Sisters

Sisters

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Today is our eldest daughter’s 21st birthday. Our much loved, longed for, prayed for, beautiful, eldest child.

For weeks now I’ve been thinking about and planning for, the family get togethers we will be having to celebrate this milestone – when her University exams are finally out of the way.

I fished out Rachel’s baby book this morning, to get some photos of her as a baby, to make up a “Happy Birthday collage” – as one does.

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I opened the first page, expecting just to see photos of Rachel, but amidst the first photos of Rachel as a baby, I was also bombarded with photos of two smiling little girls with captions like “sisters”.

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Rachel was three and a half years old when Leah was born. She loved her new sister from day one and never showed any signs of jealousy or resentment.

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Seeing these photos this morning, caught me completely off guard, and triggered such a huge wave of grief, that my breakfast threatened to make a reappearance.

Every family event is bitter sweet.

From Leah's Facebook page. The caption reads "I love having my sister home for the weekend."
From Leah’s Facebook page.
The caption reads “I love having my sister home for the weekend.”

I wondered what I had been thinking of, when I had made plans to work today, but Wednesday is my busy clinic day and I almost never take it off. I also don’t like having too much time to think. I just wasn’t sure how I was going to regain my composure.

Thankfully, I rarely – if ever – look as if I’ve been crying, so once I reached the Health Centre car park, I blew my nose and was very glad, as I have been on many other occassions, of that “busy clinic morning”.

I’ve talked before about the song “Somewhere Only We Know” here and here.

I walked across an empty land
I knew the pathway like the back of my hand
I felt the earth beneath my feet
Sat by the river and it made me complete

Oh simple thing where have you gone?
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on
So tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired and I need somewhere to begin

I came across a fallen tree
I felt the branches of it looking at me
Is this the place we used to love?
Is this the place that I’ve been dreaming of?

Oh simple thing where have you gone?
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on
So tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired and I need somewhere to begin

And if you have a minute why don’t we go
Talk about it somewhere only we know?
This could be the end of everything
So why don’t we go
Somewhere only we know?

Somewhere only we know?

Grief triggers” are in many ways a case of “somewhere only we know“.

What triggers my grief won’t necessarily trigger your grief and vice versa.

I hadn’t anticipated this wave of grief. So, not only do we not know what will trigger somebody else’s grief, we often don’t even know what will trigger our own grief.

Such a steep learning curve.

Somewhere Only We Know

Somewhere Only We Know

Leah got a Nintendo WiiU for Christmas ’13.

She really enjoyed playing it for the two days that she had it before she was admitted to hospital.

When she died, we just packed it all away.

Yesterday we set it up again for the first time since then.

When it was switched on, Leah’s avatar was still there – her Mii.

She had created it bald just like she was.

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This image triggered two trains of thought in me.

Firstly, that Leah was comfortable with her appearance, because she had learned that beauty is what’s on the inside.

One of her favourite Bible verses was 1 Peter 3:3

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Secondly it reminded me of Leah’s sense of humour.

Throughout her illness Leah and I shared lots of funny moments.

I think that’s partly why the song Somewhere Only We Know appeals so much to me now.

That “somewhere only we know” represents the many giggles and laughs and “private jokes” that Leah and I shared during her illness journey.

There was the day that the member of the hospital chaplaincy team mistook the hand soap for alcohol gel and tried very vigorously to rub it into her hands, while Leah and I tried very hard not to notice. Then we had such a giggle about it afterwards.

There was the Mediterranean doctor we secretly named Pingu because she flapped her hands so much while talking. When stuck for the right word in English, she used ‘hand signals‘ to fill in the gaps. We used to try and imagine what would happen if she was ever sent to work in “air traffic control“!

Or the time the night nurse came into our room very flustered to say that she had mislaid the thermometer she was using and remembered having it in our room. We found it hours later in our bin, where the nurse had obviously put in it an absent minded moment!

Leah and I shared a similar sense of humour.

Most days we found something to make us smile or laugh.

Reminiscing over humorous incidents together helped us while away the hours during our inpatient and outpatient hospital visits.

Some days I feel so sad for what we’ve lost, then other days I feel very thankful for having had Leah in our lives for 16 years – my feelings fluctuate.

The Forget Me Not Service

The Forget Me Not Service

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Yesterday 12 of us went to the N.I. Children’s Hospice for their annual “Forget Me Not” Service. It was very moving to be together with so many people each grieving the loss of a child. The service was quite simple but I found it very emotional. Before the service started there was an opportunity to display a photo of Leah and attach messages to it.

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The service opened with the choir singing the song “Somewhere only we know” that is associated with the 2013 John Lewis Christmas Advert. Just before Christmas 2013, Leah and I were invited to a school assembly at her former primary school, to receive a cheque for monies they had raised to support the Clic Sargent charity.

However that morning the pain from Leah’s spinal fracture was very severe and she was unable to come with me. I wept for most of the 15 minute drive from home to the school. It just felt so wrong that my daughter – who was supposedly recovering and “getting better” – seemed to have so much pain and a decreasing quality of life.

Every month since her transplant in August, Leah had developed a new complication or side effect. I found it hard to escape the nagging sense of uneasiness that I felt in my heart regarding Leah’s medical condition.

At the school assembly that morning they played the John Lewis Advert to illustrate a point in the principal’s talk. We don’t have a live television connection at home so I didn’t hear the song again until yesterday, but it immediately caused me to remember the sad feeling I had that December morning, that something in my daughter’s body just wasn’t quite right.

Leah’s hospital consultant in Belfast was very vigilant and very protective of her and she was being very closely monitored, so nothing was ever missed that could possibly be treated. In a discussion I had with Leah’s Bristol consultant after her death, he & I concluded that a mother’s intuition can sense things that can’t be picked up by blood tests or X-rays.

The hospice have two large memory books containing the life stories of the children who have died and these are carried up to the front during the service.

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Many weeks ago our hospice outreach nurse gave us blank sheets of card to write Leah’s life story for insertion in the Memory Book but these remained blank, as the thought of filling them in just seemed too painful for me. Last Tuesday a very kind friend came to our house and helped me to fill these pages in for insertion in the Memory Book before the service today.

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After the service we collected Leah’s memory stone and carried it out to the Quiet Garden and Rachel chose a space in which to place it.

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We spent some time chatting to parents whom I first met through work nearly nine years ago. When Leah was a little girl she met their very ill wee baby and her heart was moved to pray for that wee baby every night, during the time that I was in contact with them.

After we left the Children’s Hospice, Leah’s Auntie Evelyn had us all back to her house for tea. Leah and I stayed with Evelyn in Belfast for two weeks when we first returned from Bristol and I hadn’t been back to her house since, so I found that very emotional too.

However it was just lovely to have that time together – we were well fed, we enjoyed each other’s company and we managed a few laughs too.