Grief Changes Everything

Grief Changes Everything

ChristmasMeansMore

It’s almost four years now since Leah died and I still struggle with going on a shopping trip  on my own. Whenever possible I shop online or wait until one of my children (or my husband) is available to accompany me. However there are some occasions when I do have to go shopping alone. I try to keep these shopping trips as brief as possible.

In years gone by I loved shopping and my shopping trips often lasted for several hours, but it is definitely now something that I do very much out of necessity rather than for pleasure. Today was one of those days when I headed out alone to get a few bits and pieces. Life has been busier than usual lately, so my youngest and I haven’t had time recently to go on one of our regular joint shopping trips.

As soon as I entered Foyleside Shopping Centre I was immediately drawn to the beautiful sound of children singing. I instinctively moved in the direction of this sound until a choir of Primary School children sweetly singing Christmas songs came into my line of vision. This young choir was surrounded by other shoppers who had stopped to listen and by adoring parents capturing the moment on camera.

In an instant I was transported back to when I was that proud parent and Leah was a young girl in her Primary School choir. Leah loved to sing. Tears blurred my vision as my heart ached with longing to once again hear the sweet voice that every Christmas echoed throughout our house with the words of one of Leah’s favourite Christmas songs:

IT’S SOMEBODY’S BIRTHDAY

by Ian White

Crackers and turkeys and pudding and cream,
Toys in the window that I’ve never seen.
This is the Christmas that everyone sees,
But Christmas means more to me.

Chorus
It’s somebody’s birthday I won’t forget,
As I open the things that I get.
I’ll remember the inn and the stable so bare,
And Jesus who once lay there.
~
Everyone’s out shopping late every night,
For candles and presents and Christmas tree lights
This is the Christmas that everyone sees,
But Christmas means more to me.
~
Christmas morning, the start of the day,
There’s presents to open and new games to play.
This is the Christmas that everyone sees,
But Christmas means more to me.

Leah playing guitar1Dec17

My visit to Foyleside was brought to a swift ending – thirty minutes after I had parked my car I was back in it and driving away. Grief changes everything.

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Lessons from a Sticky Plaster

Lessons from a Sticky Plaster

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Today I opened one of the notebooks that I used for note taking during Leah’s many hospital appointments in 2013. Immediately my eyes were drawn to a sticky plaster carefully folded into a heart shape.

I instantly remembered where it came from – it was Friday 14th June 2013 and the five of us (our eldest was away working in the USA) were on our first visit to Bristol Children’s Hospital. As on every one of Leah’s hospital visits, she had blood taken that day. This was the first time that Leah had genetic testing done and the subsequent results were very significant. We also gave our consent that day for some of Leah’s blood to be frozen and kept at the hospital for future research.

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After the nurse on Oncology Day Beds had taken blood from Leah she placed this cute sticky plaster with animals on Leah’s arm. Leah loved animals and she was very keen to visit Bristol Zoo or even make a return visit to Belfast Zoo – an ambition that was never realised sadly. Leah’s consultant in Belfast City Hospital informed her in mid December 2013 that her immune system could now cope with a trip to the Zoo. However with all the busyness of Christmas we did not have time to plan this before she died four weeks later – we always thought that there would be more time.

A few hours later this little plaster came off and Leah folded it neatly into a heart shape and presented it to me with one of her little smiles. I tucked it inside my notebook and there it sat until now. Another of Leah’s little ‘love notes’!

This also reminds me of God’s many ‘love notes’ to us. One of our favourite passages of Scripture to read during Leah’s illness was the last part of Romans Chapter 8. Leah and I drew great comfort from the fact that neither disease, nor chemotherapy, nor even death itself, would ever, could ever, separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:38-39
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Broken yet Blessed

Broken yet Blessed

Esther's Tree

This morning as I sat having my Devotional Time, I looked up and there across the room I saw it – the beautiful miniature Christmas Tree that Esther Scobie had made us for what would be Leah’s last Christmas. My youngest had decorated the room after I went to bed last night! Little did any of us know in December 2013 that it would also be Esther’s last Christmas.

Tears spilled down my cheeks as I remembered the many thoughtful cards and notes that I received from Esther over the years, but especially during Leah’s illness. It is so hard to say goodbye to the special people in our lives.

Yet how blessed I am to have known Esther and how blessed I am by the many other beautiful people that God has brought into my life – some for a short season and some for the long haul.

Philippians 1:3
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you”

Another First

Another First

Since downloading a step counter onto my phone a few weeks ago I’ve become a lot more aware of how active I am (or otherwise) on different days throughout the week. Comparing my ‘steps’ with other family members also allows for a little ‘competitive edge’!

So this evening, after a rather sedentary weekend, I headed out to walk the three mile ‘square’ around where we live. Within minutes I realised that this was the first time since before Leah became ill in 2013 that I had headed out on my own to walk the roads around where we live.

Field

When my mother died in 2008 in her eighties, I was quite aware of the many ‘firsts’ in that first year after she died. The second year after mum died was definitely a lot easier than the first. Losing a child has been very different; even three and a half years later it feels like there are still so many ‘firsts’ that I have to face, because to have faced them before now would have been too painful. I used to enjoy cycling the country roads where we live during the summer, both alone and with the children, but I have never been back on my bike since Leah died. That’s just one of several activities that I once enjoyed, but that I now avoid doing. Sometimes it’s easier to stay in the ‘safe zone’ than to do things or go places that are likely to trigger a grief reaction.

About half a mile into my walk I came to the field with the donkeys. A friendly donkey walked right over to the ditch where I was standing – just like the donkeys always used to do when I stopped there with Leah and her siblings.

donkey

This seemingly innocuous act caught me completely off guard – for a split second I was back in 2012 and everything was like it used to be – going for walks with the children and stopping to engage with friendly donkeys. Then a flood of emotion hit me along with the realisation of how much has changed since I last stood there looking at a donkey. I found it very difficult trying to process it all. I was glad of the quietness of the evening as I wrestled with my emotions and the tears fell freely.

About a mile or so further on, I encountered some sheep. They weren’t as friendly as the donkey, but some of them stopped to look at me.

Sheep 1

As I thought about these sheep, I reflected on these words from Psalm 23  which is a psalm that I especially like:

The Lord is my Shepherd,

I shall not want,

Sometimes, when I’m very stressed, I repeat these words inside my head to remind and reassure myself that God is my Shepherd and that He has promised to take care of me. At times I recall how Leah used to sing the Stuart Townend version of this psalm  with the Girl’s Brigade choir and how her face used to radiate joy when she was singing. Listening to the words of this song brings me comfort too.

The Woman in the Coffee Shop

The Woman in the Coffee Shop

Recently I went to a Coffee Shop with some friends. On entering I noticed a woman that I had known in a work context several years ago, but hadn’t come into contact with in the past four years, since Leah became ill and died. I initially wondered if she would remember me, but then my attention was drawn to the yummy looking buns in the Display Counter.

As I was paying for my hot chocolate this woman approached me and greeted me warmly. I asked her about her daughter, amazed that her ‘wee girl’ is now at university. She then proceeded to ask me about my husband and each of my children. I started to feel a little nervous as I inwardly thought ‘Surely she must know about Leah.

Then, after she had enquired about my living children, she reached out and grasped my hand and quietly said, with a voice filled with compassion. “I’m so sorry for the loss of your daughter, I’m so sorry for everything that you’ve all been through.” Tears stung my eyes as I thanked her. We talked a bit about work and then within minutes we had gone our separate ways.

I joined my friends at a nearby table. We chatted and caught up with each other’s lives just as we had gone there to do. To the best of my knowledge they were oblivious to what had just taken place, which is as it should be – my friends don’t need to ‘eat, breathe and sleep’ my grief. Those friends have been there for me when I have needed them to be and hopefully I am there for them in their times of need too – friendships should be a two-way street.

However, those few moments with someone I hadn’t been in contact with in over four years were so very precious. She didn’t remind me of my loss, because I never for one minute forget that I am the mother of four children, one of whom is no longer here. Nor did she ‘make me cry’ as some have apologised for doing, my tears are always there just below the surface. In those few moments she held space for my grief, and she acknowledged each of my children. Her ability to make an emotional connection with me and to empathise with my situation was just what I needed at that particular time.

Those who know me well know that I’m a big fan of Brené Brown. Brené explains empathy and the concept of ‘holding space’ for someone better than I ever could:

Empathy2

 

The Rainbow

The Rainbow

Yesterday afternoon when I was in Ballyoan Cemetery tidying Leah’s grave I found myself overwhelmed with feelings of sadness. My lovely mum was dead nine years on Wednesday past the 22nd February. On the 7th February, it was seven years since our close friend Elizabeth left us. Elizabeth is also buried in Ballyoan.

elizabeths-grave

Returning to the car, I rested my head on the steering wheel and sobbed, totally overcome with grief. I cried out to God and told Him that this was all too much, living daily with the weight of grief and loss.

Most of the time I feel like I am coping quite well, but now suddenly, everything just felt like it was too much. All at once, life felt like an impossible burden.

I lifted my head from the steering wheel and gazed through tear stained eyes at the horizon ahead. To my amazement, although it had not been raining in the cemetery, a beautiful rainbow stretched across the sky, seizing my attention.

rainbow

I immediately thought of a verse from one of the children’s Bible songs that Leah loved, one that we used to teach the children when we led Children’s Church together:

Whenever you see a rainbow

Whenever you see a rainbow

Whenever you see a rainbow

Remember God is love.

I remembered also the verses in the Bible in Genesis 9  that tell us that a rainbow in the sky is a sign of God’s covenant with Moses where God promises never again to flood the whole earth.

genesis-9

Then I recalled some of God’s other promises to us, where He has promised to always be with us, such as in Isaiah 43:2

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. (NLT)

As I thought about all of this, fragments of hope once again seeped in through the cracks of my broken heart. Gradually, imperceptibly, my perspective began to change, as I thanked God for sending this beautiful rainbow to remind me that He is a powerful God who loves me and provides for my needs. Some verses from Matthew 11  came to mind also:

Matthew 11.jpg

Music always ministers to my soul so as I drove home I listened to the song ‘My Troubled Soul’ by Robert Critchley.

My troubled soul,
Why so weighed down?
You were not made to bear this heavy load

Cast all your burdens, upon the Lord

Jesus cares, He cares for you.

Jesus cares, He cares for you
And all your worrying won’t help you make it through
Cast all your burdens, upon the Lord
And trust again, in the promise of His love.

(I will) Praise that mighty name of Jesus
Praise the Lord, the Lifter of my head
Praise the Rock of my Salvation
All my days are in His faithful hands.

My anxious heart
Why so upset?
When trials come, how you so easily forget
To cast your burdens, upon the Lord
Jesus cares, He cares for you.

Jesus cares. He cares for you
And all your worrying won’t help you make it through
Cast all your burdens, upon the Lord
And trust again, in the promise of His love.

(I will) Praise that mighty name of Jesus
Praise the Lord, the Lifter of my head
Praise the Rock of my Salvation
All my days are in His faithful hands.

Chocolate Bird’s Nests

Chocolate Bird’s Nests

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I know it’s not the Easter Holidays yet, but it is Mid-Term, so my youngest and I thought it would be fun to create another illustrated recipe blog post. Our previous recipe blog post was published over eighteen months ago and it continues to be very popular, with over 800 page views to date.

These ‘no bake’ recipes are simple to make, delicious to eat and they can be a great way of spending quality time with your children.

Ingredients we used:

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Nestlé Shredded Wheat – we used three of the inner packets, each containing two biscuits – six biscuits in total.

Cooking chocolate – we used a 300g packet

Cadbury Mini Eggs – 200g (These are quite hard and could present a choking hazard to children under 4 years or to older children with swallowing difficulties).

Method:

Ensure that everyone washes their hands thoroughly before starting.

Firstly, spread out some bun cases on a clean, dry tray.

Then let the children use their hands to crumble the shredded wheat finely into a bowl.

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Next let them break the cooking chocolate up into squares in a ceramic (not a plastic) bowl.

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The chocolate can be melted by an adult, by placing the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water, or by placing the bowl in the microwave and stirring thoroughly every 60 seconds until melted.

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Add the crumbled shredded wheat to the melted chocolate and stir until thoroughly mixed.

Place spoonfuls of the mixture in each bun case.

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Flatten the centre into a nest shape and place the chocolate eggs firmly on top.

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Leave until set, which takes approximately an hour.

Eat and enjoy.

Ensure everyone’s teeth are well brushed before going to bed.

You could expand on the theme of these ‘bird’s nests’ by talking with your children about Spring, Easter and the promise of new life. You could also talk about what this time of year means to you personally – in a way that is appropriate to their age and level of understanding, of course.

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What Easter means to me.