prime-numbersI wonder if other parents who have lost children now have a thing about numbers?  I’ve never thought of myself as a superstitious person, but what I’m about to say would rather contradict that.

Five is my golden number. It’s the age that Juliette reached, and it’s also the number of babies I’ve given birth to. I attach it to anything I want to be lucky, yet it also feels a little clandestine. To people I’ve only just met I say, ‘I’ve had five children,’ which I hope I do not have to develop into, ‘but only four are living.’ I’ve never had more than four living children. Five is the number I get away with if I can.

26. Juliette was born on the 26th March. It feels like a lovely, auspicious combination of digits.

7 is the number of people in our family, only we look like a household of 6. For the first few years after Juliette died, I couldn’t send Christmas cards because, how could I sign them off and exclude Juliette? The first ones I managed to write included her name with ours. I know lots of bereaved parents do this, but for me it very soon felt mawkish. Now I sign any family cards or presents with a pattern of seven kisses. It probably looks childish, but I don’t care. I know Juliette is ‘there.’

18. This is the worst number. I try to avoid arranging anything important on the 18th of any month. Even hearing of an 18th birthday, because of the digits, makes me feel a little sick.

2002. This is an odd one, and was the first to make me wonder about my thoughts and behaviour. I quite often fill my car with £20 of diesel, but if I misjudge the pump and it stops at 20:02, I have to keep going until it reaches £30. Eleven years on, that’s a bit insane, isn’t it?

Shipwrecked – from Watching Petals Fall


A kind person on Mumsnet linked to my blog in reply to someone who asked how to help their friends who had lost a child. It is so difficult for non-bereaved parents to understand how we feel, and I really appreciate an individual who wants to try. It is brave and although I do understand, sadly for those of us living with this situation it is also extremely rare.

This is the chapter from my book that attempts to put into words what I felt in the early months after Juliette died.

Chapter Ten

The end of August approached and Steph had not been at work for almost seven weeks. His boss had been sympathetic, but we could not avoid the inevitable forever. We knew this, and yet the thought that this part of our routine would simply resume as if nothing had happened tormented us. It seemed impossible that firms could continue to trade, but then it seemed impossible that we could continue to breathe. The planet was unaffected by our loss, and life marched on without even a backward glance at the space where Juliette had been.

Steph’s job involved managing ship cargoes around the world, and not everyone he spoke to had heard the news. A simple, ‘How’s the family?’ forced him to tell people he hardly knew about losing Juliette. Certain others who were aware, no doubt remembering their feelings when a parent or grandparent had died, expected Steph to be more philosophical after such a long break. Opening this emotional vein several times a day made it difficult for Steph to stay professional.

I felt desperate for him, leaving every morning to face people who might not care. I would not have coped as he did. Talking to people who knew me well was hard enough. It was ironic, but for me this return to ‘normal’ life happened at exactly the point where I started to collapse inside. Outwardly, I did everything that was expected. I made meals, cleaned the house, and took the children out. Every day I tried to act normal in the hope that eventually I would feel it. I might cry at home for a couple of hours while coping with the children, then wash my face, put on some make-up and step outside. People believed I was coping. One day I even kept the dentist appointment I had made for Elodie, Juliette and Pierre before we left for Southwold.

The children had always loved the dentist. Mrs Thomas spoke several decibels louder than necessary, with a huge smile and very small words. After a perfunctory sweep of their mouths, she would remove her glove and blow air into it. ‘Lady or man?’ she would ask. According to the reply, she would draw a face on the latex with permanent markers. This appointment was a little different.

‘How was your holiday?’ she boomed.

‘Well, not great. Juliette died.’

She deflated like one of her gloves. ‘I’m so sorry,’ she whispered.

I wished I had cancelled the appointment. I sat with Raphi on my lap, watching her fight the tears as she examined Pierre’s mouth. I felt bad for her and wanted to say something, but it had taken all my reserves just to leave the house. Exhausted by my own grief, I lacked the strength to make it easier for anyone else. I wanted to be at home, with the door shut. This became a common theme.

 I was only dimly aware of how hard it was for other people to say the right thing or act in a way that helped rather than hurt. If they had not lost a child themselves, how could I expect them to predict how I was feeling? Half the time I did not know what I was feeling either. I wanted people to talk about Juliette but at other times, I could not bear the sympathy. I was tired, and I longed for normal conversations where Juliette was not dead. People spoke to me cagily, weighing each word, looking for a sign that I was not going to burst into tears. When I managed to keep it together, some called me ‘brave’.

I am not brave.

‘I wouldn’t cope as well as you are’, they would say.

They meant to be kind, for me to find comfort in my own strength, but the suggestion I was brave was terrible to hear. It inferred that my love for Juliette was inadequate; inferior to the love they felt for their child. What they took as evidence of my courage was just a snapshot. I was all right in that moment, but I might have been crying for most of the previous hours. Coping with other people’s expectations was confusing and exhausting. How could I explain that I felt like a shell a lot of the time, blissfully empty of pain, until it filled me again? I did not want a medal for being strong. I wanted Juliette back.

The best friends were those that listened and were kind enough not to tell me I was repeating myself, and those who could bear to sit while I cried without trying to cheer me up. Sometimes I just needed to cry. Having to save crying always for private made my head want to explode.

Although my poor friends worried about making things worse, I was grateful that no one crossed the road to avoid me. I was an embodiment of every parent’s darkest nightmare; to hear my words must have brought these fears sharply into focus. Even the kindest people did sometimes respond in the wrong key. One acquaintance told me that Juliette’s life was ‘just not meant to be’. I appreciated their intention, but it was too early for me to feel resigned and fatalistic about my daughter’s death. Nevertheless I always preferred people to say something, even something clumsy, than nothing at all.

Lucy, already coping with her own family challenges was my chief support. She phoned or dropped by most days and always had time to hear my thoughts, despite these being dull and unchanging. I missed Juliette and wanted her back. I could not make it more interesting than that. Lucy played with the children, took them off for treats and the two of us went for long walks. Her greatest gift however was the way she cried when I cried. It was of enormous comfort to know she shared some of my suffering.

It is difficult to be with someone else’s misery. The temptation to comfort is strong, yet what I needed to hear most was, ‘Yes, it’s awful she’s died. I am so sorry’. I was lucky that only strangers and no good friends offered the terrible invitation to look on the bright side of Juliette’s death. ‘She’s in a better place’, ‘Juliette wouldn’t want you to be sad’ or ‘She’ll always be looking over you’, were thoughts intended to cheer me up. What they did not realise was that nothing could make me feel better, except to see Juliette walking through the door. The worst sentence of all, was, ‘At least you still have your other children’.

It was true. I did have my other children. Their existence bludgeoned a fraction of the pain but it was Juliette, Juliette, Juliette I wanted; Juliette to hold, to stroke, to hear, to smell. Juliette was gone, a wreath of smoke that disappeared as I grasped it, out of my reach forever.

I was so shocked, all my capacity to love focussed on Juliette alone. In the face of her sudden, surreal absence, the physical presence of the other children was almost a torture. It feels terrible to admit but for a while, I had to fake expressions of love for my living children. It was as though overnight the emotion had become too dangerously associated with agony.

My other, beautiful children could not fill the space that Juliette had left. I craved her particular smell, her solid form, mannerisms and voice like an addict in cold turkey. Sometimes when holding one of the others, I would shut my eyes and let myself imagine I was holding her. I felt guilty, but the methadone-like relief it gave me for those few moments was worth it.

Knowing how lead-like my presence was at any gathering and how worried people were about saying the wrong thing, I was grateful they still invited me. I could no longer manage the small talk I used to find so easy. It overwhelmed me how little anything people talked about mattered, and yet my mind rebelled against this judgement. The achievements of children, holiday plans, local gossip, paint shades and fabric patterns had once been important to me too. At least, they had been important to the person I was when Juliette was still alive.

Barely two months after Juliette’s death, a friend asked the children and me to her son’s birthday party. I was wary, knowing there would be people there I had never met, but she convinced me and I thought I could handle it.

At the party, a nice looking woman with a son the same age as Pierre came over to chat. I was relieved. Egotistically, I imagined my friend had steered a sympathetic person in my direction. ‘How do you know Laura?’ she asked.

‘Music group. How about you?’

‘Oh, school. Anyway,’ she paused, ‘do you have any other children besides Pierre and Raphi?’

I just stared at the poor woman, unable to reply. How many children did I have? I had no comfortable answer. Impact was imminent and I had no control of the brakes.

‘Well, Elodie is seven and I lost my five-year-old daughter in July.’


The woman’s face seized with mortification. ‘Oh God, I’m so sorry.’ She dropped her eyes to the floor, clearly wishing herself a million miles from me.

‘Thank you. It’s alright.’ I accepted the tissue she offered me and smiled, trying to make my loss of composure easier for her to bear. Then I felt angry. I was furious with my friend for not telling each of the dozen mothers there about Juliette. I knew it was irrational. I had planned enough children’s birthday parties of my own to know how stressful it was to remember everything.

Opening up drained me. To protect myself, it was generally less tiring to accept clichés from people I did not know well rather than engage. ‘Time is a great healer’, was a phrase frequently offered. Logically I knew this sentiment to be true and yet, I did not want to be healed. At least, not then. I wanted the pain to stay raw. To feel that it would one day diminish would be to accept the outrage of Juliette’s death. I could not do that

Often it was safer to stay at home, and limit my contact with the world to the smallest circle of friends. I felt like a fresh, gaping wound where even the slightest brush of a casual question would hurt. I could not take more pain.

My friends and family were supportive, and yet I had never felt more alone. I had never considered myself a person that depended on others, but now it hit me with brute force that no one could make Juliette’s death better for me. My mother was wonderful but she was grieving too. She grieved for herself but also for me, and my pain was difficult for her to witness.

My father and I became even closer in the months after Juliette died, but parents want to fix children. I understood his need to see me getting better and looking forward, but I just could not do that yet. What I craved most of all was a sense that my outrage at Juliette’s death was shared, and that my misery was an acceptable response.

Sometimes the pain was too great and at times when I could find no other ways to distract myself, I read obsessively. Fiction was impossible. I could not concentrate for long enough to lose myself in a story and instead, I sought out post-child loss road maps written by other bereaved parents, looking for clues as to how I could navigate and survive. I read poetry to make sense of my feelings, and spiritual books for the promise I would see Juliette again.

I visited blogs and chat rooms, for anything that helped block out my own thoughts or conversely, to clarify them. I would read how someone else expressed the loss of a child and then did not have to feel it fully myself. Absorbing the thoughts of other bereaved parents made me feel less alone. Defining the agony with words, even someone else’s words helped to diminish the way it gripped me.

I imagined one book would explain to me why Juliette had died and how I could survive and until I found it, I kept looking. On one of my quests, I discovered a poem called ‘After the Burial’ by James Russell Lowe. The poet wrote it after the death of his young daughter in 1850, and he put into beautiful, poignant words the searing pain and his internal response to another’s clumsy attempts to comfort him.

The mourner offers Lowe all the unwelcome platitudes that are served up often unthinkingly to bereaved parents. The whole poem is lustrous with raw emotion, but one of the verses in particular struck a chord. It reads, ‘Console if you will, I can bear it / ‘tis a well-meant alms of breath / but not all the preaching since Adam / has made death other than death.’ The poem ends with the line, ‘That little shoe in the corner / so worn and wrinkled and brown / with its emptiness confutes you / and argues your wisdom down’. I could never read it without crying, but lacking the vocabulary of my own I wanted to point to it and say, ‘Look, that’s what I’m feeling, right there.’

Another passage I found was by Mark Twain, written after the loss of his adult daughter, which expressed the disbelief and shock that I also felt with the sudden absence of Juliette. He spoke of his daughter being but ‘treasure in the bank’ the need to count daily ‘not necessary’. Now someone tells him the treasure is gone and he asks, ‘Why am I robbed, and who is benefited?’.

I craved proof of Juliette’s physical presence; a chanced upon scribble, a forgotten toy, a syringe or stray hair all became sacred objects. Even a grisly, previously unnoticed streak of sick on the wall behind her bed at my parents’ house was something precious.

The thinnest link with Juliette sustained me. I started researching clairvoyants, and visited several. After each meeting, I fantasised how the next one would be more convincing and would make me feel Juliette was reachable. If I had this, I had not lost her entirely.

I wanted Juliette back so badly, and this desire played tricks on my reason. I thought seriously about adopting a five-year-old girl, with no sense whatsoever of the grounds our application would be rejected. I wanted another baby. I spoke to Steph about the pros and cons of another child as if I was a rational human being, but the longing was primitive and visceral. My desperate brain trawled everything it knew of how to get Juliette back, and came up with a biological solution. A few weeks later, I was pregnant.

We kept the news to ourselves for as long as we could, but then we had more medical news with which to cope. The post-mortem results were back. We were going to find out why Juliette had died while there was no discernible trace of leukaemia in her body.

Angela Tillett came to visit us at home, armed with sheaves of notes. I sat beside Juliette’s much-loved doctor on the sofa, and she shielded the words from my view. She spoke, changing the columns of words and numbers into sentences a parent could bear to hear. I took notes. I had trouble remembering anything, and it seemed so important not to lose any detail of Juliette.

Angela cried. She described a virus that entered Juliette’s digestive system and had so overwhelmed her, her heart stopped. The seemingly normal blood test indicated a desperate final bid by Juliette’s immune system.

‘With adult heart attacks,’ said Angela, ‘it’s often the first sign something is wrong. When a child has a heart attack, it is usually at the end of a long chain of events.’

‘You mean there was nothing we could have done?’


The details were agony to hear, but I made myself listen. I could not run away from Juliette’s final hours. I heard how an impersonal, cruel virus had taken our perfect little girl with sand between her toes and pink nail varnish on her fingers, and killed her without ceremony.

Knowing it was a virus, I had a new set of tools with which to torture myself. Should I have kept her at home rather than letting her go to school or anywhere else? Had I become complacent about her health? Did she eat something before I made her wash her hands? Where did she pick up the virus?

I knew deep down it was self-defeating and pointless, but I agonised over whether we could have done anything to alter what had happened. Steph got annoyed with me as I went round in circles, asking the same questions. He hated to watch me punish myself. ‘You can’t change anything, darling,’ he said, but that was the whole point. I wanted to rewrite what had happened, and change every detail.

On the day Steph went back to work, I started a diary. Writing things down helped to rid my head of some of the most confusing thoughts. I imagined that by shutting the book on my words, I would contain them. I could continue with my day.


27th August – I told Elodie earlier that if we’d had a crystal ball and had known when Juliette would die we would have done nothing different, going to school etc. I believed it as I said it. I wanted to extinguish any doubt in E’s mind after what that foul child said to her. But it’s not true. I would never have wanted her to leave my sight.


Why did she have to be taken from us? Why did our happiness have to be shattered like this? Whatever can we do to be a tiny part as happy as we were? I miss my girl so much.


I’ve just spoken to someone who told me Juliette was an old soul who needed this one last experience of being ill as a child, and that she chose us for the love we gave her. She wanted me to picture Juliette giving me a hug, with her arms round my neck. I could really feel it, the way she would squeeze and give me a kiss, then giggle and say ‘mmm, you’re so sweet!’  I cried a lot, but feel much better now.


29th August – God what an awful day, meaning I cried a lot. Just couldn’t stop this morning so ended up calling help lines for the first time. I miss her so much – the weight of it in my chest feels physical, crushing the breath out of me.


I managed a picnic with other people today and didn’t feel like they were all staring at me. Went over to the grave on my own after Steph got back. I saw one of Juliette’s friends when I was walking home. Pathetic. I stopped to talk to her and her sister, hoping they would mention Juliette, but they didn’t. I asked J’s friend if she was still going to be in Mrs Lewis’s class when she went back to school. No, she said, she was going to be in Mrs Tetley’s, and she was going to be a Year 1! I just thought how excited Juliette would be and said, ‘bye’ to them. Didn’t even get as far as the church before I was sobbing. Saw a couple I didn’t immediately recognise and thought, ‘if I just put my head down,’ but it was our neighbour. She gave me a big hug and I said ‘sorry’ and she told me she thought I was one of the bravest people she knew. I walked on and saw another neighbour, who said if ever we wanted a chat, just to pop across the road. People are so nice but no one can say, ‘Look! We found Juliette for you!’ That’s the only thing I want to hear. 


 2 nights without Valium and I’m sleeping worse, but better. I dream more, maybe. The other night I dreamt that Juliette was not dead after all but in hospital for an operation on her heart. She was lying still on her bed and I was telling her how much I loved her and how gorgeous she was, and she started smiling with her eyes still closed. Then when she was going into theatre, she was teasing the nurse in the way she used to saying, ‘you’re a lovely boy!’ and giggling like mad.


1st September  – I’ve been thinking about the case of the little boy who went missing in Greece years ago, but a body has never been found, although there have been various ‘sightings.’ I’d always thought ‘how mysterious…white slave traders, etc.’ which has kept the parents searching. Now I think, what bloody torture. The poor boy is probably dead but the need to keep looking for him must be overpowering for the parents. How can they accept he is dead? Why do we love so deeply and powerfully? We are only animals after all and ‘love’ is just our word to dress up an instinct to perpetuate and preserve our species, isn’t it? Or is our enormous emotional capacity for love a glimpse of the divine spark within us?


As we love, so we lose. This thought comforts me when I’m in self-torment mode and ask myself, ‘did I love her properly/enough?’ I just looked at photos of when she was around 2, our holiday in Brittany, etc. – and in all of them I seem to be holding her, with my arms around her. She felt my love I’m sure. Only I would have held her all the time if I knew I was going to lose her. Fi said yesterday, Juliette was like the Readybrek kid, glowing with love, and when she smiled at you, she gave a little of this out. Juliette’s herbalist sent a card saying how she admired me for keeping life normal and happy for her. I hope I did OK. Lots of people seem to think I did. It’s just the voice of self-doubt. I did get cross with her sometimes. She was so like me with her quick rages that she couldn’t control, flailing fists, and the way she would goad Pierre with half a smile. I made her sit on the steps when she’d been naughty. She wouldn’t stay there, running to her bedroom and slamming the door, lying there with her hands over her eyes. When I went to talk to her she’d say ‘Sorry – I want a cuddle,’ and that would be it. She knew how much I loved her, didn’t she?


6th SeptemberI read with her and told her how well she read. I read stories to her. I cooked with her. I loved that and so did she.


14th SeptemberWhy is it that just after she died I could picture vividly every inch of her body but not her face? I could see the puckered scar above her collarbone where the Hickman line was, the oval purplish scar on the right side of her torso, the curve of her tummy, her chubby legs, her slightly trembling mottled fingers, also chubby, her lovely round bottom, the pulse in her neck. Now I can picture the chickenpox scar under her right eye.  Why everything in scars? Because that’s what made her unique?


I hope Steph and I can keep talking. I want to keep close to him. We were allowed Juliette for five whole years, a special little soul. Some people never become parents. We have four special people in our lives. Steph said last night, ‘she’s not suffering any more’, but the whole, sad point to me is that she wasn’t suffering – she left us in perfect health it seemed, but God how do I know? Her body was overwhelmed by a virus that could give someone else a tummy ache. Her little body was exhausted.


I can only survive if I believe that she’ll be there when I die, that I’ll see her again. I think it was right that she went to school. Please let it have been right. She had so many kind people looking after her and she was so loved  in school, as she was everywhere – magnetic, someone said, my special little girl.


15th September – I’m reading ‘Talking to Heaven’ (James Van Praagh) at the moment and thinking about going to see a clairvoyant. What if Juliette doesn’t appear?


21st SeptemberSteph told me that he doesn’t remember Juliette putting her fists in her eyes when she felt any trepidation, like when she got out of bed in the evening. How many other memories do we not share/will we not share? He has no sense that she might just come back either. I know logically this is brain fog on my part, but it’s such a relief I can’t help indulging.


I’m not going to the grave much at the moment. I want it to look lovely but have nightmarish images of what’s going on. Elodie dreamt the other night that Juliette came out of her coffin and was a skeleton. Why is my family having to go through this? WHY?? Why did she have to go and leave us? Someone told me we choose our lives. Did we choose this? It sounds like bollocks. More likely that God randomly metes out misery and there is no comforting plan at all, just one giant biology experiment with no more meaning to us than the cells in our bodies. I want to believe in the eternity of our souls so much, but this wanting to believe is absolute self-interest. I need to believe that life is not pointless. Does that make me one of the millions propping up nonsense religions around the world? Because that’s what we’re all scared of – a big gaping nothingness behind EVERYTHING. Juliette has to be

somewhere, because I can’t bear the alternative.


I owe phone calls, letters, money to everyone. All I can do at the moment is my ‘projects’ – reading, painting the children’s rooms, making half-hearted piles with the letters we’ve received – I do about 15 then forget what my original purpose was and what the piles signify, so stack them up again. I rush to the post every morning hoping there will be a letter or card, telling me something I’d forgotten or never knew about Juliette. I love more than anything to hear other people’s recollections and impressions. When they’re talking I want to say, ‘hold on, can I write this down?’ but worry they’ll think I’m deranged. I want to make solid all these things, afraid they’ll disappear, like she did.


Talking with Elodie the other night she said, ‘If someone came to you and said they’d bring Juliette back but you had to pay £5000, would you do it?’ She seemed amazed by my answer that I’d pay millions, eat dog poo every day to have her back. I was thinking of that heavy metal singer who used to bite the heads off chickens as part of his act – I would do that all day long – oh just for the chance to prove what I would do to have her back.




 October 2nd   – I don’t want the point before Juliette died to be the highest point in all our lives, from which there is only descent. I want something magical to be present from now on – she was in our lives for five years and I want to be better for it.


 October 3rd  – I don’t want this to have happened – who decided it was OK to take Juliette from us? It is NOT OK with ME. I don’t have her forever and it’s someone’s  fault. People say the word VIRUS and I get a thrill of hatred, but I wish ‘The Virus’ was a man, wore a suit, lived in a street I knew and had a phone number that I could dial so I could call and tell him how much I HATED him for stealing my daughter FOR WHAT? Where is that virus now? Has he gained from ending my daughter’s life? Steph is away, it’s 11.30 at night and I’m crying – I know I’ll be tired tomorrow & tired = Bad Day but I feel alone. I’ve been asking Juliette to come and sleep beside me and sometimes it feels like she does. Am I crazy? Maybe she no longer exists? Perhaps people like me who lost someone they loved invented the idea of an afterlife. Where is God? Why can I feel no comfort? Do I want comfort? I want JUSTICE. Why is my little girl not here – why do I have to have lost her? Who decided it?


Neighbour won’t look me in the eye – probably he’s heard me howling – I don’t care. I am seeing people in a new light & they are seeing me differently – I sometimes feel like life has been stripped down to the bare bones – I can never be the person I was, 50% faker – fuck though, I’ll be 50% faker again, blind and stupid to have my Juliette back – rather that fog than this god awful clarity. 3 days before seeing clairvoyant for the 1st time. I hope so badly I’ll hear something – setting myself up for disappointment – I’ll keep trying though.


October 5th – I think I know that this will all make me a ‘better person’ whatever the fuck that means. I believe we’ll grab something positive from this and I do want that, but… I am NEVER going to hold my baby again, see her sleepy face in the doorway and I feel so resentful – I just long to see her again, feel her weight on me, touch her head.


I saw a man who has just lost his young wife sitting near her grave this morning – I didn’t speak to him. If ever a figure could look utterly desolate in the distance, he did. Poor man, and his children. To lose a mother is like losing the right arm and eye of the family body – there can only be one mother… it’s different & God I’m not saying that ours is easier – his wife got to be an adult and have her own children – but as a family unit, I believe we can knit back together. I have such a desire to hold J even for one minute – a bestial urge to touch her & smell her. Makes me promise crazy things in my head.  I have to look at the other children and remember why I love them – Elodie with her grace, her gentleness, her loving nature and the way she can be made to laugh – she’s growing up so amazingly. And Pierre with his fabulous monologues, reasoning the world away with crazy 3 yr old’s  non-sequiturs  – he’s so full of love. Raphi’s just starting to be his own person with animal noises ‘duck wack,’ his noise for everything – understanding so much now, longing to play cars & trains with Pierre – very cuddly with me.


Where Juliette was there’s a hole that will never be filled – perhaps she can stay there, invisible but present – glue. I never wanted to be without her, never thought really that I would be. I want to dream about Juliette but no matter how hard I think about her when I’m falling asleep, it’s been weeks now since I dreamt about her.


October 17th – I feel angry because now I have to keep my children’s memories of their sister in a box. This is not fair. I went to Lucy’s last night because I needed to look at Juliette’s things. It was delicious agony to see them, all so familiar. I wanted to bury myself in them, smell them – felt everything of hers I touched was holy. Lucy brought me tea after about an hour & helped me look for J’s white Gap top with flowers that I always picture her wearing. She was touching Juliette’s things like they were just things. I couldn’t explain how I felt to Lucy, because I sound mad and she’s so kind to me.


October 20th – I dreamt the other night that Steph and I were being chased by a bear & I couldn’t remember what you’re supposed to do, and then suddenly I did remember that bears won’t touch dead meat, so hissed to Steph that we had to pretend to be dead. In another one, I was at our old house in Scotland, and there were lions and tigers everywhere, nowhere seemed to be safe. Fear of being consumed? More disturbing was a dream last week that Steph and I were at home & we had a call from the hospital to say that Juliette was dying, and we weren’t there. I woke myself up from that one. I feel a longing for anything, contact with her, reminders, although I’m afraid that things will lose their power to evoke memories – I’ve lost too much already, terrified of losing anything else.


In another dream I was with people I didn’t know in some deserted wasteland. There was a car they had re-painted white to hide something, but I thought, ‘what’s the point of that when they haven’t even changed the number plate?’ One of the strangers told me they’d tried to burn the car because there was something in it that would prove it was me who had killed Juliette, then a police car drew up. I just felt relieved I was going to be punished for her death.


October 29th  – you ask me whether I want to go to a cutesy Christmas fair while I imagine how decomposed my daughter’s body would be now – you are so TRIVIAL and disrespect me and my feelings. WHY did this happen to us? I want my daughter back.


October 30thI miss the complacency I felt with my four perfect children, love all around us, protecting us, the six of us, Juliette’s funny faces, making me laugh. I can’t see how I could ever be better now she’s gone. I’m scared Steph might die or that my parents might die. I think how we’ve been robbed of our Juliette and it makes me so angry, that she might be here but she’s not – and I want to know why, and blame someone. I get angry when people assume they know how I must be feeling, & their petty, little lives continue untouched by our enormous tragedy, saying their child ‘misses Juliette’ which they think is ‘sweet’. Fuck off with your Baby Jesus sentiments, cherubs & chubby children kneeling praying in their Victorian nighties just FUCK OFF – you know NOTHING  about real death & pain & my searing LOSS just FUCK OFF


November 2nd – Elodie said today, ‘No I don’t want you to be pregnant because I don’t want to feel anyone’s taking Juliette’s place.’ She comes out with this against a background of blandness, which I know I shouldn’t, but I find so isolating – I want us to cry together but I know that’s not fair. She’s not an adult, I should be sharing with Steph. I told her I could understand why she felt that, but that no one could replace Juliette – she wouldn’t let them.


I’m feeling so horrible at the moment – very dark all this week – I’d say like tearing my hair out if that wasn’t a cliché. I hate the way that sounds – detached & self-conscious. I feel hopeless – pointless – hopeless & why go on? Nothing means anything anymore, it’s all a sham, it was real & now it’s not – no more bright canopy, the true ugliness of the sky all too clear & we are unprotected from it – why go on? – Juliette lies in her grave & the world puts on plastic Halloween masks to go and fill tubs of sweet crap from their neighbours – I don’t want this life to go on, there’s no beauty anymore.


November 6th  – It’s so unreal – I feel that Juliette can’t be dead. She’s just not here at the moment. I look at her familiar face in photographs and I can’t believe that I won’t be seeing her again for real. I don’t want it to be me that’s lost a child. Why’s it me? Why did my lovely family have to be torn up? It’s like a continual weight. Juliette won’t be with us again & what’s the point in anything? Why do I carry on with the mundane things? There’s no joy in anything. The birth of Dani’s baby has washed over me. I tried so hard to feel the elation I knew I should in little Theo – the way she felt when all of mine were born – but I felt dull – even birth is pointless – I miss Juliette – I didn’t want her to leave my life – who took her? I needed her, I wanted her, I LOVED her – I love her, my special little funny girl. I want to hold you & feel your solid body pressed against mine & hear your cheeky laugh. Why did you have to die? Dani told me she dreamt the day she had Theo you told her they would have to cut her open to get the baby. How did you know? You were such a funny, secret little girl – all blonde & smiling & mute. I can’t wait to see you again darling. Please help me to feel happy to be here. I have to be here, your sister and brothers & Papa need me. Please help me to be happy & make them happy too. I want you to be happy when you see us together, not sorry for having made us sad when you left us. We love you so much.


December 1st  – It’s been so long since I wrote anything here. I have just woken up and realise that I think Juliette was in my dream – but I didn’t/don’t feel that desperation for any scrap of her that I must remember all the details. We’re into the 5th month now…does this mean it’s a new phase? I don’t want to be coming to terms with it. Thinking about Christmas coming up & all the memories of last year, and imagining how she would be. I can hear Elodie and Pierre opening their advent calendars in the kitchen. I have sometimes been able to share their excitement, then immediately feel guilty. I really can’t/don’t want to share their joy. I have done about ¼ of my Christmas shopping, which is a relief – I didn’t think I was going to be able to start. My lovely mother is doing Elodie’s stocking – I couldn’t look at girl’s things because I’d think, ‘I’ll get that for Juliette, she’d love that’ – each occasion a stab in my throat. We don’t know how to mark it/remember her yet and each time I think of it I think ‘this is all wrong – I don’t want to be buying a new angel for the tree, lighting a candle, making a donation, I want to be spoiling her with presents and feel her excitement & joy. I miss her so much – the way she would make us all laugh – right, got to stop and get their breakfast.


Dec 4th  – I had Juliette in my life all that time & some people aren’t that lucky. She had a happy, good life for as long as it lasted. When she was tired or not well, she had a way of just appearing in a doorway, tousled and unsmiling & utterly adorable. She used to curl herself up on the sofa or in bed, with the perfect little bow-shaped mouth. I can’t believe she’s dead. How can someone so full of life be dead? What does her existence consist of now? Does she see us & miss us? Will we ever get over this? At the moment I don’t even want to.


December 5th  – Darling, I’m so sorry for all the times when I said ‘I haven’t got a lap at the moment,’ when you asked to sit on it. If you were back, you could sit on my lap all day if you wanted – I’d give anything to have the chance to offer it to you. I’m so sorry for the times I shouted at you when you got out of bed. I didn’t feel as fierce as I sounded but I thought you, more than the others, needed me to be strong with you – you could so easily have had us doing everything you wanted. I miss you because you were so like me with your moods and your ‘look at me! don’t look at me’ personality. We knew each other. I miss your surprise kisses, your uplifted smiling face with those perfect teeth, and that wobbly one that didn’t have a chance to fall out. Did you really promise to buy Elodie sweets with your £1? You loved your sister so much. Still love her. That’s the worst of my hurts, that you two don’t have each other anymore. I keep imagining how you’ll be when you come to meet me when I die. I try not to want it too badly. I long to see you but I don’t want to leave the others motherless. I couldn’t do that to them or to Papa. But I wish you didn’t have to have died. So many people miss you and love you, but especially Mummy. I saw the curly chimney today. Do you remember I told you a giant had twisted it to make it like that? I thought it was one of those images you’d hold onto forever, a funny childhood memory – but you never got to be an adult. It’s not fair.


You’re going to have a new brother or sister but I expect you know that. You probably know which.  I hope you don’t feel jealous. We’ll all be together again very soon. I love you darling.


December 28th  – I think all the time, imagine if she were to come through that door? How would she look? I can picture it, WANT IT and though it’s been five months she would slip straight back into life with us. Why could that day just not have happened? We could have finished our holiday in Southwold, and be here having had Christmas together, she could be playing with Elodie, fighting with Pierre, cuddling Raphi – why can’t that be our life now? 


We got through Christmas – I have never found it so phoney – godawful sermon from the canon pastor speculating in what he thought were a poet’s words & voice about the baby Jesus’ first minutes on earth. I wanted to hit him and then shout to the rafters ‘YOU BASTARD! Why did you take my daughter?!!!’ Why can’t she just come back?


8½ weeks pregnant. Are we doing the right thing? 34 weeks to go – with sleepless nights on the horizon after that, hooray. I must write this diary when I don’t  feel low – I don’t feel low all the time – just when it feels real. Other times, when people are offering sympathy I think, ‘it’s really not that bad’, but it is bad – IT IS VERY BAD my little Juliette is gone & though I can remember her so clearly now – will I always? Will I always be able to recall her presence, or will she become just a photograph?


I wish I could bottle her smell, her laugh, her touch, the way her chubby little body felt, the feel of her hair. I remember pulling my fingers through her hair, little tangled curls, that windy Tuesday on the beach in Southwold – she was wearing Steph’s grey anorak, which swamped her. We were watching Steph & Elodie fly the kite while Pierre dragged his big plastic boat around on a string. J made ‘aaaah’ complaining noises as I ran my fingers through her hair – but her curls were so tempting. We stopped at the Sole Bay Inn – Steph and I had a drink – Steph beer, me shandy & we went to choose ice creams for the children at the corner shop opposite – then went back for tea – what did they eat? That was our last outing together. Will I ever forget this?


I dreamt of her the other night or at least, I thought I was awake & suddenly her cheeky little face popped up on Steph’s side of the bed, grinning, looking like she did when she was 3. I just said, ‘Hello darling! Hello Juliette!’ and that was it really, but it felt like she’d been there.


March 22nd  – Why did you have to go? We’re so lost without you. Did you know you were leaving us? I long to sense you near & hear your voice – to hold you, but I can’t. Sometimes I imagine I hear you but maybe it’s me putting your voice there. I long for a tiny scrap of you. I think of your grave – I would hug your bones – kiss them, to have something physical of you. It’s going to be your birthday soon and tonight I can’t bear it. 6. I should be organising your party, thinking about wrapping your presents, imagining you on your birthday morning. Do you remember I put ‘I am 5’ balloons outside your bedroom last year? I thought I’d start a new tradition. I never thought you wouldn’t see 6. I thought maybe you wouldn’t see 5, but you seemed so well. You were taken from us when you seemed most alive. I think about you every minute of every day. Not the same thought. Different thoughts, but you are in every minute of every day. I’m so tired, darling. I’ve been digging a new flowerbed today and I kept thinking of how you loved the garden. It was your garden. I keep picturing you there if you hadn’t gone – playing with the others, & how much Raphi would love you  – we all love you & miss you. Wherever you are, know Mummy loves you & you’ll always be my small girl. I long to see you again.


June 13th  – Did she know how much I loved her? How much I long to have one of those nights when she couldn’t sleep, and take her body in my arms. Stay with me forever, darling – I’d keep you at home with me all day – no school – just be with Mummy – god I wish I had the time back. I didn’t know she was going to die – never thought she was going to die. 


July 18th  – Darling. We’ve just passed the hour at which you died, around 2.30 pm. Tatty & Grandpa, Dani & Adam and of course Papa are all here. Elodie wanted to go to school and Pierre is there too on a pre-school visit. I don’t know why I’m telling you, you know anyway.  Pierre told me you were standing behind him when he was in school on Wednesday morning – you seem to be around him a lot, which is lovely. Elodie looks sheepish if I ask her whether she sees you, like ‘what does Mummy want me to say?’ We have hardly talked about you today – maybe even less than a ‘normal’ day, but everyone is together for you. I go between horrible pain and hopelessness at the idea of you no longer being with us, to being OK. I’m reminded of this time last year and of feeling the same, but now the feeling of being without you is depressingly and wearyingly familiar, and your presence a glittering and unreachable fantasy. Now that the hour has passed I feel less tense – that helped with 2 glasses of wine – the poor baby, lurching about inside me, reminding me of the unbroken strand of life. I’ll take your sister and brothers crabbing in Mersea soon, and hope you’ll be with us. I don’t feel you around me as much as I’d like. Or is this sanity, trying to reassert itself? What would you be like at 6 years 4 months? Are you laughing at us all in our pinks and purples? Would your new favourite colours be navy blue and beige? I don’t think so – you’ll always be my pink and purple girl.


February 20th – I was looking at my face in the mirror before I got into bed and was noticing again how sad it seems, even when my mood is good. There’s a downturn to my mouth that wasn’t there before and my eyes look worn. It looks like the face of someone who has suffered a tragedy. Now I feel that time has made the pain more familiar, duller – no, not duller – sometimes it is just so acute, and at moments when I just don’t expect it, but I guess they are less often. I am stuck in a place where I acknowledge that the longer we go on the more bearable it is, I have the historical evidence after the time that’s passed, but this takes me further away from her.


I read back on some of my descriptions of Juliette and the familiarity is no longer there. It makes me glad to have written them down, but it’s horrible to feel these glimmers are fading.

Just five more minutes


When Juliette first died, I indulged in desperate fantasies where I could hold her again even if only for five minutes. I promised everything in my power for the chance to bury my face in her hair, to smell her, feel her weight on my lap, wrap my arms around her and tell her I loved her one last time. From an inner core of madness I went on making my promises, stuffing the dam until the certain knowledge I would never see her again, drowned me.

Southern Britain stopped moving two days ago. We’d had hurricane-strength winds which had blown several trees down in our village, cutting off two access roads. Fallen trees meant no trains were running in or out of Essex, and this was the day we expected Elodie home for her first brief visit from university in over a month.

I know it’s not logical, but Elodie’s absence has had for my doom-primed subconscious a shadow of Juliette’s. Now with the uncertainty of Elodie’s presence I remembered my crazed longing for my other daughter. I couldn’t let myself look forward to seeing Elodie. Besides, Steph, the rational, shook a grim head all day at the news from the rail company website.

Then a text… Elodie had boarded the first train that ran out of her university town that evening and was en route to London. At that point there were no trains from there to Essex. Over the next two hours we refreshed the website, and saw at last that a sporadic service had resumed. Elodie could come home.

She arrived to a house lit by candles – our power had been knocked out earlier in the day – and ran silently to hug me. I’d improvised a huge meal in the gloom. Steph, Pierre, Raphi, Celeste and I became cartoons, hysterical pastiches of ourselves at being ‘complete’ again. Little was clear in the half-light – nothing felt real. Then it seemed before we could touch her, she had gone again. It was as though we had dreamed her.

Another snatching of precious smoke happened that same storm day. My oldest female friend, Gabi, moved with her family to Australia six years ago. In a belated brainwave, we Skyped for the first time – she in her shorts and me in warm tights, me pointing the iPad camera at the garden and its wind-toppled fence panels and she angling the lens so I could see her sleeping, five-year-old son who I have never met. We grinned at each other’s expressions, our jokes sharp and intense through the distance, and yet utterly familiar. I felt as though I had spent a half hour in her company. She and her family populate my dreams, like Juliette does, and Elodie has begun to – the people I love, who aren’t with me.

I only wish death was undone so simply, with a train journey, or the flick of a camera switch.

Lovely mothers

vodka1I 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.

Being happy


This photograph resurfaced recently. I don’t remember exactly when it was taken, but Elodie’s T-shirt suggests it was after one of her Royal Academy of Dance summer schools. We are, from the clue of a green chair, in a Battersea Italian restaurant that was our favourite when we lived in London. We would take Elodie and Juliette there as babies, because it was at the end of our street and the waiters never minded a bowl of pasta upended by a small, chubby hand.

I guess we had taken Elodie there for old times’ sake. She looks ten at the most here, which means it was only around two years after Juliette had died. What struck me seeing this photograph again is the look on our faces.

Pure happiness.

I have no idea what is making us laugh, but Steph’s taking the picture, so that may be a clue. I look as though I haven’t slept for a week, but it’s extraordinarily reassuring and almost a shock to see us look happy, at a time that I remember as being so hard. It makes me wonder at the faultiness of memory, or my memory at least. Anyway, in this instance I’m glad for it.

I’ve just had a week’s break from work and the children have been on holiday, so we joined up with my sister, Dani, and her family on a camping trip to the Peak district. It rained as we put our tents up and mustered supper for the ten of us. It went on raining as the children played, and as Dani and I started on the Whisky Macs and the men on Jack Daniels, graduating to Baileys by way of a nice Shiraz.

It was still raining through our now compromised waterproofs the following morning as Steph and I trudged the ten minutes back from the washing up station, with sore heads and dripping pans and plates. Just as I was feeling everything was a bit grim, Steph turned to me gesturing gallically and with genuine pleasure at the rolling green hills, the grazing sheep and our playing children, filthy and laughing in the crook of the river, and asked, ‘What more could you want?’ Moments like these ratchet up my love for him. His mood is the life raft into which I can leap when mine more inevitably, sinks.

When Juliette was ill, Steph’s optimism was watertight. Sometimes I longed to see it sag a little when I languished in the water, so I was not so alone with my fears. It never did. His faith in his daughter’s recovery was unsinkable, right up until she left us.

At other times, I see Steph as the pole of a Swingball set. I’m just the bright bit of fluff on the end of some string weaving back and forth, then up and down, as life does the hitting. I’m grateful for the way he is. If he were different, I don’t believe our marriage would have survived. So far, we are beating the odds for parents like us and I try not to take that for granted.

Anyway, Elodie, who never joins us camping – (“Why would you want to be outside, cold, wet and uncomfortable when you could be inside and warm?”) – has otherwise inherited her father’s bright outlook on life. She encourages our habit of taking it in turns at supper to describe, ‘the best moment of today.’ After we’d washed the mud off our skin and shampooed the smoke from our hair she asked us each about our favourite thing from the camping trip. That moment walking with Steph was mine, amongst laughing with the sister I adore and noticing how our children bore discomfort with good humour because they were with their beloved cousins. More stained glass moments for my memory bank. I just have to keep looking for them.


rope bridgeTrust is a precious state. It’s the more credulous cousin of hope, but where breaking hope takes force, determination and time, trust can be destroyed in an instant.

Maintaining trust takes work. When leukaemia swept into our lives uninvited, I was a homeopathic pill-popping, vaccine-foreswearing, spiritual healing aficionado. Informed without ceremony that our perfect three-year-old had cancer of the blood, Steph and I were asked to trust strangers to drug her, cut her open, insert tubes, needles and poison as the best way of keeping her alive. Our trust endured as the medicine made her bald, hollowed her eyes, bloated her flesh and made her sick.

We believed the doctors who told us Juliette would be OK and we trusted them as she failed to fight even a cold without hospitalisation. It was one of these viruses that killed her. Chemotherapy kept her with us for nineteen months but ultimately, it stole her too. But we had no conscionable alternative, and to imagine we were wrong to put our faith in her treatment would make us complicit. Impossible to contemplate.

I have often thought that losing Juliette should have made me tough, suspicious and less inclined to trust. As an inoculation against further pain, surely the clever person would always imagine the worst?

I’ve had more than one incidence of broken trust recently. It hurts. In that state I blame myself for my blind credulity, and long to be a person with a gloomier (more realistic?) view of people and situations. This does not seem to be one of the lessons I’ve learned from my daughter’s death, however.

I would hate to be cynical, but I do wish sometimes that I were better able to protect myself from the pain of broken trust. I always imagine the best. I assume that others will behave honourably in response to my faith in them, and I suppose that’s because I’m hopeful. I believe in the innate goodness of people and, strange to say, in the beauty and richness of life. If that makes me stupid, well, pass the dunce’s cap.


Ghosts walking

floating-feather-356388During the early days of crippling mental disorder after Juliette died, my mind flitted about like a mad child, chucking up thoughts that were not born of reason or rational process. Juliette was elsewhere. I had to reach her and my messed up brain had me make lists of what I could offer that would reverse the shocking error of her absence.

I begged nameless powers to take my limbs, my eyes and my life. I longed for the chance to eat putrefied road kill, excrement, anything to buy her back. In those moments, it was convenient to forget how I had watched as doctors failed to resuscitate my daughter, that I had held her little body as it grew cold, and seen her buried. The madness of fantasy seduced me. It drew me from the brink and plunge of knowing I would never see her again.

When after weeks my Faustian pacts came to naught, I grasped at comfort by imagining ways in which my loss could have been worse. Juliette died, as far as I knew, without pain. Steph and I were with her and she did not have to bear her last minutes alone. No one took her life, or hurt her. It did not change the fact of her death, but I looked around at the losses of other parents and it made me feel mine was slightly less terrible.

It sounds a cruel way to draw comfort, but I had to survive. I thought of a mother who was robbed even of her daughter’s body to bury, and denied the knowledge of her final hours. I wondered how she could grieve in this tortuous state of suspense, while any hope remained that her child might still be alive.

When Juliette died, Madeleine McCann was still safe with her parents, but my mind kept returning to the family of Ben Needham, the little boy who vanished on a Greek Island. I wondered whether years on, his parents had been able to accept he was probably dead, and if that acceptance brought peace, or only guilt and more suffering. I looked at Juliette’s death in the grip of leukaemia and became the mother who was grateful to have held her child’s lifeless body.

Last week, when Amanda Berry broke out of her ten-year incarceration with two other women all believed to have been dead, my first thought was not jubilation. Instead, I thought about the hurt to my more recently bereaved friends who like I once did would have imagined for a brief but agonising instant that their children might also return, before remembering it was impossible.

It’s a good news story. These daughters and sisters have returned to their families after a decade of grief, but my thoughts are with parents whose children are gone forever. In my thoughts I’m afraid there’s also a little self pity. Amanda Berry disappeared nine months after we lost Juliette. Of course, I would not wish Juliette to have endured what these women have, but a ghost of my mad brain whispers new pacts, and wonders what I would not give even now to hold a sixteen-year-old Juliette in my arms.

Beautiful symphonies


I went to a funeral two days ago. It marked the life of a wonderful man who had reached the incredible age of 102.

It always shocks me that I still I still find funerals difficult. I really try. As snow fell outside the ancient Gloucestershire church, I tried to stay focussed on my friend. In a voice taut with grief she read The Good Indian’s Prayer, a favourite of her Dad’s. I only made it to the second hymn before I was fumbling for tissues. It doesn’t matter how much I tell myself that I’m not there for Juliette and to stop being so self-absorbed, at funerals my thoughts always travel back to Juliette’s life, and to Juliette’s death.

I listened harder as others spoke about the spiritually good, full, and interesting life this grand old man had lived, and about the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren he had seen into the world. I felt admiration for this special person, and incredibly sad for all the things Juliette never achieved. Then I listened closer to how much the man had been loved, how he made everyone feel special and the way he had touched the lives of everyone he met, and realised they could have been talking about Juliette.

Really, it’s only about the length of their lives. Juliette could not have lived more fully in the time she had, and could not have touched more deeply those who knew her. If Juliette had been a soldier in India, a farmer, trained as a healer and brought children into the world, would her life have been better? Would she have been happier than the little girl who giggled through chemo and baldness, who found every day ‘itciting’ and made everyone she met feel a better person for having known her?

I will never find out. I have to bring my focus back to what she did do, how much she loved and was loved, and to remember that her short life had intense beauty.

“We cannot, after all, judge a biography by its length, by the number of pages in it; we must judge by the richness of the contents…Sometimes the ‘unfinisheds’ are among the most beautiful symphonies.” Victor Frankl.

Bumps and tears


After I dropped Celeste at school yesterday, I took my usual route home round the fields with the dogs and met a heavily pregnant lady walking the other way. We chatted about overdue prenancies then parted, at which point I burst into tears. I couldn’t make sense of it until I realised that sixteen years ago, that was me. Juliette had been due the same day.

It still seems to happen to me, even after all this time. In the run up to birthdays and anniversaries something innocuous will trigger an uprush of emotion, and yet I’m not actually focussing on what time of year it is. It’s a funny thing, the subconscious.

There were tears again this morning. Steph’s been away in Germany for three days, and I was just so happy to wake up beside him. I know it’s soppy, and not the way I usually am, but I guess the self-protective layers are just a little thinner sometimes.

I have other reasons to be emotional at the moment. On Tuesday, Juliette’s birthday, I will be going to meet people connected with the new job I start properly after Easter. On the 26th March last year I spent the day cover teaching at our local prison for the first time. I had an exhilerating twelve months but sadly, the prison is now closing. This new job is the work I’ve dreamed of doing and I feel incredibly lucky, but a little scared too.

I’m trying to find it symbolic that these exciting first steps seem to happen on Juliette’s birthday. Juliette wasn’t afraid of anything. Lots of things frighten me, but I think of Juliette and her fearlessness, and have no more excuses.

How I live now

You're alive

I’ve been giving more thought than usual to how losing Juliette has changed the way I live. Writing Watching Petals Fall has made me examine the far-reaching effects her life and death have had on me , and I’ve started to wonder whether other bereaved parents feel like I do.

Juliette , more than any of my five children lived her life intensely. Every day she was well, she wanted to ‘do something exciting’ and sometimes, frankly, it was hard to keep up with her. Of course, I can say this with hindsight, but I think there was a part of her that knew she had to experience everything, and quickly. She went for it.

In our last week together, we took the children crabbing. Scary little beasts, crabs, and both Steph and I kept them at arm’s length – from line, to net, to bucket and then back into the sea. Juliette spotted some teenage boys handling their crabs and asked if we would help her do the same. We dismissed it as ‘a bad idea’ but the next thing we knew, Juliette had carefully picked up a nipping monster from her bucket and stood, grinning for a photograph.

That she picked up a crab when her parents were too scared, really sums Juliette up. She was brave, while we were afraid. Since she died, I often think of her crab as well as the other ways Juliette was fearless.  She would hold out her hand for the big, fat needle to be inserted into her beautiful skin without ever flinching, even without anaesthetic – she did not like the sensation of the numbing cream. The first time she asked for it to be done this way, she was just three.

The reason I’m saying all this is that Juliette died. I’m her mother, and I’m alive. Every parent knows how I wish I could swap, but as no one gave me a choice I owe it to Juliette to be different, be more like she was, to live fully because she no longer can.

I think more about the golden times in each day. They are fleeting and easily missed. Without meaning to sound like a total buddhist, I try to remember to live in the moment, be aware and be grateful for sunshine, birds singing, hearing the children’s laughter, and for how close I feel to Steph as we chat and walk the dogs. These things aren’t ‘exciting’ by Juliette’s definition, but being aware of the pleasure small things bring and the value they add to my day is new, and thanks to the little daughter who is no longer phsyically with me, but who is more present in my life than ever.