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”

Sympathy Cards

Sympathy Cards

After a loved one dies there are some tasks that have to be attended to right away, such as registering the death, choosing a coffin, planning the funeral service, hosting a wake, – some of these depend on one’s cultural and religious traditions of course. With other tasks there is more choice and flexibility as to when we tackle them, such as sorting through a loved ones belongings and personal effects. This is very much an individual decision and the ‘right time’ varies greatly from person to person. For us it was important that Leah’s cousins and friends could have ‘a little piece of Leah’ so from quite early on we gave away some of her personal possessions.

However, it was only last week that I found myself able to clear out the drawer that contained all of her medication. There was a part of me that still couldn’t believe that Leah had ever become so ill – it just seemed like a bad dream. I would periodically open her medication drawer and stare in disbelief at its contents – had this really become part of the story of Leah’s life? Last Saturday I finally took all of her injections and tablets to our local pharmacy for safe disposal.

Leahs meds.JPG

However all of Leah’s GCSE coursework still remains untouched underneath her desk.

Today I tackled a task that I had known for quite some time needed to be addressed, but I just could not find the emotional energy to do so. Since shortly after Leah died, two of the three shelves in the bookcase in our Family Room have been completely occupied by two large baskets overflowing with sympathy cards, two books of condolences, Leah’s death certificate and other similar items.

For weeks after Leah died, the postman arrived every day with a stack of cards, held together by an elastic band. It seems like everybody we had ever met, from our childhood to the present day, took time out of their busy lives to write and let us know how much they cared about the passing of our beloved daughter. We even received some beautiful cards and heartfelt messages from people whom we had never met but who had heard of our sad loss. The owners of the local pub (which we did not frequent) took up a collection from their customers in Leah’s memory and a card came from them containing a gift of £220 for the Children’s Hospice. The kindness and thoughtfulness of friends and strangers meant so much to us in our devastation.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We received cards from Christians, Muslims and atheists, from people with a deep faith and people with no faith, but each one was beautifully written with words that came straight from the heart. We received thoughtfully written cards from politicians on both sides of the political divide and even a few beautifully crafted handmade cards. Some of the most touching messages to read were those written by teachers who had taught Leah at school.


I had no idea that there were so many beautiful sympathy cards out there and I was very touched by the efforts that people went to in choosing them and in thinking of what to write. Some people enclosed handwritten letters with carefully chosen words, others underlined the words on the cards that they had so thoughtfully chosen for us. Some of you never sent your cards, I know that because when I met you in the street you said things like “I have a card for you sitting on my kitchen table, but……” and I finished the sentence for you by suggesting “but you don’t know what to write?” You looked relieved when I offered this explanation and I asked for a hug instead.

Today I went through every item, read it, appreciated the love with which each card was sent to us and then put them all away into a large storage box.


I consulted with my youngest daughter as to what should occupy these two shelves in the Family Room instead. She suggested that we put each child’s Baby Book and their baby photo albums there, so that when we are together as a family we can remember the many happy times that we have all shared over the years. That is what so many of your cards have urged us to do ~ treasure the memories.


This was a poem that we received from the Children’s Hospice. I especially like the lines:

Cherish all the memories 

But don’t let time stand still

Although we cherish our memories greatly from when Leah was with us, time does not stand still and we have to live on and make new memories too.



Bank Holiday Blues

Bank Holiday Blues

Today was a Bank Holiday in Northern Ireland. Bank Holidays, like Sundays, can be very painful, because they are family days.

Sundays used to be my favourite day of the week, now they’re the most difficult, the day when the empty chair is at it’s most conspicuous.

I concentrated on keeping myself busy today, trying to do housework and sort through stuff, choking back the tears.

When Leah and I came back from Bristol, there was only enough of the new house ready for her and I to move in. Then on Christmas Eve, the rest of the family joined us, but there wasn’t any time to move all of our belongings from the old house to the new house.

Three days later, Leah was admitted to hospital and subsequently died, so nothing ever got sorted. We just fetched items from the other house when we needed them – if we even remembered what we had!

To be honest, I find it very painful to go into our old house now, too many memories. To make it easier for me, Horace goes up and fills a box of stuff from the old house and brings it down for me to sort.

Some stuff goes in the bin (or the fire), some goes to the Charity Shop and some gets kept. The trouble is, everything has a memory  attached to it.

Today while sorting, I found pages of Leah’s homework, along with a long list of who she was buying Christmas presents for in 2012 and the consent form that she signed when she was having her eggs harvested in 2013.


Nearly makes me think that the gypsies have the right idea – when one of them dies they usually burn their wagon.

After my Mum died I couldn’t face clearing out her house, so my husband went and did it in my place. I appreciated him doing that so much. I really think that sorting through somebody’s possessions after they’ve died is one of the most painful things ever.

I will be glad to get to my work tomorrow for a ‘break’. Work is the one area of my life that is more or less still the same as it was before Leah’s illness and death. There’s a comfort in that.

I loved my job before Leah took ill and thankfully I still love it.

The demands of my work and the busyness, provide a very welcome distraction for a few hours, three days per week.


God is Bigger than the Boogie Man

God is Bigger than the Boogie Man


These were taken CHRISTMAS 2011. Sadly I don't seem to have taken ANY photos CHRISTMAS 2012 - between me having the flu and the cat killing the hamster, it was all a bit stressful.
These were taken CHRISTMAS 2011. Sadly I don’t seem to have ANY photos taken CHRISTMAS 2012 – between me having the flu and the cat killing the hamster, it was all a bit stressful.

One of the many differences since Leah died is the quietness.

The house feels quiet, the car feels quiet and we are quiet, often lost in our thoughts and in our memories.

In September 2012, Rachel, the eldest of our four children, left home to go to university.

Then in November 2012 I started a new job.

December 2012 Leah had her first blood test.

In July 2013 Leah and I went to Bristol Children’s Hospital and we were away from home for 16 weeks.

December 2013 Leah was admitted to ICU and in January 2014 she died.

It feels as if just yesterday we had a noisy house and car full of children, but today there is just quietness.

Leah was the only one of our four children who ALWAYS played her music too loud and this used to drive me crazy.

In the car she used headphones, but even then she had her music turned up so loud that it still irritated me. I lectured her endlessly about the potential damage to her hearing.

Sometimes I would play my music through the car stereo to drown out what leaked from her earphones. Then she would turn hers up even louder, as she said that my music was drowning hers – parents of teenagers, you know how it is!

Now it all just seems too quiet.

Was it really so long ago that I was driving our 7 seater car with our kids and their cousins jumping about and belting out the Veggietales song “God is bigger than the Boogie Man”?

Sometimes it feels like only yesterday.

Precious memories

Precious memories

Thursday 13th June ’13 we were flying to Bristol Children’s Hospital for Leah’s first outpatient appointment the following day.

Simon, as her bone marrow donor was part of this.

Miriam was coming too as I felt that psychologically it was important to include Miriam in everything wherever possible.

I had phoned the hospital and enquired and they had said that their Play Therapist would keep an eye on Miriam in the play area while we were speaking to the consultant.

Rachel wasn’t accompanying us to Bristol but thankfully she insisted on coming to the airport with us so that we could have a family picnic at one of our favourite places to go as a family – the Antrim Forum.

I remember at the time being a little ungracious about all of this – when translated this means “very grumpy”!

Packing for the trip, getting six people out of the house AND organising a picnic while also ensuring we were on time for our flights felt like an awful lot of effort at the time.

I also remember though that once we got to the Antrim Forum we enjoyed being there, as we always have done over the years.

We never for one minute imagined that this was to be our last ever picnic as a family of six.

Thank God for modern technology such as mobile phones that enable such moments to be captured.

They are for ever preserved in our hearts, of course.








Everything we now do as a family will be bittersweet

Everything we now do as a family will be bittersweet


Yesterday I thought I would get some fresh air with my youngest and I contemplated going to Roe Valley Country Park – a local beauty spot that I have enjoyed visiting over the years.

I scanned my memories for any strong associations of that place with Leah but nothing major came to mind so I suggested it to my youngest and off we headed.

Well if she hadn’t been with me I would have got straight back in the car and come home. First thing I saw was an empty picnic bench.

I remembered a Sunday School excursion to the Country Park when Leah was a toddler. There was torrential rain so everyone ate their picnic in the bus. Everyone that is except Leah and me. Leah said that it wasn’t a picnic unless you sat at a picnic table. Leah insisted on sitting there in the rain in her red puddle suit, legs dangling, while she ate her picnic. We got soaked.

Yesterday the Country Park seemed filled with memories of Leah from previous visits over the years. Thankfully my youngest was happy to walk and not talk because I certainly wasn’t capable of conversing.

I’m new to this life of grief and loss and the fact that everything we now do as a family will be bittersweet.

It’s good to have happy memories though.

Some days are just harder than others

Some days are just harder than others

Today was my younger daughter’s appointment at the fracture clinic in Altnagelvin Hospital.
I explained to her before we left the house that Mummy feels sad when she goes near the hospital because it brings back so many memories & not to be worried if I started crying.
The easiest place to park is opposite the South Wing where the Sperrin Oncology/Haematology Ward is, where Leah had two admissions & sat two of her GCSE modules – & got an ‘A’ in both.
I managed to park, walk up the steps & enter the hospital without shedding a tear.
I was just starting to relax when it hit me – today is the 20th of February…… come I never thought of this before?
Wednesday 20th February 2013 started like any normal working day – I got up, got dressed and went to work.
I never suspected as I got dressed that morning that the clothes that I was putting on me would be what I would sleep in that night – and the next night too.
In fact it was Friday lunch hour before I managed to shower and change.
Leah had been having hematological investigations since the day of her 15th birthday – New Year’s Eve 31st December ’12.
By Wednesday 20th February ’13 Leah was as yet undiagnosed.
A few friends had been asking me for weeks to meet them for a meal and I had kept putting them off.
I was worried about Leah and I didn’t want to leave the house unnecessarily in case she took unwell when I wasn’t there.
Wednesday 20th February was the day that I had finally agreed to meet up with them for a meal after work.
We went to a really nice Chinese restaurant called the Mandarin Palace.
We chatted and laughed and caught up on each other’s news – it felt good to have a bit of rest and relaxation.
I had just swallowed the last bite of dessert when my mobile phone rang – it was my husband “I think you had better come home, Leah’s not feeling well.”
Leah was severely neutropenic and her consultant had me well warned that if she ever became unwell that I wasn’t to waste time taking her to the GP or A&E, I was to immediately phone the Oncology/Hematology helpline.
We paid the bill, hugged, wished each other well and said goodbye.
I went home and assessed Leah’s situation, spoke to the staff on the Sperrin Ward and was asked to bring her in.
Although it was midterm, Leah filled her overnight bag with school work – she wanted to make the best possible use of any time spent in hospital.
I was as yet totally unaccustomed to this new way of life and I didn’t pack even as much as a toothbrush for myself.
The nurse who was cutting off my younger daughter’s plaster today didn’t notice my distress at first.
Then he tried to give me directions to X-ray but I got totally confused.
You would think that I should know my way round my local hospital by now, especially when you consider how much time I’ve spent in it.
Its hard though when your eyes are filled with tears & your mind is full of memories.
The nurse was very caring & he took me into a side room and talked to me until I had regained enough composure to continue.
My young daughter got her X-ray quite quickly & we returned to Clinic 3.
A pleasant young doctor told her the good news that her arm was well healed and no further treatment was required – what a relief.
A close friend who works in the hospital then met us for a drink & buns in the outpatients cafe.
After this I dropped my young daughter off for a day of fun and games with some of her school-friends – they are off school for mid-term.
This has been very kindly organized by two of the parents and they have the use of a church hall for the day.
As I pulled up outside Ballykelly Church of Ireland hall I remembered that the last time I was there was to take Leah to “BK Banter” – something she absolutely loved attending – so many memories.
It’s good to have memories – lots of them – some days are just harder than others.