The Girl’s Brigade District Parade

The Girl’s Brigade District Parade

“Are you able to go to our Girl’s Brigade annual district parade on Sunday?”

That’s all she said; a seemingly harmless, innocuous question, but in an instant I was in tears. Crash! The next wave of grief had caught me completely off guard.

Up until that moment I was basking in the glow from the lovely day out I’d had with my youngest the day before.

Mother’s Day had been bearable too – a chance comment from our pleasant dinner guest had caused me to realise that I could now bake sponge pudding without becoming distressed – a task that would have felt impossible six months ago.

Maybe I was actually beginning to make progress? Maybe there is light at the end of this interminably long tunnel?

Just one tiny innocent question from our Girl’s Brigade Captain and the memories had come flooding back. I was transported in my mind back to Sunday 24th March ’13 when I last took part in our annual GB district parade along with our two younger daughters.

The service was in Magheramason Presbyterian Church. Leah belonged to a different Girl’s Brigade company to Miriam and I. Miriam sat near me and Leah sat off to my right with her GB Company, still in my line of vision.

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Leah was anaemic and tired easily but never admitted defeat, she had been unwell since before Christmas.

Later that evening she went to Youth Fellowship at our church and recorded her I AM SECOND testimony.

The next day, Monday 25th March, Leah travelled to the Royal Sick Children’s Hospital in Belfast for her first bone marrow biopsy. Her dad and his two sisters accompanied her. I went to my work because I said that I never wanted to have to set foot in a Children’s Cancer Ward, or ever see boys and girls with nasogastric tubes and chemotherapy hair loss.

Our haematologist had told us that they were 95% sure that they wouldn’t find anything sinister in Leah’s bone marrow – that they were only doing this definitive test to put everyone’s mind at rest, for once and for all………

Sometimes this business of grieving reminds me of that ridiculously repetitive song that we used to sing on long bus journeys as children:

The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
And what do you think he saw

He saw another mountain
He saw another mountain
He saw another mountain
And what do you think he did

The bear went over the mountain etc etc

I’m so thankful that Leah recorded that short I Am Second testimony – I love the part at the end where she says

“God will let you bend but He’ll never let you break.”

Sometimes I just have to hang on to that.

One Year On

One Year On

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I haven’t blogged in 10 days – probably the longest time I’ve gone without blogging in a year.

I think it’s because I don’t know how I’m feeling, now that the first anniversary of Leah’s death has been and gone.

Now that it has been one full year since I have hugged and kissed my second born, much loved child, am I actually supposed to feel a little less sad?

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Taken before the Rend Collective Concert June 2013

One year on, is my heart supposed to feel a little less broken?

Or am I supposed to have developed coping skills that enable me to bear the pain of loss without, for example, bursting into tears at the sight of Leah’s favourite foods on promotion in the supermarket?

Despite the fact that Leah has been gone for a year now, sometimes I open the drawer laden with post transplant medication in her bedroom, gaze at the contents and wonder: “Did all of this really happen?”

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Yet, at other times I feel strong. A friend whose husband had taken his own life when their children were small, used to tell me “When the worst thing that can ever happen to you has already happened, there’s nothing left to fear.”

Now I understand what she meant.

Although I’m often sad, I have a lot less fear than I once had.

If God can give me the strength to get through this, well then what is there left to fear?

This is the "Kneeling Plate" on Leah's grave with one of her favourite Bible verses.
This is the “Kneeling Plate” on Leah’s grave with one of her favourite Bible verses.

We have also been so blessed with the support of family and friends along the way.

On Friday 16th January, the actual anniversary of Leah’s death, despite ice, snow and ungritted roads, we had 24 young people (mainly Leah’s school friends) at our house, to remember Leah with us.

We laughed, cried, chatted, sang some of Leah’s favourite worship songs, watched her “I Am Second” video, looked through her memory books, ate yummy food and played party games.

This was the third Friday in January, on previous years some of these girls used to come to our house on the third Friday in January for Leah’s birthday sleepover.

As the chatter of these young people filled our house, I thought about how fitting it was to remember our spiritual, fun loving, outgoing daughter in this way.

Then on Saturday 17th, my sister, her husband and three of her four adult children came to stay. It felt good to be surrounded by the love of family.

On Sunday 18th, we got together with my husband’s entire extended family for church, and lunch afterwards in my sister-in-law/brother-in-law’s house. Leah always loved these big family get togethers and so do I.

On Monday and Tuesday of this past week, my husband and I attended a Bereavement Programme, provided by Action Cancer.

We are certainly well supported by our friends, family, church and community.

For that we are really thankful, it all helps.

We still have to live without our daughter though, we still have to face the pain.

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This song by Casting Crowns is a song that Leah and I used to listen to.

I’ve listened to it a lot since Leah died.

I find the words very comforting.

“Praise You In This Storm”

I was sure by now
God You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day
But once again, I say “Amen”, and it’s still raining

As the thunder rolls
I barely hear Your whisper through the rain
“I’m with you”
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away

[Chorus:]
And I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

I remember when
I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry to you
And you raised me up again
My strength is almost gone
How can I carry on
If I can’t find You

But as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
“I’m with you”
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away

[Chorus]

I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The Maker of Heaven and Earth

God will let you bend but He’ll never let you break

God will let you bend but He’ll never let you break

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On Monday 25th March ’13 Leah was due to have her first bone marrow biopsy, in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast, to try and find a reason for why her blood counts were consistently so abnormal.

The day before, she was feeling very anxious. As she headed out to Youth Fellowship at our church that Sunday night I advised her to speak to her youth leaders about how she was feeling and to ask them to pray with her.

I waited anxiously for her coming home, hoping that the evening had been helpful to her. She burst excitedly through the door “Mummy, they wanted someone to do an I am Second video clip for the Youth Service in church in a few weeks time and I did it.”

“I am Second is a movement meant to inspire people of all kinds to live for God and for others. Actors. Athletes. Musicians. Business leaders. Drug addicts. Your next-door neighbor. People like you. The authentic stories on iamsecond.com provide insight into dealing with typical struggles of everyday living. These are stories that give hope to the lonely and the hurting, help from destructive lifestyles, and inspiration to the unfulfilled. You’ll discover people who’ve tried to go it alone and have failed. Find the hope, peace, and fulfillment they found. Be Second.”

Leah was so excited and felt so privileged. One of Leah’s heroes and role models was Bethany Hamilton, a champion surfer who had her arm bitten off by a shark and she had done an ‘I am second‘ video clip. I don’t remember much chat about the pending bone marrow biopsy after that.

When I got to watch Leah’s ‘I am second‘ video clip I was so moved. I love the bit where Leah says “God will let you bend but He’ll never let you break.” When Leah was  subsequently diagnosed I remember thinking to myself “Leah, you will learn the truth of those words like you have never known them before.”

She did – I saw Leah bent almost to breaking point in October ’13 when she was battling awful side effects from her bone marrow transplant. However in January ’14 when Leah was critically ill in ICU, she was so filled with joy and peace and love and contentment. She was a princess preparing to meet the King of Kings.

Leah’s ‘I Am Second’ video