Heartache and Death: Talking to Children

Back in September we had a new arrival in our family – Biscuit, the hamster. She had been long awaited, a gift promised because of a house move across the country. Our 6 year old was so very excited and, although she hasn’t done the lion’s share of looking after it, she has adored this tiny furry friend (or sister as she was referred to from time to time).

Sadly, we found lovely Biscuit dead in her bed this week. She had been fine, running around her cage, eating her food, running on her wheel. She should have lived for at least a year, if not two. Her death is very unexpected.

I share this because we aren’t surrounded by opportunities to talk about death and the heartache that comes. It was almost simpler when my grannie (the 6 year old’s great-grannie) died in the autumn. She was old, she was poorly for a few days beforehand, and she was slightly removed from our day-to-day family life. Of course, my daughter was sad when Grannie Mac died, but with Biscuit it’s been something else.

When my husband and I discovered Biscuit’s furry corpse, still so soft and cuddly feeling, my natural instinct was protection. “Could we just go and buy her an identical one? Replace Biscuit before she notices?” I asked my husband anxiously. Thankfully, my husband is much better at this than me.

“No,” he said, “We’ve got to do this properly.”

Despite my best instincts to shelter my little one from the heartache of sudden death and loss, the best protection that lasts long-term is the type of protection that allows you to develop a strong heart for the future. Not cold-hearted and impenetrable, where no pain and loss makes a mark. Instead, a strong-heartedness that knows that, in time, despite the current heartache, you will overcome the loss that death provides.

We told her. As the words came out of my mouth, her face crumpled as she let out a cry. The tears came and it was devastating to watch her as she experienced the depths of grief for a beloved family member. As the news has settled, we’ve talked about how we might say goodbye to our furry friend. We’ve shared our favourite things about her. We’ve let our daughter cry and grieve as best as we can, even though – to us – it was just a £10 hamster from Pets at Home.

There are hundreds of websites out there that will tell you how to break the news of death to a child, how to talk about death, how to help your child grieve when the time comes. This is not one of those. Rather, this is one pained mother encouraging you to be honest with your child. To hold them close when the tears come, and to keep pointing them onwards to a time when they won’t feel so much heartache.

Death and heartache are an inevitable part of life. Our job, as parents, is to enable our children to walk this painful path with hope and love.


Jobs to do

  1. Clear hallway.
  2. Put books on shelves.
  3. Declutter dining room.
  4. Clean fridge.
  5. Go to post office.
  6. Read books for essay.
  7. Make tea.

And on it goes.

Do I ever reach the end of the list? No. And what would I do if I did? Stop. Rest.

No. I’d find more things that need doing. Because there’s always something else which needs doing.

So no more. I’ll come back to my list in a little while. It’ll still be there in the morning. Now though, I stop. I down tools.

I open my Bible. I open my heart. I open my mind.

And I rest.


“Mummy, what does freedom mean?” asked my 4 year old last week.

We then had a good (long) conversation about being free. Free to do what we want. Free from people telling us what to do. Free from things that control us. She had many more questions, like can I wear what I want? Eat what I want? Do what I want?

That’s when the conversation went somewhere a bit deeper. After explaining that mostly mummy and daddy choose her food to make sure she keeps growing big and strong, I reassured her that she could mostly choose her own clothes. I then told her that soon we’d have to not leave the house. We wouldn’t be able to go to nursery, or church, or the park. Her response?

“Why aren’t we free?”

Wow. These questions have stayed with me all week. It’s tricky, isn’t it? Yet, I explained to her that we are still free. Even if we don’t go out of the house. We are free and we have freedom.

  1. Freedom of choice.
    Right now we have freedom to choose how we act as people in a society made up of the vulnerable and invulnerable. We can choose to use our freedom to gather in groups, go to work unnecessarily, travel on public transport for no reason, or spend time with friends in person. Or, we can choose to use our freedom to stay at home, play games, work from home, find ways to keep in touch with people. We can choose to use our freedom to stay at home and keep the vulnerable safe. We can choose to flatten the curve. We can choose to honour those who have no choice but to keep working in our hospitals, schools, police, energy services.

    We have freedom to choose.
  2. Freedom from fear.
    And secondly, regardless of current situation, we have freedom from fear. When he was alive and teaching on this earth, Jesus said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV) Right now, there is a lot of fear, anxiety and panic across the world. It has seeped into our homes and is the thief which Jesus refers to. This thief will steal, kill, and destroy hope. If we let it.

    We have freedom to choose. Freedom to chose hope. Freedom from fear. If we put our trust in Jesus, he will give us life in its fullness. If we put our trust in Jesus, he will give us true freedom. If we put our trust in Jesus, he will give us a hope and a peace which passes all understanding.

The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4)


Short disclaimer: This is a reflection on the effects of bullying, not a witch hunt for blood. It is written about an event that happened at the tail end of 2013.

While at university I was the subject of a misplaced joke. Some might call it bullying, whilst others would just say it was a misplaced joke. I’m not sure what I call it. I want to let you in to how this ‘joke’ made me feel – immediately afterwards, and over the following weeks.

#fugly #slut

These were the words left for me on a board when I came into a study room to do exactly that: study. I had booked the room for 3 hours, with some friends, so we could work together on a presentation. As I walked into that room, I was breathless. I felt winded. And as I turned to look at my friend who was with me, I cried. This was followed by a brief lull in the emotions as we waited for the rest of our group… but when they walked in, I cried again. In fact, the afternoon was not a productive study session. It was interspersed with crying, paranoia, anxiety and great sadness from within me.

That night, at home, I sobbed down the phone to my mum. She was horrified that not only had it happened, but that it could have been written by someone who is training to be a teacher. To her it wasn’t solely about the nature of the words and how hurtful they were, but also about professional conduct. I went to sleep, feeling soothed, thinking ‘tomorrow is a new day!’ And it was. It was a Friday. I wasn’t in university, my housemate was away, I was alone. Or, at least, I felt like I was alone. I spent the entire day watching Geordie Shore (which is atrocious, but highly addictive) and eating rubbish. I just sat and let the waves of sadness, waves of anxiety and waves of inferiority wash over me. I didn’t believe the words they had used to describe me, but I felt insecure. I knew then as I know now, I am not a slut… but I felt dirty and weak.

For me, you see, the story actually began 10 years years ago. 10 years ago, I was a different person. I was insecure and weak. I was paranoid and anxious. I was depressed. Not as a result of bullying, but as a result of having the wrong priorities in my life. I had absolutely hit rock bottom, which included a brief encounter with suicidal thoughts, and an attempt on my own life. Thankfully, because of my ever-loving parents, I was able to move home and begin to fix myself. It was a very long process but, with their love and support, and the love and support of wiser friends, I was able to get back on my feet once more. Recently, I’ve been able to take the final step I need to heal: counselling. I am able to, with a supportive professional, come to terms with my angers and anxieties; my insecurities and paranoias; and start leaving it in the past, where it belongs.

If we now jump back again, into the present, you may now begin to understand why I spent a week feeling sick and crying. It wasn’t all the time. It was, like I said before, waves. I was fine, until I wasn’t. The misplaced ‘joke’ broke me in the immediate aftermath. It brought me back to my teenage years. I was insecure. I definitely didn’t think I was pretty. Those insecurities were never things that I was bullied for at school. But they were insecurities which were never dealt with. And they did control my first few years as a young adult, from 18-21 years old.

I’m done, now, with this incident at university. Obviously, I hoped there would be certain outcomes (there weren’t), but the best outcome for me would have been if the perpetrator realised that it was never about offence. If you take me out of it, it is about what is ok to say, and what isn’t. If you leave me in it, it is about this misguided thought process of the 21st Century. It is about people thinking they can say and/or write what they want, without thinking more deeply about the person they’re talking/writing about.

For me, this is the challenge. Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, Michael Gove, Gavin Williamson, I know you won’t read this… but I wish you would. It isn’t about the facts which we fill children’s heads with. And it isn’t about how well people will contribute to society, economically. It is about working out what each child’s insecurities are, and tackling them. It is about teaching children to have respect and empathy. It is about guiding children and teenagers and young adults away from those feelings of anxiety and paranoia. Finally, it is about how well children today will contribute to society, emotionally and socially.

We all need to work out how we can develop children’s emotional and social intelligence; how we can nurture each child’s health and wellbeing. I used to think that began in the classroom. Many are calling for a change in the media, a change in how social media is policed. But none of that matters if we aren’t raising up children who know better and do better. None of that matters if we aren’t raising up children who know what resilience and empathy look like in equal measure. None of that matters if we aren’t raising up children who know their true worth does not lie in economics or physical attraction, but in something greater. I now know that it starts with me: mum.

“Jesus, you’re worth it.”

“While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matthew 26: 6-13 NIV)

There is so much going on in this passage. So much. I imagine you could preach on it every year, just before Easter, and find new things to say even after 25 years. Why am I writing about it today, then? Well, it is half term, which means my daughter is off from school; it’s also reading week at college, which means I’ve potentially got space for extra studying this week. Yet, as anyone who has raised small children or knows anyone who has raised small children will know, that isn’t quite how it works.

I am not begrudging my just turned 4-year-old time with mummy, especially as quality time with mummy is actually quite hard to come by at the moment. Plus she’s about to go through all sorts of changes with starting school, then moving house some time next year, so I figure mummy time is important. Sensibly, I’ve enjoyed time with her doing different things each day, while I’ve also allowed a bit of time each day to get some work done. However, it’s now Thursday evening and I’ve spent the whole afternoon trying to do work to no avail.

At one point I had to be quite firm with her, as I had reached the limits of how many times I can be interrupted while I try to read my book. Realising that I wasn’t getting into the flow with the book (The Joshua Delusion for anyone who cares), I thought I’d spend some time on my talk for this Sunday’s All Age service. No problem, I thought foolishly. Once again, in she trots to miaow at me. Literally. She just stand next to me making cat sounds. Cute, right? Except now I have to start again. Again. So I’m cross. And actually, it’s unnecessary for all sorts of reasons but mainly because she hasn’t actually done anything wrong.

I apologise. We cuddle. She’s ok again. Yet I’m still cross. Why? Because my husband (saint in our daughter’s eyes) is sat upstairs able to just get on with doing his work. And in that moment, my heart burns with jealous anger. “Well of course daddy is beloved in this house! He never has to tell her to go away because he’s doing work!” I mutter. I’m then torn; I know I have a choice to make. I can continue to be annoyed and embittered. Or I can calm down. But how? How can I let it go (ironic, as that’s the song that’s blasting in the living room right now), when I’m feeling hard done by?

I remember, and know, that turning to God ALWAYS helps. I decide to read the Bible, largely because it means I can sit down, put my feet up and drink a cup of tea at the same time. And I don’t have to utter a word or a thought. So I open the pages of my Bible to Matthew 26, and read of Jesus being anointed in Bethany, shortly before he is betrayed, trialled and crucified.

What do I find there? This beautiful image of a woman, unnamed, willing to undergo public humiliation by doing something ‘foolish’: pouring away invaluable, expensive perfume. For what? Some man. The reaction of those present? Absolute astonishment and anger. “This could have been sold and the money put to better use!” they cry. They have a point. Jesus had spent his ministry up until this point teaching people to look after the poor. And yet, his reaction is of astonishment and anger too, but not to the woman. Instead he is dismayed by his friends’ response.

You see, in their response they say to the room, “Jesus, you’re not worth it. Jesus, you’re not worth this lavishing of perfume. Jesus, you’re not worth this anointing before your death.”

Whereas, the woman’s act says loudly and clearly, “Jesus, this is how much I think you’re worth. Jesus, you’re worth this costly perfume. Jesus, you’re worth more than what the world values. Jesus, you’re worth this act of devotion. Jesus, you’re worth me pouring away what I own.”

As I sat reading the passage, I pondered how in that moment I hadn’t only been cross with my daughter and my husband. I’d also been annoyed by my present circumstances: that I have no choice but to work from home and actively ignore my daughter, when I’d much rather say to her, “Stuff my work! I want to spend time with you.” Yet, what does this say of how I value Jesus? How I value his death? How I value his sacrifice? For a moment – just 10 minutes or so – my heart cried out loudly, “Jesus, you’re not worth it. You’re not worth the late nights and the early mornings. You’re not worth the time away from my daughter. You’re not worth this feeling of resentment towards my husband. You’re not worth it.”

Yet the woman’s actions and Jesus’ response show us that following Christ is the only option that is worth it; pouring out our whole lives for him is all we can do. So, my cup of tea is empty, but my heart is filled afresh, as I am reminded that following Jesus’ call on my life sometimes means pouring something away which the world calls valuable. Because he is worth it. And that’s worth remembering.


How can it be that we are at the eve of your 3rd birthday?

At this moment 3 years ago, I was finally being wheeled down to the delivery suite. I’d been in labour since Monday and it was now Wednesday night. Finally, finally, it was time to meet you.

We had waited so long for you. Time went so slowly in the lead up to your arrival. Labour had taken its time. Even once you were here, though the days blurred with nights, time seemed to go so slowly.

So how is it that I seem to have blinked and missed you growing up? How did you get from being tiny baby to independent, chatty little girl? How can I remember it all, and yet not remember any of it? How will you continue to change in another 1095 days?

How can it be that I could love you more than I did that day? I do, it’s undeniable that my love for you has grown. Like an unquenchable fire, fanned silently into flame and carefully stoked. But how? How has it been 3 whole years since I first set eyes on you and breathed, “She is beautiful.”


“Looks like we made it, look how we’ve come…”

A slight disclaimer that I love Shania Twain. She was the first popstar that I owned an album of, and I would often listen to songs as an angsty teenager and hope for the love which she sang of in her songs.

I might have even dreamed that, during the musical instrumental right before the bridge, I’d be swept up into my future husband’s arms and kissed passionately. A fairytale moment. Of course. Just like in the book (and film) Princess Diaries, when Mia (the unlikely princess) imagines that when she gets her first kiss her leg will just “pop”.

Well, I never had that leg pop moment. I never got swept into a handsome man’s arms in the emotional climbing of a Shania Twain instrumental. But I did meet a wonderful, passionate and kind young man. And he opened my eyes to the way the world is. I mean, I like to think I have always been compassionate. And I really do think I have always wanted to bring light and love into the world. But did I really know about how privilege works in society? Was I aware of how inheritance for some maintains socio-economic disparity? Did I really understand how much easier it is to make mistakes in your life, and then still be successful later down the line, when you have good parents who support you?

Probably not, if I am honest. Many of my closest and oldest friends will know just how much I messed up in my late teens and early twenties. I strongly believe now that if it weren’t for the fact that my parents were endlessly gracious and loving (even when that love looked like they didn’t), I would be living a very different life. A few years ago, I met a couple of young men who had recently been released from a young offenders prison. We had a cup of tea and talked. I asked them their stories and one of them, just 17 years old told me that he’d been imprisoned for dealing and supplying all manner of drugs. So I asked him how he had got into that world.

His reply? That his mum and dad were never really together, and his mum was always drunk, so he went to live with his dad. One day, aged 14, he and his dad had an enormous row and his dad kicked him out. He was homeless, with no idea of what to do or where to go. He made friends with some young men he met one day in the park when sleeping rough. And they made him all kinds of promises, mainly finance, friendship and a place to stay. Unfortunately, this all came at a cost: selling drugs.

He knew that what he had done was wrong. He was incredibly remorseful. I looked him in the eye and told him that yes, it was his fault. He made a choice in that park. But I also told him of how if he had had different parents, he might not have ended up on that park bench at the age of 14. I told him that I screwed up time after time, but that my parents (frustrated as they might have been) never chucked me out. I also told him, and his friend (who had become a Christian in prison, as the result of an Alpha course) of the love of Jesus; that there is a Heavenly Father who will not ever walk out or abandon or let us down. There’s a beautiful verse in Psalm 27, which says this:

Though my father and mother forsake me,

The Lord will receive me.

And so, back in 2012, I met a young man who really got my brain working and thinking about the unseen disempowerment and social inequalities of our society. And 4 years ago today, 26th July 2014, we married in front of our friends and family. It was such a wonderful day, to finally be joined for a lifetime to a man who keeps me on my toes and challenges me.

Happy anniversary, darling. You’re a wonderful father, and a fabulous husband. Here’s to the next 4.

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

You Got A Friend In Me

Today started out as many others have recently.

My little girl is definitely entering those tricky toddler years, with tantrums galore and crying at the drop of a hat for no reason at all. Of course, that’s not quite true. It seems to be for no reason to me, an adult. But clearly something is bothering my darling daughter. Whether it’s her teeth, her tummy, or just simply the frustration that she can’t communicate what she wants, something is causing my child to behave in a way I previously thought wasn’t in her nature.

And so, today started pretty badly. There were tears, lots of shaking of the head and some very cross noes. All before breakfast! For some unknown reason, she had given up eating for the last week or so. This morning, it is safe to say, I wasn’t looking forward to another day of refusing to eat. But thankfully, this was not to be. She’s eaten so well, and I am thrilled!

Anyway… why the title from Toy Story? 

Well, because today a friend reached out to me. And, for once, I let them.

Wow! What a difference!

I was able to pack my entire wardrobe for our imminent house move, and clean the bathroom. And I was able to breathe, not worry that my child isn’t having fun whilst I am getting organised. My friend arrived back at my house with my lovely bundle, and we enjoyed a natter and then he surprised me… with a lovely box of chocolates (which I might be enjoying right now). Wow! Good friends are really good for you. Such a blessing!

With my mood drastically lifted, I felt ready to get through the rest of the day. Despite a bit more whinging, my little girl seemed happier today – probably because she has eaten food! She’s now in bed, sleeping, and my husband is out at football. So I’m chilling on the sofa in my pjs, eating chocolate and drinking a hot brew. Bliss!

If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. It may be just what you need.

Farleton Fell

What with house hunting and a very wet summer (it’s felt like every weekend has rained), I have neglected my 30 Before 30 challenge. For those that are joining us late, I set myself the challenge of doing 30 different walks in the countryside before my 30th birthday. Living in northern Lancashire, we often escape to the Lake District, but I felt that we tend to find ourselves doing the same walks again and again. 

So, over the last 5 months I have done 11 walks (including today’s), most of which are new to me and I’ve never done before. My hubby and our little girl have joined me for these walks, as well as a mixture of friends. I am hoping for a drier September, so I can get a few more done before winter and ice set in.

Last night I was researching for our walk today, thinking we might head somewhere in the Trough of Bowland. Instead though, I thought about the hill we drive past each and every time we head to the Lake District. Each time I wonder what it’s called, and how long it would take. And so, before bed I found the name and a suitable route for an overcast Sunday morning.

Now, we wouldn’t normally go walking on a Sunday until after church, so today I took my bible. We parked on the roadside in Holme, and set off along the Lancaster-Kendal canal.

It was a little moist underfoot, and there was some unscheduled rain. We wondered if we might be making the worst mistake, as only 1/3 of us had a waterproof (me), but we pressed on and we are glad we did as the rain soon subsided. After meandering down the canal for a short while, we crossed a field, marvelled at the size of motorway signs and crossed the busy M6 to reach the hamlet of Farleton.

Then started our ascent, which was very steep from the start. After a short while we entered what my route map describes accurately as the jungle; a long, steep climb zigzagging through thick gorse bushes. After what felt like an age, we came out of this mass of bushes to realise that we had climbed very high, very quickly. 

Once we had emerged from the jungle, we had a short climb up a scree slope before climbing the final grassy part of Farleton Fell. One member of the party joked, “Is that the top? Or is it a fake top like Winder?” It seems, when climbing mountains, that sometimes you think you are near the top when suddenly you realise that you’re only half way there. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case today. 

We came to a grassy plateau, from which we had extensive views across Morecambe Bay and the Howgill Fells. When we reached the summit cairn that is Farleton Knott, we could even see the Ashton Memorial which stands in Williamsons Park in our hometown. I imagine the views would be even more striking on a clear day.

Once we’d taken in the views, I read a short passage from 1 Peter in the Bible and then we sang. We sang Amazing Grace and 10,000 Reasons rather heartily, full with improvised drums and harmonies. Wonderful! The sky was intensely dramatic, and we enjoyed our short time at the top.

Because of the time, we took a shorter route back than described in the guide, and came through Holme Park Fell. The descent was very gentle, and we meandered slowly back towards the car.

I’d highly recommend this walk, via a slightly different route, as the views and limestone crags are amazing. As I said earlier, on a clear day the views will be hard to beat: you can even see Ingleborough, which I’ll be walking up soon. At 255ms (836ft) elevation, it is taller than Black Crag which was one of my earlier walks, but still 650ms (2400ft) short of Scafell Pike which I hope to do as my 30th walk near (or on) my 30th birthday.

One of the best things about these walks has been discovering new places to eat. Today was no different, as we found ourselves eating at a delightful country pub: The Plough, Lupton. We enjoyed sharing a baked Camembert between us, and then I had a roast beef dinner. Perfect! 

Brothers Water

Yesterday was a lovely day for walking: warm and clear, with a light breeze. Off we went to the Lake District, but it’s a Bank Holiday weekend so we steered clear of the South Lakes area so heavily used by tourists and their cars. Onwards we went to Penrith, and then a little back on ourselves to a little hamlet called Hartsop, situated at the foot of Kirkstone Pass a few miles from Ullswater.

For me, this is the most beautiful part of the Lakes that I’ve experienced. Everything is so green, the hedges are slightly more full of flora, and the paths are less full. I was amazed by how different it felt from our usual haunts of Ambleside and Grasmere, beautiful as they are.

The walk around Brothers Water is a circular route, with only a slight incline towards the end. It would be passable with a hardy pram, though that would include walking along a road at the end.

There were many moments we had to stop and take in our surroundings, and we enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch on the water shores. 

All in all, it was about 3 miles and took us an hour and a half, including lunch. And that’s 10 of my 30 walks done! Only 20 more to go. Hi