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.


A letter to my daughter on the day you start school

My darling daughter,

It’s been 4 years, 7 months and 11 days since you came into this world. Pink, fleshy, craving warmth and human touch.

Since then you’ve become loud, energetic and confident. Sometimes we say you’re sassy. Sometimes you seem like a teenager, full of mood, eye rolls and attitude. But, mostly, you are, I tell people, a delight. You are a joy-bringer.

You make up your own songs. You sing your own tunes. You dance and pirouette with great seriousness. And you never stop talking.

It’s wonderful. The soundtrack of our lives together. You and me. In the car. Or the supermarket. Or the living room. Or the park. Or church. Or in bed on our lazy mornings. Chattering and laughing and (sometimes) crying. My days will certainly be quieter without you around.

My darling daughter, I will miss you as you step out into this brave new world. As others mould you and listen to you, as they become a bigger part of your world and my influence on you lessens, my prayer for you is simple.

That you would always be close to Jesus.

That you would know his infinite love for you, and your infinite worth to Him.

And I pray, oh I pray, you’ll come home each day, full of the same joie de vivre you started school with. And full of chatter for me to drink in. And when the days come (and they will come) when the joy is gone and school makes you sad, or sick, or anxious, I pray you’ll crawl into my arms and seek comfort where it’s safe.

Never forget how incredible you are, my dear girl. And never, ever, ever let anyone tell you you’re “too much”. Because, my dear, dear daughter, you are effortlessly brilliant and you’re going to set the world on fire.

I so look forward to seeing how this new adventure of yours goes.

All my love,


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.

Summer Adventures

In 6 and a half weeks I will be entering the world of full time work / study once more. I will be on placement 3 days a week, and studying 3 days a week. I will go from spending all day every day with my yummy daughter to being without her most days.

And so, this summer, our final 6 weeks of freedom together with no work or study, we will aim for many adventures.

If you’re in the North West of England, comment and let me know if there’s something near you that is worth visiting with a 2.5 year old.

(Our first adventure, local beach sunset.)

Here we go again…

I wanted to entitle this, “It’s been a long time,” but have the sneakiest suspicion that I’ve said that before.

I so desperately want to be writing more again, and I have promised myself to make my blog a priority in the coming weeks and months.

In reality, that might not happen. I used to write when my daughter was napping, but those days are over. No more naps means no breathing time between waking up and getting my lovely girl into bed.

I am more tired than ever before, but I am enjoying this stage more than any before it. My little girl is showing more and more of the beautiful person she is becoming. It’s wonderful. If not exhausting.

So, look out for more posts from me as I blindly feel my way through this next stage of life. We’ve waved goodbye to the baby years and now we move into toddlerhood. Terrifying EXCITING!!!

The Black Dog of Motherhood

It comes in the night, like everything else. Teeth, nappies, vomit, milky feeds. And a black dog.

Like a fog, it smothers you. Suffocates you. Tells you what a bad job you’re doing. Tells you you’re useless. Tells you you are alone.

“Why did you bother having a child?”

“You know, she’d be better of without you as her mother.”

“Nobody wants to spend time with you. You’re so boring. Nobody wants to hear you cry.”

It makes you paranoid. So so paranoid. In fact, on one occasion I was a little late to an afternoon gathering of fellow mums and babes. They didn’t hear me knock… but the dog told me otherwise.

“They’re ignoring you. They don’t want you to be a part of their laughter. They don’t like you.”

And I listened. Slowly I returned to the car, to sob down the phone to my patient husband who spoke ration into my anxious paranoia. 

“Do you really think they’re sat on the floor, telling each other to ignore you at the door?”

And when it is said like that, it does sound rather silly. But that’s the black dog of motherhood for you.

He lies. He steals. He takes and takes and takes… And then he is gone.


As quickly as he came.

Clarity returns. You smile and laugh out loud. You shake your head at how silly you’ve been, and you get up off the floor. Once more, your extroverted spirit returns and you no longer avoid groups of people. You start to reach out to friends again. You tell yourself that maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe it wasn’t the black dog of motherhood after all.

Still lurking, though, in the background, like an unwanted Mormon on the doorstep, he waits. The paranoia lingers. Is he asleep? Will he return? Will I ever really be rid of him?

And people tell you all along how natural you are. How wonderful your child is. How you are lucky to have such a ‘good baby’. I mean, what even is a good baby?! Because when she was waking every other hour and not napping in the day, I didn’t feel lucky. When she wouldn’t take a bottle ever, so I could never have a break from the hourly feeds, I didn’t feel lucky. When the black dog was there all I felt was worthless. And lonely alone. 

So even the positive affirmation from others doesn’t help. Only time. And your amazing health visitor.

The black dog stole my sanity, my sex drive and my energy. Worst of all, it stole the joy from my first year of motherhood. 

No more though.

God tells me I am worthy. I am loved. I am never alone. I am precious. Worth dying for, in fact. 

Today I smile. I take joy in my daughter, and in motherhood. I laugh with friends. I love my husband.

Today, the black dog is gone.

I’m a big, big girl in a big, big world…

Gone is the cot and the baby who slept in it.

Here to stay is the big girl and the big girl bed.

There are moments as a parent when you gulp with angst that they’re growing so fast, getting older so quickly. Taking down the cot, and putting them in a proper bed has been, for me, one of those moments. All those silent feeds, since she was 6 months, lowering her back into the cot in the darkness of night. All those times I freaked out, like the first time I discovered she had turned 180 degrees in the night. And the first time she was just stood in the cot, a prisoner in a jail where I was the warden and my milk was her reward. 

She barely stretched the half way point in her cot when I first put her in it. It was for a nap on 7th March 2016: she was just 46 days old. 

She loved her cot, though not towards the end when it symbolised being alone and locked up. She already loves her big bed, crawling all over it and enjoying a bedtime story with mummy and daddy sat either side. 

Yet each time my lovely girl reaches another milestone, I feel a sadness simultaneously with the delight. The delight is easy to explain: there is not greater joy than watching your own child grown and learn and develop, doing things for the first time. But the sadness… that’s trickier.

For me, it is because each milestone triggers the memories of the milestones before. So I start to think about my baby before she could crawl, or roll, or even hold her own head. I start to think about my baby before she ate food, or said words. The baby who made only the smallest little snuffling sounds. I think of the baby who could do nothing but stare helplessly into my eyes as I cuddled her, fed her, changed her, sang to her. And so the sadness is because I am suddenly reminded of a time that has been and gone. A time that can never again be lived again.

It isn’t like returning to a favourite place on holiday, or frequenting the same restaurant. Once these days are gone, they are gone. One day my daughter will talk, we will be able to have conversations. If she’s anything like me, I’ll be silently wishing her to quiet down. Maybe I won’t be. Even if I am, I know I will be thinking about the days when she hadn’t even uttered her first word: Eddy (our cat). I will be remembering them, fondly, whilst also excitedly looking forward to what the future holds for this creature of mine.

Maybe it isn’t a sadness, then, that fills me when I reminisce about the moments of my daughter’s life so far. I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps that is why it is so hard to explain the feeling. 

Everyone always said, even before she was born, “Enjoy every moment! It will pass so quickly.” It wasn’t that I didn’t believe them. I just didn’t think it would go that quickly.

Enjoy every moment. I know I am.

New Memories

On 26th July 2017, my husband and I will celebrate our 3rd weddding anniversary. Shortly after that wonderful, joy-filled day, we honeymooned in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Along the way, we created many memories.

One of our favourite days was spent exploring the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge with a spot of tea at the Red Door Tea Room in the middle of the day. Today, we got to relive those memories, and add to them

Words cannot describe how wonderful this stretch of coastline is. Neither do pictures do it justice. Similarly, the cosy feeling experienced at the tea room is similar to that of a hug from an old friend.

So, instead, some pictures.

2 and a half years ago my husband and I took some jumping shots on Carrick-a-Rede… today we added to them! One of the joys of visiting familiar places with your children is getting to make new memories.

Happy Valentines Day!

Certain things change when you have a baby… your body, your hair, and, perhaps the biggest change, your relationship with your partner. 

Previous years together have been about dressing up, going out and even the odd night away. Now though, it’s 7.45pm and I can hear my husband through the monitor. He is singing to our daughter, to aid her in her sleeping. Oblivious to this, she is chatting to him.

This is pretty typical. We make plans, and then they have to change. It is just the way of parenthood. We went for a meal – a date night – in the autumn, and I made a reservation for 8.15pm. I thought that would leave us plenty of time, as she goes to sleep at 7.30pm. On that night, for whatever reason, she wouldn’t go down, and we made it to the restaurant for 9pm. It was still a wonderful night, with food, drink, chatting and laughter… but it didn’t quite go to plan.

Once you have children, romance changes. Notice I said changes there, not dies. Because it needn’t die. Not at all. If anything, my love for my husband has expanded since our little girl was born. We probably fall out more, due to exhaustion and more mess around the house, but gosh do I love him. And so, we must find a different way to ‘do’ romance: less concrete plans, more flexibility; less dining out, more sofa cuddles.

Ok, so I haven’t exactly got my glad rags on, nor a full face of makeup. But I’ve washed my hair, and set the table for a beautiful 3 course meal. Love might look different, once you’ve had a baby, but it’s just stuff on the outside. On the inside, my heart still beats quickly when my husband winks at me; I still beam with delight when he tells me he loves me; I still long for stolen moments at the end of a long day. The stuff on the inside is still the same, even if the outward appearance has changed.

After all is said and done, it’s the stuff on the inside that’s important. It’s the stuff on the inside we should cling to.