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A Weekend on the North Coast

The North Coast of Ireland should be on everyone’s bucket list, it really should!

We love it there and were delighted when Cancer Fund for Children offered us a long weekend away in one of their cottages in the area, as we knew there will be plenty to do and see over the three days!

We decided to make the most of the gorgeous weather and kicked off our weekend with a picnic in the fresh air, overlooking the Whiterock beach. Alex had made some gorgeous prawn and salad wraps that we devoured, almost tasting the sea salt in the air.

DSC_018011357487_472910292872611_1689845182_n11357381_903603029697951_323445374_nMy brother fancies himself a connoisseur of spirits and other strong drinks so we couldn’t miss the opportunity and visit the Bushmills Distillery since we were only a stone’s throw away. I would have loved a tour of the place, just to give a clear account of tastes to my brother :-) but since children under 8 are not allowed, due to the strong fumes in the distillery, we had to do with a visit to the gift shop only.

11326615_999141056793353_2099744604_n11349316_811021432319408_1131786747_nOur first day finished with a Morelli’s ice cream in Portstewart. We joked, as Europeans who were raised in warm countries, with very hot summers, saying that we have come to appreciate an ice-cream, even in 10 degrees and in pouring rain, if the calendar says it is time for one :-).

Image credit: Morreli's of Portstewart

Image credit: Morreli’s of Portstewart

Our Sunday was not as sunny but we still managed to fill it to the brim with exciting visits and discoveries, all thanks to the National Trust.

We have recently become members of the National Trust and have already enjoyed visits to a number of properties in Northern Ireland: Florence Court and Castle Coole are beautiful and we found the visit very educational, for both Emma and ourselves :-).

282%2F293%2FCastleCoole_Saloon1_090731_thumb_460x0

Castle Coole image credit: National Trust website.

This time, we got to visit a smaller property, Hezlett House, one of the oldest thatched cottages in Northern Ireland, which is adjacent to the beautiful Downhill Demesne House and the magnificent Mussenden Temple.

DSC_0249DSC_0262

DSC_028611378491_1453603321600745_1791910770_n11325853_387861511416834_427149872_nBut the two most spectacular sights we got to see and totally fell in love with, once again, have been the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge and the Giant’s Causeway.

The Carrick-A-Rede is a spectacular and one of a kind visit, which is exhilarating for both young and not so young alike.

Emma got to walk in the fresh air, to explore the nature and the beauty of the country she was born in and which she perceives as home:

DSC_0209She was so impressed with the rope bridge and talked continuously about it for the rest of our stay. She was so brave crossing it, much braver than mummy, I must say!

DSC_0236DSC_0243Personally, I found Giant’s Causeway a bit too comercialised for my taste, since the new center was built. I found the place almost crowded and overtly touristy but Emma and Alex enjoyed the electronically guided tour and the beautiful views:

DSC_0318For the first time ever, Emma was capable to discern between the scientific truth about the rock formation and the legend of the Giant but loved both sides equally.

She kept asking about the reasons why people had to come up with  a story to explain the stunning rocks. I had to explain that sometimes, people prefer a beautiful story to the bare truth…

11333748_1608073992772100_425934701_n 11313547_1491097951180494_174518309_nI have only skimmed the surface and shown you a very small selection of the pictures we took over the weekend. I hope they have convinced you to put a visit to the North Coast on your bucket list and also, to sign up for National Trust membership, as there are over 500 stunning places in the whole of the UK waiting to be discovered and enjoyed!

This time last year…

This is what I used to wake up to this time last year.

And although the going was horribly hard and we were stuck in a hospital room and NEVER allowed out, for fear of infections, this little sweet face brightened my day.

Every day.

I have realised that most of you didn’t know us back then so this was meant to be an insightful blog post into what the cancer ward really is for a family.

I wanted to tell you how exceptionally draining it was on our marriage, on our bodies, on our emotions to live apart.

To not be together as a family for over two months.

To live out of suitcases and plastic bags.

To live off food that people kindly cooked for us all those weeks.

To wish your daughter good night over the phone, with her crying and asking you to come home.

To see your own mother crumble every time you walked in through that door, bone-weary and burdened to the ground with the load of your baby’s illness.

To drive like a zombie, leaving that sweet, sweet face behind for two more days, enough time to rest and vainly attempt to recharge your extremely depleted body and soul.

To explain that rest was never found, that the nights were spent in a heavy slumber that never brought relief.

How could it have been, knowing that half of your heart was not with you???

But instead….I saw his face.

His smile.

His eyes.

So trusting.

So full of love and life and promise.

And I need to tell you.

That I would do it again.

A thousand times over.

Just to see my boy smiling once again.

Just to be able to hold him one more time.

Pain is relative.

We were in pain back then.

But the pain of now, of not having him here, of not seeing him grow???

It is a thousand times worse.

10414614_10152066719506512_1124288673941180808_nSmiling on for you, little boy.

Till we meet again, I will honour your memory with a smile on my face.

No matter what my circumstances are.

You have taught me to appreciate life.

In every small and insignificant detail.

Missing your sweet face!

Mama

Forget Me Not

This afternoon, we attended the annual Forget Me Not service organised by the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice for the first time.

It was as emotional and raw and sweet and consoling as we had expected.

We cried and we remembered our precious children and we smiled at the memories we had made with them in the hospice.

Collective grief. Collective mourning. Collective beauty rising from the ashes of loss…

We heard about love that transcends death and time and makes a way for our emotions to find our lost beloved babes.

The pain of grief was compared to the thorn and the forget me not flower.

Grief is and forever will be for every parent and relative present there a painful reminder of what we have lost and also the ultimate indicator of how much we have loved.

Sorrow and sweetness, amalgamated in one.

Pain and endurance, blended together.

Coming together like this was sweet and sour as well.

It was like a soothing balm to be given the chance to remember our precious children in such a beautiful and dignified way. But it was also very painful, the visible reminder of so many young lives lost and so many families devastated by death.

Tomorrow will mark the beginning of the Children’s Hospice Week in the UK.

CHW2015Please take a moment to remember all the precious little lives that ended too early due to illness.

Please consider also donating to a hospice nearby you, so that the wonderful but heartbreaking task of providing palliative care to terminally or very ill children will continue to be provided at the same excellent level.

With my heart full of pride and sorrow at the thought of a little baby boy who has made his way into the light before me, I bid you all good night.

child-and-teddy-bear-in-forestI’ve been shortlisted for a BiB award in the ‘Inspirational Blogger’ category so if you would like to see me reach the final 5, please do consider voting for Mama’s Haven here.

Nominations for The Mad Blog Awards are also open. Again, if you would like to nominate me in the writer category, it takes just 2-minutes and you can do so here.

Ten months on: life as a bereaved parent

How can it be ten months and four days since my son died?

This is what grief has taught me in these past ten months:

1. Pain never leaves your heart but it takes other forms as time goes by

The pain is not of the same intensity as it used to be in the first few days and weeks after Georgie died. I do not feel electric-like shocks when I pass by baby clothing aisles, when I hear the name of George, when I see someone pregnant.

I have started to recover my memory. Not entirely, I don’t think it will ever be as before but I can now remember conversations and people’s names and dates.

I have started to function almost normally again. I work, I look after the house, I blog.

But…

I still write when I am in pain.

I do eat too much when I am in pain.

I rage at nothing and everything when I am in pain.

I have realised that I have started to pull away when I am in pain. It is easier to preserve energy than waste it on people who cannot understand pain.

2. Loss has become my biggest motivator

The loss of my son and the overwhelming desire to make his existence count have become the two main reasons for anything I do.

Anything gets filtered through the loss sieve.

I would do anything that I possibly can, anything that is in my power to raise awareness about childhood cancer and children hospice care.

I had two interviews this week and will be attending two other events in the coming days, all related to Children’s Hospice Week. All emotional. All pain triggers.

But I do it all not because I am brave but because my life is now driven by the desire to serve and make life bearable for very ill children and parents like us.

3. Clarity is the name of the game

In one of the interviews I had this week, I was asked how loss has changed me.

In spite of the extreme confusion in the first few months caused by the severe trauma of losing a child to cancer, in the most horrid of ways, my life is now clear in its intentionality.

The things deemed important by my post-trauma self have become very important: integrity, compassion, love and dedication.

The things deemed unimportant do not, not even fleetingly, occupy my mind any more: gossip, small life dramas, meanness, envy and stupidity. There is no room in my life for them anymore. I refuse to make room in my life for them now.

4. Compassion radar

My soul has developed a sensor for pain and I find myself attracted, time and again, towards people who are in need of comfort.

I now know what to say.

And I have the courage to say it:

I am sorry for your loss.”

Loss never wears off your soul, just like love never does either.

Just find the strength for today.”

Breathe.

Give us a hug.”

“Wish this was not reality for any of us.”

Deep connections.

Soul connections.

This is what we have been created for. And this is how I want to live my life.

5. Pain as a form of worship

I have let the floodgates open.

My emotion gates wide open.

Never hiding anything.

Not from people.

Not from God.

And these last weeks, I have been reading time and again, from various sources, written by different authors, the same revolutionary(for my grief) idea.

That raw, unfiltered expression of emotion can and is most likely perceived by God as a form of worship.

It does make sense.

If He is the One who made all these emotions, if He knows how much it hurts to lose a son, what good would it make to hide behind platitudes like: “His thoughts are not my thoughts” or “I find comfort in the thought that my son is in heaven.

I do not. And I will not pretend to.

It hurts. Like hell.

It makes me so sad, the idea of living a whole life here without the presence of my beautiful son. So sad, that some days, I feel so very tempted to lie down and never get up again.

He knows it. He knows it all.

I will not hide it.

I will be honest and raw and sore in front of Him.

That’s what you do with someone you trust.

6. There will always be a hole in our hearts

I have learned to live with pain.

The yearning for my son never leaves my heart, nor my mind.

I have learned to do life with this big hole in my heart.

This gap that nothing will ever fill.

The  only comfort I find is knowing that there are so many other crushed hearts in this world.

The only soothing balm is the one of the camaraderie of pain for now.

The reality of two blue eyes and a sweet, sweet little soul who flew away too soon…

This is my reality now.

PicMonkey Collage-Hugs

Emma’s May Reviews (Part One)

Emma has been a very lucky girl this month and was sent a lot of beautiful things to sample and play with.

The first thing that we were sent to review and that brought joy to both of us is a birthday party supply kit from Party Bags and Supplies. I know, I know, her birthday is in November but Emma LOVES the mere mention of the day and I love that fact that I will not have to worry about at least part of her party bags and supplies!

Emma will be 6 in November but given the choice, she still went for the Disney Princess Sparkle Party Pack, which comes with 8 filled party bags, paper cups and plates, 20 napkins and a table cover.

tableware_pack_copy_2_1Every mummy out there who has had to prepare(and stress over) party bags, would understand my excitement over the ones provided in the pack! They contain a small Disney Princess wand, a Disney Princess sticker sheet, a Disney Princess vanity mirror and one pack of Haribo Strawberry sweets. Perfect for a small princess, in my opinion!

disney_princess_1The party pack is priced at £21.99 on the website and I find it a reasonable and most importantly, stress-free solution to hunting supermarkets and bargain shops for weeks in search for appropriate items!

There is a huge variety and choice of party packs, for both boys and girls on the website and I do recommend it warmly as a convenient solution to party supply dilemmas!

Another set of products Emma was lucky to be offered to review and absolutely got to love are her Colour Me wellies and brolly by el RHEY Kids.

Branded as “inspiring for children’s creativity“, the product does exactly what it says on the package and much more!

11137904_794477903969502_961672930_nEmma was absolutely delighted to discover what was in her mail package and wasted no time getting to work!

11142252_456246391207268_478982224_nThe perfect present for creative children, the wellies provide perfect practice and then become the very proud display of artistic genius effort :-)!

11245891_357368971055122_768756289_nYou can be absolutely sure of one thing with the el RHEY wellies: that the finished masterpieces will be as beautiful and unique as the small artists who have decorated them!

11236196_374993439366100_2030809473_nThe brolly was recently added to the collection and compliments the wellies perfectly, with its matching colour range. Cleverly designed to colour with the rain, the umbrella would be a source of delight during those otherwise rather dreary rainy days!

11184565_454160728071509_1874282047_n11176068_1576234695948589_1824914759_nThe wellies retail for £20 on website while the brolly is reasonably priced at £12.99. We found both wellies and the umbrella are high quality, sturdy products and the personalisation option made them in our eyes well worth the price tag.

Finally but not lastly, Emma was sent a beautiful and very inspiring book to read this month.

madebyraffiMade by Raffi is the story of a little shy boy who doesn’t like noisy games and is often teased at school. But when he gets the idea of making a scarf for his dad’s birthday he is full of enthusiasm, even though the other children think it is girly to knit. Then the day draws near for the school play, and Raffi offers to make a costume for the prince. On the day of the play, Raffi’s cape is the star of the show.

The story in the book, like of any good book, goes beyond the simple surface and teaches children from an early age to respect others, even if their interests and personality is different than theirs.

Emma, at 5, absolutely loved the story and deciphered the message very well. In her own simple words, it is cool to be yourself, even if than means knitting a scarf for your dad’s birthday!

As an educator, I see the potential of the book as an excellent conversation opener on big issues like school bullying, homophobia and respectful awe of each and every one’s unique personality and gifts.

The book retails on Amazon.co.uk from £2.45 plus postage and would be an excellent tool for both parents and educators alike.

Disclaimer: we were sent the products mentioned above for review. We were not paid to write the product reviews and the opinions expressed are entirely our own.

A weekend in county Fermanagh

Georgie’s death taught us many things about life, about ourselves, about each other.

One thing we are adamant about now is making each moment count. Seeing Georgie getting so ill, so quickly and passing away a short two and a half months after diagnosis made us understand that life needs lived to the maximum each day, as there are no guarantees for the future.

As I wrote in my previous post, the Children’s Hospice has been instrumental in us wrapping our minds around the reality of now.

We have been adamant and intent in our determination to enjoy our lives and the country we live in and have made it into a goal to visit new places every time we can afford it financially and emotionally.

So far this year, we have travelled to Bray, county Wicklow, we have driven to France and seen a bit of Normandy, Brittany and Provence, and we have enjoyed Armagh and Lisburn (more on its beautiful eateries and local crafted beer soon, in a different post).

This weekend, Alex, our self-appointed but very able travel guide, decided it was high time we enjoyed a spot of county Fermanagh, known as the Irish Lake District.

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                                    Image source: Golfer’s Gate Lodge, Fermanagh.

We started our adventure with a wonderfully presented brunch in a star-studded, award-winning eatery in Enniskillen.

11202640_1439628172999687_890454401_nThe Jolly Sandwich Bar is highly rated on TripAdvisor and known to be popular with celebrities finding themselves in the area. And, most importantly, it makes some gorgeous sandwiches and scones too!

11189346_1414312478889402_301918097_nWhile Emma and I stayed behind and spied for important characters enjoyed our gorgeous grub, Alex stepped next door and had a pampering haircut in one of the most unusual barber shops around, carefully redecorated to resemble a vintage train station!

At the Headhunters Barber Shop & Railway Museum, we found two jovial barbers, only too happy to pose for pictures and indulge our questions about their beloved place of work and souvenir collection!

11186829_627639174036853_923913651_nA place worth visiting, for sure, especially for the contagious joviality,  pleasant work atmosphere and the beautiful collection of railway antiques!

We were only getting started on our adventures, little did I know, and our afternoon was filled to the brim with rain, intriguing discoveries and exciting exploits of the local area.

First, we visited the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark.

DSC_0101We learned that limestone, water and time can make, when mixed together, in right amounts, beautiful things, like stalactites and stalagmites. Made me think that our lives, as well, when mixed with tragedy and given time, have the potential to produce beautiful results. Even in the dark. Or maybe, thanks to the dark….

Our next stop was Florence Court House, one of the National Trust gems in Northern Ireland.

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11195672_579416505534938_477716432_nEmma was impressed with the size of the house and the opulence of the furnishings but most importantly, with details about the house fire in 1955 and how the lady of the house had to run downstairs to wake the servants and raise the alarm. She was also extremely well-behaved and totally taken by the Oscar Wilde inspired play which followed , so whoever believes a five year old cannot enjoy a National Trust visit is gravely mistaken.

We ended our day in Lusty Beg, a tiny little island which can be accessed by ferry only and which features a restaurant/bar and accommodation in the form of luxurious lakeside cabins.

11176529_768215283293863_1074018417_nWe enjoyed a lovely meal before making our way back to our B&B in Kesh.

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                                        Photo credit: Tudor Farm Bed&Breakfast, Kesh.

Another change this year has brought has been the personalization of our travelling experiences. We used to like staying in big, impersonal but fancy hotels but we have started enjoying smaller, more intimate accommodation recently.The Tudor Farm suited our needs perfectly and we really enjoyed our home cooked breakfast and interesting conversations in the morning.

We couldn’t leave county Fermanagh without having visited the Belleek Pottery Centre. I had known about the fine china produced in Belleek since having moved here, almost eight years ago so I insisted on a visit. We weren’t disappointed as, again, we managed to view a presentation on the history and handmade process that characterises Belleek pottery that made us appreciate even more the delicate skill of producing it.

11189323_812599745490350_131207982_n11208325_106062969726021_1929393033_nThere is much more to write about regarding our visit but for now, I need to bid you goodnight.

We loved county Fermanagh, despite the constant rain and we have already made plans of visiting again before the summer holidays as there is soooo much more to discover and enjoy!

How have you spent your long bank holiday weekend?

Making every moment count

imageNorthern Ireland Hospice for Children have asked our family to be part of a very special series of events they will run in the weeks to come.

The events will include a series of interviews with parents that have experienced a stay in the hospice with a sick or terminally ill child. A beautiful photo exhibition in the Belfast City Hall of children who have enjoyed or benefited from a stay in the Hospice. A speech address to dignitaries about the vital role the Hospice plays in respite and end of life childcare.

Alex will speak in the city hall that day. Georgie’s name will resound in the same hall where so many important speeches and decisions have been made over the years. My mother’s heart is proud. My boy’s name will be spoken out loud and his story be known. But most importantly, the circumstances of his passing will hopefully inspire others to choose the hospice if faced with the unthinkable; to donate even more so that the place continues to exist and its services to bring comfort to many more families. My boy will serve in his death many others. His death will never be in vain!

What did the two last weeks of Georgie’s life we spent in the Hospice mean to us as a family?

imagePrecious time together

The Hospice is not a hospital but has the feel of home. For us, it did become home for those two weeks. Thanks to the very deep understanding gained by the experienced staff over the years and the sensitive way in which they dealt with Georgie’s pain relief and feeds, we were able to relax and just be with him.

I cannot explain how paradoxically liberating it felt to be able to just enjoy our son, after those absolutely draining months in the Children’s Hospital.

I cannot stress the importance of those moments, hours and days we had creating memories, cuddling, listening to music, talking to him.

Although the nurses took the (overbearing for me) responsibility of managing the pain, they were nevertheless able to guide and assist us in a thousand wonderful ways of making Georgie’s last moments count. Nothing was seen as impossible, not even making the dream of swimming as a family reality.

DSC_0236Comfort and palpable love.

Love was wrapped around us tight in the form of cooked meals and a warm and clean room to crush in at the end of the day. And a day bed in Georgie’s room, especially designed to witness cuddles with him.The same bed on which we cuddled on the night of the 5th of July 2014, when our baby left us behind.

We felt loved any time we were offered the chance of a chat or a rant or a good cry and no judgement.

We felt love, oh so much love, in the way the nurses cared for Georgie, in the way they ever so carefully and respectfully treated his pain-ridden wee body. In the way they assisted me in bathing and dressing him and making him comfortable every single moment of every single day we were there.

We were loved through music therapy, counselling, art sessions(we did loads of family footprints paintings) and walks in the garden.

We felt love in the way they respected our pain once Georgie was away, allowed us to spend one last night with his little body and made the room in which the memorial service was held a haven of peace. The room was filled with the memories we had created together and never felt like a mortuary, it actually felt like a cozy family room.

DSC_0268We felt love in the way we were encouraged to spend time with Georgie even after his soul had flown away and how death never became a scary thing to Emma who wanted to be with her little brother until the very end.

We felt love in the way our baby’s existence was celebrated, mourned and is always remembered in the Hospice. I know for sure that there will always be someone in the Horizon House who will be willing to talk about him, cry with me and always, always remember his precious existence.

imageThank you, Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice for loving my son like family, caring for him with utmost respect and compassion and making his passing bearable for us as a family.

Thank you for making every moment we had with him count!

Our gratitude will never be enough.