Farewell To The Bristol Trail

Farewell To The Bristol Trail

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Three days spent sheep spotting and I managed to see 19 Shaun’s out of a possible 70. My Sheep Spotter App tells me that I’ve walked 23 Kilometres in the process.

Not very impressive?

Could have done better.” I hear you say?

I disagree, this trip to Bristol was never intended to be a race, or a “Who can see the most Shaun’s?” competition.

It was about having a relaxing holiday with my two girls and about remembering Leah.

I feel that I’ve achieved both.

I’ve cried and I’ve laughed.

On our first morning, we had breakfast in the Courtyard of Wesley’s New Room – or “breakfast with John Wesley” as I referred to it on my Facebook page.

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I returned there later on my own. I entered the peaceful chapel, climbed the steps that lead to the place set aside for quiet prayer and there I sat and reflected.

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I remembered how I had sat in that same place in August 2013, with my heart breaking, because my daughter was so sick and I didn’t know how to cope. God had met with me there. I write about this here.

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My heart is broken now, only in a different kind of a way. I sat and read the same verses from Philippians 4:6-7 that I had read then. I felt the same hot salty tears flow down my cheeks.

I read from the prayers that were taped to the table beside the Bible. I was glad that there is a prayer especially for the bereaved. It is a comforting prayer.

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On Wednesday I had breakfast with K who lives in Bristol. Her friendship meant so much to Leah and I during our time here. It was so lovely to have this time with her.

During this rendezvous, I bumped into the Dad of a young man who had been second next door to Leah in the Transplant Unit in 2013. I had not been in contact with them since leaving Bristol. As soon as I spoke to him, his face told me the news that I didn’t want to hear – his lovely boy had died just before Leah on the 23rd December 2013. This was a very emotional moment.

Thursday morning I had another breakfast date – an extra special one. Valerie’s teenage son Jonathan had a bone marrow transplant in Bristol in the Summer of 2008. Like Leah, he loved Jesus. Like Leah, Jonathan went to live with his Heavenly Father just a few short months after returning home to Northern Ireland, following his bone marrow transplant.

Like me, Valerie is the mother of four children. She doesn’t live near me, but a mutual friend introduced us after Leah died. Like me, Valerie loves Bristol.

Amazingly, when I told Valerie my dates for visiting Bristol, we discovered that our visits would overlap!
I don’t actually believe in random coincidences – as Leah told us after she was diagnosed “Mummy, we have to see the bigger picture”. There was definitely a “bigger picture” going on here.

Valerie and I sat in the warm sunshine and compared our journeys, remembered our children, and talked about the God who gives us the strength to go on.

Then, because it’s Bristol, there had to be a Shaun.

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The rest of the day was spent with my girls, enjoying the Bristol sunshine and doing some sheep spotting.

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No trip to Bristol is complete without a visit to ZaZa Bazaar to eat. Their food is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! They are a buffet style “all-you-can-eat” restaurant serving food from all over the world. Rachel’s school friend Sally joined us for this one.

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Now we’re off to London for a few days, to stay with my sister.

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Shopping in Belfast

Shopping in Belfast

Before Leah became ill I had never driven the 140 mile round trip to Belfast. Leah’s illness obliged me to acquire that skill, but I only know one route – the one from our house to either Belfast City Hospital or the Royal.

I wanted to spend a day in Belfast with our eldest daughter before Christmas. Conveniently for me, she lives quite near Belfast City Hospital.

Yesterday was Friday, the day that Leah and I always spent at the City Hospital from we returned from Bristol until she died. I left the house at the time that Leah and I always left and drove the same roads, only this time I was alone.

Unusually for me, I kept the music off in the car for the entire 70 mile journey – I needed to be alone with my thoughts and memories.

I drove on to the motorway and remembered how on Friday 27th December 2013 Leah suddenly became violently ill at that stage. Once the vomiting had stopped Leah insisted that she wasn’t sick, that she had merely drank some water too fast. She desperately wanted to be able to attend a large family get together in Donegal that evening.

On the outskirts of Belfast I passed the sign for Belfast Zoo and remembered how Leah longed to visit either Bristol Zoo or Belfast Zoo during her illness. Finally on Friday 13th December our Belfast haematologist told Leah that her immunity was now strong enough for a zoo visit. However, by this time Leah had developed a spontaneous spinal fracture and she would have needed to go in a wheelchair. She was in a lot of pain and could only walk short distances. Leah became ill and died before there was time to organise this.

As I drove into the many lanes of Belfast traffic I remembered how Leah used to look at the map that my husband had drawn and how her gentle calming voice ensured that I was always in the right lane.

Yesterday I prayed and asked God to help me.

I passed the turn off to the City Hospital at the same time as Leah and I would have taken that turnoff this time last year.

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You might wonder why I do these things, why I expose myself to this pain instead of running away from it? It’s just my way of processing it all, because sometimes I still can’t even believe that all of this has happened. Sometimes I feel as if a part of me is still in shock. The trauma feels too great for my mind to comprehend.

In December 2012, three weeks before her first blood test – the one that changed everything – Leah posted these amazing song words on her Facebook page:

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Rachel and I spent a lovely day together in Belfast. The last time I shopped in Belfast at Christmas time was in the 1980’s. Rachel got various bits and pieces. I spent all of £1.99 on a pretty candle holder – I love scented candles.

We had our lunch in Cosmos – I hadn’t been there before but Rachel described it to me as being similar to ZaZa Bazaar, a restaurant in Bristol that I particularly liked. I really enjoyed the main course in Cosmos, but for desserts the rice pudding and whipped ice cream in ZaZa Bazaar wins hands down.

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Rachel came back to Derry with me and she drove thankfully – I was feeling quite exhausted at this stage. Once home we did a bit more shopping from the comfort of the couch in front of a nice warm fire.