The Cemetery Visit

The Cemetery Visit

The small item in the netting is a bag of chocolate coins - each of my children got these in their Christmas Stocking each year. I really struggle with only buying 3 Easter eggs and 3 Advent Calendars so I just bought 4 nets of chocolate coins.
The small item in the netting near the roses is a bag of chocolate coins – each of our children gets these in their Christmas Stocking every year. I really struggle with only buying 3 Easter eggs and 3 Advent Calendars so I just bought 4 nets of chocolate coins as per usual.

Tonight I did something that I’ve never done before.

I visited Leah’s grave in the dark on my own.

As I walked sobbing through the deserted Cemetery in the pitch dark, I asked myself if I felt any fear, but realised that I didn’t. As a friend used to tell me “when the worst that can happen to you has already happened, what is there left to be afraid of?”

I reached Leah’s grave and used the torch on my mobile phone to illuminate Leah’s photograph on her headstone. The headstone went on Leah’s grave in January, in time for her first anniversary, but the photograph took longer to get sorted. I saw it for the first time when I visited her grave yesterday.


For the umpteenth time I asked myself “How did this ever become my life?

I had attended a Bible Study at our church earlier in the evening. We had finished up just as the young people were coming out of Youth Fellowship. The last time that I was at our church just as the young people were coming out of Youth Fellowship was two years ago – collecting Leah.

I crouched down beside Leah’s headstone, facing the lights of the City. I could hear the whirr of the little windmills that adorn some of the graves. I could see the flickering of solar lights on other graves. I gazed across the silhouettes of rows and rows of headstones and thought about how much each person was and is loved by their nearest and dearest.

During the day, the cemetery can be quite busy and I feel a bit self conscious giving way to my emotions, but I didn’t have to worry tonight. I had the place all to myself.

After a while, I used my mobile phone to listen to a song that Leah and I used to snuggle up together and listen to when she was very distressed – Oceans by Hillsong.

When the cold wind had succeeded in chilling  every fibre of my being, I decided that it was time to return home.

OCEANS (Where Feet May Fail)

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

Oh, Jesus, you’re my God!

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

Our New Year’s Eve Baby

Our New Year’s Eve Baby


On the 16th of this month Leah will be gone from this earth 9 months – approximately the same length of time that I carried her in my womb. In some ways being pregnant doesn’t even seem that long ago.

I worked part-time in Strabane during Leah’s pregnancy, and my sister in law looked after Rachel. My bump was so big before I left work that my work colleagues joked about me going into labour at work.

On my days off I enjoyed time with Rachel and I took her to and from Ebrington Nursery. I was constantly too warm during Leah’s pregnancy so I loved heading across the school playground without a coat on the frosty mornings.

I prayed and prayed that I wouldn’t go into labour over Christmas, as I desperately wanted to spend Christmas Day with Horace and Rachel. I really wanted to be there to see Rachel open her presents. I used to be just as excited as the children on Christmas morning.


My mum was staying with us to be there for Rachel whenever the time came for me to go into hospital. Thankfully Mum lived long enough to meet and enjoy all her grandchildren.

Early on New Year’s Eve morning the labour pains started. I quietly slipped out of bed so as not to disturb Horace. I ran a warm bath and I sat in it doing my breathing exercises. When the contractions were getting closer together, I woke my husband and my mum.

I then had to wait while Horace ate his breakfast. By now labour was in full swing and my mother was seriously worried that she was going to be delivering this baby. At 7.30am I slipped a note through my neighbour’s letterbox to let her know that I was away to the hospital – we were very good friends. At 8.25am I gave birth to Leah Alanna weighing 9lbs 3oz. It was the happiest New Year’s Eve of my life.


The song “You Are Stronger” by Hillsong caught my attention at church on Sunday and I’ve been listening to it on repeat ever since. I feel so incredibly weak, I take great comfort from drawing on God’s strength.


There is love that came for us
Humbled to a sinner’s cross
You broke my shame and sinfulness
You rose again victorious

Faithfulness none can deny
Through the storm and through the fire
There is truth that sets me free
Jesus Christ who lives in me

You are stronger, You are stronger
Sin is broken, You have saved me
It is written, Christ is risen
Jesus You are Lord of all

No beginning and no end
You’re my hope and my defense
You came to seek and save the lost
You paid it all upon the cross

Your grace abounds in deepest waters

Your grace abounds in deepest waters

For the benefit of those who read this and don’t live locally, I would like to say a bit about Leah’s wake and funeral.

Leah came home on Friday (17th January) and as I said previously she was laid out in her blue formal dress in a white coffin with pale pink satin trim.

Her coffin was open in her bedroom. Surrounding her coffin on the bed were items symbolizing the different aspects and stages of her life.

These included her Girl’s Brigade hoodie and armband, her L.O.S.T. polo shirt, her school tie, items associated with Ballykelly C.O.I. Banter, her Baby Books and various photo collages.

Her pink fairy lights adorned the top of her bed and her Spotify playlist played softly in the background.

Many hundreds visited our house to pay their respects.

Visitors to our house included family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues, friends of friends, tradesmen who had worked on the house or supplied materials, the staff of Leah’s Primary & Secondary schools & people from the various youth organisations she was involved with and representatives of Sinn Fein, SDLP, & DUP – we have always encouraged our children to respect everyone’s cultural backgrounds & everyone was very welcome.

An army of women manned the kitchen and served tea, sandwiches & traybakes (cakes and biscuits, mostly homemade) to every visitor. Sandwiches, cakes, biscuits, home baking, milk, tea bags all miraculously appeared in the kitchen thanks to the kindness of friends, family and neighbours.

Soup, stew and other more substantial meals were also provided for us. Neighbours erected temporary signs giving directions to the wake and offering their driveways for “wake parking” – one of the many lovely things about rural Ireland is how everyone pulls together in a crisis.
On the Sunday morning family members gathered in Leah’s room for a time of reflection & prayer before the coffin was closed.

Neighbours & friends gathered outside the house. Then the men of the family including Nic took it in turns to carry Leah’s coffin to the road and we walked a short distance behind the hearse.

When we had driven to the main road the police (PSNI) were there ready to stop the traffic & stood to salute as the hearse pulled out into the traffic.

At Kilfennan Presbyterian Church an estimated 1,100 -1,200 gathered for the final farewell. The Girls Brigade Company had formed a Guard of Honour outside the church.

Members of the congregation had worked hard to set up relay systems outside and in overflow rooms and everything was done to perfection.

Funerals aren’t meant to be beautiful but Leah’s funeral service was beautiful – everyone says it was such a fitting tribute to who she was.

Terry Smith our church organist played the first hymn – the extended Smith family have been a great source of support to us on this journey.

The remaining music was played by “Under Construction” of which Leah’s cousin Peter is a member – Leah loved hearing them play. They were absolutely brilliant.

Rev Rob Craig, then present Moderator of the Presbyterian Church gave the address, he has known Leah from birth and everything he said reflected who she was.

Leah’s coffin was carried out of the church to one of the latest songs by Rend Collective – her favourite Christian band – called “My Lighthouse“.

After the committal at Ballyoan Cemetery, everyone was invited back to the church hall where another army of women served tea, a finger buffet and home baking (including gluten-free) to hundreds of people.

Horace and I got a chance to speak to a lot of people but unfortunately, we couldn’t get around everyone.

I would like to introduce you to yet another song that Leah and I listened to a lot, especially in Bristol.

You may ask “How come you listened to so much music?” The past 9 months have contained a lot of waiting, lot of “hanging about” and a lot of being away from home.

When Leah was well enough she used a lot of this time to study for her GCSEs, but there were many times when neither of us could barely concentrate to read or watch TV and that just leaves silence.

Sometimes silence is good – when it’s a peaceful stillness. However, when you are virtually living on a Children’s Cancer Ward and your child is unwell and everyone else’s child is unwell, silence can become a vacuum into which unwelcome thoughts crowd.

In Bristol, during those times when no words were left, I would get into Leah’s hospital bed and cuddle up beside her and this song always seemed to soothe us: “Oceans” by Hillsong

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now”

It is well, It is well with my soul.

It is well, It is well with my soul.


At 1.40pm in the Children’s Hospice surrounded by those she loved & listening to her favourite Christian music, beautiful Leah went home to Jesus very peacefully.

For Leah this means no more chemotherapy, no more physical pain, no more nausea & vomiting, no more oral meds & injections, no more side effects, no more tubes, no more blood tests, scans, X-rays, being poked, prodded, examined, spending endless hours in hospitals, time in isolation, having to worry about every lump, bump & new symptom, etc etc

Leah was ready to meet Jesus, of this, I have no doubt, it’s us who aren’t ready to say goodbye.

For those who knew and loved her, there is the overwhelming sadness of parting.

Revelation 7:17
“For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd;
He will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Here is another song that has been special for Leah and I on this journey

It is well with my soul” by Hillsongs

When peace like a river
Attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot
You have taught me to say
It is well
It is well with my soul”

Weak made strong, in the Savior’s love

Weak made strong, in the Savior’s love

Apologies to those of you who have been waiting anxiously for an update – it’s been a difficult one to compose.

Leah’s medical condition has continued to deteriorate.

Today has been spent in discussions with the ICU Consultants, our haematologist here, a paediatric palliative care specialist, our consultant in Bristol and other relevant professionals.

At present it looks likely that end of life care for Leah will be put in place tomorrow Thursday.

So very many songs have been meaningful to Leah and I on this journey – here is another one:
Christ alone, Cornerstone
Weak made strong, in the Savior’s love
Through the storm
He is Lord, Lord of All
When darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil