I am lucky enough to be a member of a closed online group of mothers (and fathers) who have lost children. It’s a place for bad language, irreverence, virtual drinking and fabulous mutual support. My only regret is that it wasn’t around in the lonely, early days after Juliette died.
We bereaved parents need groups like these, because more than any other loss (yes, it is worse than any other) it’s rare to find a person who understands the myriad, ongoing resonances of losing a child, unless they too have suffered similarly. When Juliette died, I really thought I was going mad. I had no idea whether what I was feeling was normal because at first I knew no one.
I haven’t hidden the fact that I had written about my experiences, but no one from the group had read my manuscript before this week. I wrote the book with other bereaved parents in mind, because when Juliette first died I remembered how desperate I was to see my experience reflected in the writing of others, and most of all I needed proof I could survive. In writing this book, I wanted to be honest about how hard it has been at times, but also offer the hope for my family’s future that I myself had craved in earlier days.
Most of the parents in the group have lost their children more recently and I did not want to add to their pain, so it was with some trepidation that I asked whether any of them would like to read it.
I’ve been overwhelmed and tearful at the feedback. After the relief that (so far) my sometimes overly honest account has not hurt anyone, is that what I’ve written resonates with a group of people who although many of whom I have come to care about, I have never met in real life. These are some of the comments they’ve made so far, in private messages to me and on a discussion thread…
I’m on chapter 4 and it’s so beautifully written. I feel as though I know Juliette but the whole time I’m wishing for a different outcome…
I’m struggling through chapters eight and nine. It’s so familiar, especially coming home to everything looking the same. I’m glad you could write this down so eloquently…
I finished it this afternoon through tears and full on sobs. I can’t think of anything I’ve read about losing a child that I identified with as much as your experience. The parts about your feelings towards Elodie, Pierre and Raphael gave me goose bumps. I felt exactly the same way about Isla once Jude died. I cuddled her and smiled at her but it was just an act at first and often when I held her, I closed my eyes and imagined it was him. Thank you so much for making me feel less guilty about that. …I so wish my friends and family could read your words so that they could have half an idea of how I feel. It’s both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time and I really feel as though I know Juliette. I’m so sorry that you no longer have your beautiful, brave girl with you but I can’t thank you enough for putting it all down and sharing it with us. Fiona
Wow what a read! The first half of the book I felt as if I were reading a fictional novel almost, getting to know Juliette and your family. I was interested although interested isn’t really the word I’m looking for, to read about how her diagnosis affected you all as a family and about her treatment- I had no real idea at all about what a child and their family go through when you have cancer, I think I just believed in the romantic ridiculous notion that a little bit of chemo and they would get better- I really was that stupid. I felt as if I was really falling in love with Juliette I was really hoping that she would be ok. But when she died I felt myself right there with you in the hospital, I felt rather than reading about Juliette and your family I was reading a parallel story of my own. The second part of the book was a lot harder for me to read than the first because that grief I completely understood and I felt that all over again. So often in fictional books when a character dies the death is almost romantic and brushed over very quickly, this tells it how it is. How it affects every moment and every breath in those first weeks, how as a mum to other children you have to get on and do certain things and how it affects deeply every single relationship in your life.
I was in tears from the first chapter but compelled to read on which is one of the reasons I was still awake at 3 this morning. Sally
I fear I won’t sleep tonight, I can’t stop reading. It is very eloquently written.
I just finished, and of course, I had to google Elodie and her torch run. I love the Olympics. I named Bodie after an Olympic Gold Medalist. How awesome that she got to carry the torch.
The book was so poignant. I knew what the outcome was going to be, but I kept hoping for Juliette to recover. There is a market for this book, this group is proof of that. Amanda
Half way through chapter 2 and already gripped…it is heartbreakingly beautifully written…
Have just finished it Geves, what a wonderful tribute to your beautiful special Juliette and to you Steph and the family…Thank you for sharing your book with us. Heather
Geves, I started reading last night. As a result I’m tired today because I struggled to put it down. You write incredibly well. Thank you for telling it how it is…
I’ve just finished it. It’s so beautifully written. Thank you for allowing me to know your amazing family. I’m so sorry Juliette is no longer with you. Beverley
A harrowing read…but also amazing. Geves, I was so inspired by all you are doing now, especially your work in prisons. Anne
Have read first two chapters, cannot put it down.
Oh Geves I am reading this in tears most of the time, but (and I hope this does not offend) I did laugh out loud when you were describing the birthing pool chaos! I am in awe of how you managed to write this. Eleanor
I’ve read it all today! Seth was a touch neglected and watched lots of Peppa Pig…
I loved reading about your life with Juliette, and getting to know her a bit better. She was Max’s age when she was diagnosed, so I recognise some of the traits and cute ways of pronouncing words…
I coped very similarly to you after he died. I drew no comfort from his brothers, they actually made me feel worse, and got pregnant very quickly after. I struggle day to day as well, and Elodie saying to you that she is the person she is today because of Juliette made me cry, I hope that Aaron can say the same. Elodie and Juliette sound very similar to Aaron and Max, you didn’t really get one without the other.
When writing about your reactions and the things people say to you, your change of friends, your change of personality, all resonate with me too, it sounds like I could have written it.
I think it is a beautiful book. You describe my life really….I think I will read it over and over and over. Jo
I could not have wished for better reactions. Thank you, lovely mothers.