now at just 38, I find myself experiencing all of them!

On Father’s Day, I organised a card and gift for my hubby from our children.

Yet one of those children is already in heaven.

Continue reading

Valentine’s Day – using loss to celebrate love

Valentine’s Day. A day to celebrate love that’s turned into yet another excuse to waste spend money on stuff, just like Easter is all about chocolate and Christmas about presents.

St. Valentine was the patron of love, young people and happy marriages – not of supermarkets and card shops (or abusive relationships if watching ’50 Shades of Grey’ is on your ‘to-do’ list this weekend!). Continue reading

Good grief! I had a facial

I used to enjoy booking myself in for an occasional massage or facial, it was always a nice treat, but since Abi died I’ve not been able to allow myself to do it.

To relax is to let emotions come to the surface, to be able to meditate on the thoughts going through your mind, to think about how nice the touch is on your skin and enjoy the moment. But you see, when your entire being is held together by invisible ropes of tension attached to a large stone of grief where your heart used to be, encouraging the body to relax is met with quite some resistance.

Continue reading

Celebration blues

I’ve not been blogging or networking much lately. I’ve been feeling run down, very low about Abi and generally snowed under with work and family life. I feel flat and pretty much overwhelmed as again we face more special occasions without our girl.

It’s particularly busy this weekend as it was my hubby’s 40th birthday yesterday and we are also having our children baptised… all three together … on Sunday. It should be a wonderful time of celebration and excitement, but when you’re living with loss, times like this turn into the bleakest of winter days.

Continue reading