On grief and gratitude


Image from Grief to Gratitude blog

To Little One

It was your 7th birthday last month. Facebook popped up a picture of you, 2 years old in your yellow corduroy party dress (you might not even know what Facebook was if you read this in the future). You had a little sprout of hair tied up in a hair bobble. Even then your fringe liked to fall in your face! Your blue eyes were as beautiful and expressive then as they are today.

I hope you are able to read Mummy’s blog in the future. I know you get cross sometimes when words are so hard they make your brain hurt. I promise we will keep playing musical bumps with your word cards, and laser tag – remember how you love dancing to Minions music and the Trolls soundtrack? We are so proud of how hard you try and how much you love it when we read poems and stories to you.

You had a pizza making birthday party last month – do you remember? You and your friends loved squeezing the pizza dough and rolling it into big ropes to bash on the table! There’s a pang of sadness sometimes that we don’t have pictures of your first birthday party – because we didn’t have one. I’m sorry. Mummy was still so very poorly. I’d love to have made you a cake with chocolate buttons and one pink candle to blow out. But now I get to make you Rapunzel cakes, and rainbow meringue cakes (your big sister is very good at those unicorn poop meringues isn’t she?)

Almost every night-time, Daddy and I pop into your bedroom before we go to bed. You sleep so beautifully! Did you know, sometimes you pucker up your lips in your sleep – just like you are feeding from mummy, or from your bottle. I really missed feeding you when I had to go to hospital. I love it when you lay in my arms even now you’re 7, just to pretend that you’re a baby again.

You love to carry your baby doll in the sling we bought you for your birthday – do you remember it? Grandma and Grandad bought you a talking baby doll who giggles and sounds like she’s saying your name sometimes. She looks so snug when you hold her on your chest. You’ve always loved pretending to be a mummy. You kiss and cuddle your baby dolls and you talk to them in a soft sing-song voice. I love to watch you play ‘babies’ – because I think maybe you learned how to be a really good mummy from me, even though I was poorly for a very long time. That makes me feel very grateful.

You love your new baby cousin Maisie so much. I wonder if you’ll have a chance to feed her some mashed up pear in the holidays? I know you’re very excited about that. Sometimes I have an aching heart, hoping for a lovely person for you to be a parent with in the future. It might be harder to meet a special person when you have learning difficulties… but we’ll find a way. Daddy and I think we might like to be called Pops and Nanna if we are grandparents when we are older. Won’t that be funny!?

Little One, our hopes and dreams for you remain the same. That you know you are deeply loved, that you find fun and purpose in your life, that you have people to support you through sorrow and joy. Love you forever.


Dreams resurrected

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18

Yesterday I signed a form to become an employee of the NHS for the first time in 19 years. At the age of 23, my dreams were in tatters as I quit my job as a Speech & Language Therapist.  My mental health had deteriorated so badly that I had been off sick for two months and I knew I couldn’t go back.  I had only lasted nine months after qualification. All that work for my degree, all the striving towards the four A grades at A-level to get into Newcastle University – it felt utterly wasted.

During my time off sick, I took a retreat to Parcevall Hall in the Yorkshire Dales.  It was early Spring and the gentleness of nature soothed my soul.  I vented to God – this didn’t make sense.  What on earth was I going to do with my future?  I have the carefully scripted pages of my retreat journal in front of me today. It’s a plain red exercise book with lined pages faded to yellow, but it is one of my most treasured possessions.  During the retreat I kept coming back to the book With Open Hands by Henri Nouwen.  I began to realise that letting go of my career was an important step.  It was going to require radical trust.  I believe God spoke during that retreat and here is what I heard:

Allow me to meet your needs

Love, security, value, purpose, worth, significance, dependence

Nothing else will satisfy your longings – allow me, precious one

Allow me, dear child


As I drove away from the interview yesterday having been offered my bank post as a Peer Trainer, it felt like my dream of working to support people in their recovery is slowly coming back to life.  Like a snowdrop emerging from its dormancy, heralding the hope of Spring.

I didn’t know at 23 that I would go on to struggle with my mental health for another twenty years (and will probably continue to struggle).  I didn’t know that my dream of motherhood would be tested to its absolute limits through the haze of psychosis and the dark, relentless agony of depression.  I still don’t understand this path, but I know there is the capacity for immense beauty in it.  My daughters are pure joy in human form!  My husband has been utterly faithful to his vow to love me “in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health”.

I feel like I am allowed to dream again.  I am still learning to be dependent on God, but I get this feeling that he is smiling too at the beauty of a snowdrop.

Time out with the kids

My kids are great at helping me to learn how to enjoy the moment!  This half term we have painted pottery, prepared fresh squid from Leeds market and spent a lot of time in parks.  It’s been a real joy to have my energy back and to spend time with family Up North.  Eldest has been perfecting her cartwheels in the garden and on the seafront, and Little One has been relishing the time to play with her babies, do dressing up and enjoy cuddles with her Uncle, Auntie, Grandma and Grandad.

Half term has felt like an opportunity to drop the pace a bit, and to treasure time spent with our family.  I was able to take my mum out for an afternoon drink at a cosy pub and we caught up about her recovery from a stroke last year.  Like me, she’s learning to pace herself and we are both finding out what helps us to have ‘active rest’.  Mum had made me the most beautiful patchwork swimming bag for my bikini and towel and we bought some fabric together for a secret project for Eldest’s birthday.

Today it’s swimming at the pool and chilling out in Exeter.  It’s only eight weeks then until we break up for the summer, and I know I’m going to keep learning from the way my kids live their lives in the holidays.

Surf’s Up!

Exhilarating, humbling.

It’s an April Saturday, glorious sunshine and I have to say – despite being ten degrees celsius – the water looks beautiful and I can’t wait to get in.  Winter wetsuits are more forgiving than I had remembered, and easier to get into.  Topped off with hawaiian shirt style rash vests, and after lugging the huge foamies down to the beach, the day has arrived and we are ready to take the plunge!

The sun sparkles on the sea and there are perfect little white breakers.  By the time we’re waist deep we all have huge smiles and are thanking the neoprene Gods for amazing winter wetsuits, gloves and booties; we can barely feel the cold. Awesome. We’ve been guided through the anatomy of our boards, the timing of catching a wave and how to give a little push forward into the water before we jump on to ride the wave lying down.  I’m exhilarated to catch the first wave I try and get a surprisingly fast ride in towards the shore.  It fools me for a moment into thinking this is going to be easy!

About halfway into the lesson I notice some writing on our instructor’s rash vest – the mind unshackled; let it be free – and this phrase really stays with me through the weekend as I start to come up against my body’s limitations.  Surfing is the most physically demanding sport I have ever tried, and by the end of our first two hours I feel a glorious ache of effort in my arms, shoulders and core.  We have learned to ‘pop up’ on dry land but I find my muscles just won’t do that in the water! Similarly sliding to my knees from the press-up position feels smooth and eminently possible on land, but combining it with catching a wave, getting my body balanced and keeping momentum is so difficult!  By the end of the lesson I have made it up to my knees although standing up remains elusive.  There’s a twinge of disappointment.

We celebrate with Kelly’s ice creams and zoom back to the cottage and the hot tub.  It feels amazing to look up at the sunset-streaked sky and soak in the peace of the countryside as day one ends.

Day two begins bleary eyed for me.  I’m frustrated that my mind had raced through the night.  I can feel that my body is sore and exhausted.  I think about that phrase again, about unshackling my mind and being free.  I know that it’s really important to encourage myself to enjoy the time in the water, regardless of outcome.  It’s a really hard thing for a perfectionist I realise, to accept the uncertainty that I might get to stand up today, and I might not.  There’s a pinch more trepidation this time as I zip up my wetsuit, adjust the gloves and head out.  As soon as we get into the water I know this is not going to be ‘my time to shine’ as our instructor might say.  It’s messy, big and windy.  The power of the waves takes me aback and I’m getting beaten up by the board.  I am struggling to get onto the deck of the board in the right position, our instructor holds the board for me and encourages me that there are no mistakes here; only practice.  I can feel my body is reaching its limits.  Let it be free.

A couple of tears are beginning to prick in my eyes.  I swallow my pride and ask our instructor if it’s okay to get out of the water for a few minutes.  He asks if I want a bodyboard and honestly, relief washes over me like one of those messy waves! I spend a wonderful half an hour regaining my confidence with the waves, getting one fantastic ride where I manage to steer the bodyboard left and right.  My aching body says thank you for the smaller, lighter board to manoeuvre in the water and I have space to reflect on letting that feeling of failure go.

I head back to the lesson without a board.  It’s an opportunity for a bit of conversation with our instructor about the gap year, why I’m doing it and some of the too familiar sense of failure that has come before with my history of mental illness. But the beautiful thing – in between snippets of conversation he teaches me to bodysurf.  When two waves arrive close together I go for it, diving head first into the water and I suddenly feel an incredible sense of the wave’s power pulling me forward and icy cold bubbles rushing across my face. Incredible. Humbling. Peaceful.

I know it’s going to be a process of unshackling my mind, but that Sunday I think I made a step in the right direction.

An after-school mini adventure

Eldest is hanging upside down by her knees with a tumble of golden hair touching the ground.  Little One is throwing leaves, wood chippings and beech nut cases into the air with glee.  It’s the start of the Easter break and I’m determined that, though there may be fog following me around, we are going to have a little adventure anyway.

Like all good adventures should, we start with sustenance.  Plate-sized pancakes with cherries for me and an assortment of gooey sauces and tiny sweets for the girls.  Then off to a village play park with the best swings in the world.  Huge long chains just made for stomach-twirling heights and hanging backwards to look at the trees upside down.  A wooden fort with ropes, ladders and bars for acrobatics if you happen to be that way inclined (and Eldest certainly is).  We have the whole field to ourselves and though there’s thick grey cloud above, seeing the girls get into the spirit of mini-adventure lifts the clouds within.

On the way home Little One chirps ‘lovely day’ and I have to agree.

Reality bites (and we bite back)

Monday, heavy lids and limbs start the day

Screams and thrashing as I change your clothes

The windscreen is dotted with teardrops

The sky is cloaked in grey

You spill your milk, I rush my coffee

I’m not giving up on today

Mahler on the radio, I catch sight of you making ballerinas with your hands in the air

We venture to your dance class

Your joyfulness lifts me like the chiffon scarves twirling around your arms

We bite into gyoza

You shout “YO!” at the top of your voice, and everyone breaks into a smile

We’re not giving up on today