Sec Ed feature on helping bereaved pupils

Thank you to everyone who replied and offered their insights about helping bereaved children at secondary school.

The resulting piece is published today and you can read it here.

I'm pleased to have been able to contribute this feature and hope that it can help raise awareness of how grief isn't a straightforward journey for teenagers.

Thanks for reading.

This time last year

Tucking into mouth-watering seafood in a plush Welsh hotel restaurant, Neil beamed with happiness and pride on our twin daughters’ 13th birthday.

We watched peacocks strut past the window.

"Why do they have those colourful feathers?” asked our daughter Melissa. Neil smiled and explained why the birds fanned their blue-green tails.

“Don’t you love the way Dad knows this stuff?” I laughed to Melissa and her twin sister, Emily, savouring our meal at Ruthin Castle, Denbighshire.

It was a fantastic night.

Our enjoyment was made all the better because our stay was part of an expenses paid trip as guests of a local tourist organisation for our family travel site Have a Lovely Time. 

I wrote in my review that when you think of a weekend away with the family, North Wales Borderlands possibly isn’t somewhere that first pops into your head – as there’s no beach in paddling distance.

Taking two teenage daughters and hoping to keep them entertained all weekend can be difficult at times, wherever it is. But this area was jam-packed with adventures, I said. I added that the luxury that we stayed in was brilliant and provided us with some precious memories to treasure.

Little did I know how much I would want to cling on to those memories. 

We stayed our first night in Celyn Villa, a lovely little B&B near Holywell, with the breathtaking Clwydian Hills and Moel Famau as a backdrop.

Pauline and Les who run the B&B really made a fuss of us, with balloons, cake and chocolate  for the girls, as well as preparing a succulent steak dinner.

Wherever we went we had a standing joke about how a posh breakfast was the best thing about our stay. But breakfast time on our latest trip brought a new worry.

Neil was in pain. He feared he’d hurt his back playing golf.

We were supposed to be climbing nearby Moel Famau. When Neil said he couldn’t manage it, I knew things were serious. As our girls ran ahead, I huffed and puffed my way up and took in the wonderful view.

Then tears came, I was so worried about Neil and what on earth may have been wrong.

But I had no clue what life had in store and how cruel it could be.

Two days after coming home Neil was finding it hard to breathe. We were sent to New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton.

That's when our nightmare began. Neil went through so much and we were there with him for every step. It's too painful for me to write about and I am still getting flashbacks.

This year, as our girls approach their birthday, it's five months since we lost Neil. I am inconsolable that he isn't here to see his beautiful girls on their special day and besides myself with sadness that they have only known their amazing, loving, decent dad for 13 years.

I am doing my best to look forward to all we have planned with love and hope and to keep going day by day.

But it's not easy.

Thank you for reading.

Telling our story in the Daily Express

A piece I wrote about me, Neil, our girls and our plans for our life without him appeared in the Daily Express yesterday:

We'll see the world in my husband's memory.

I wanted to see a story in print about how much we all love Neil and how we are determined to live our lives to the full.

I'm hugely touched by the incredibly positive and supportive reaction I've had since sharing our story. Thank you to everyone who has been in touch. People have shared their own stories of loss and told me they have been moved by ours.

The phone rang with people telling me how much they appreciated my feature, others emailed me and Facebook and Twitter was awash with people sharing the link and passing on their good wishes.

It was lovely for me to see this reaction, thank you.

I'm now also telling our story in a women's weekly magazine so I'm pleased about that too.

One thing the experience of working on this hugely personal story for a newspaper has helped underline for me is that I can be positive and look forward with love. This has made me more determined to carry on this blog as well and be positive when I can.

It also gave me a push to pick our travel site, Have a Lovely Time, back up. I haven't been able to bear to look at it.

I'm trying my best to think about what we have rather than what we don't. That's a lot. It's when I think what we have all lost that I'm inconsolable.

Thanks for reading.

For the love of Fudgie

The Christmas before last, we managed to persuade Neil after years of trying that we should have a dog.

He took us to our local rescue centre and we chose a scrappy little Jack Russell we named Fudge because of her golden-brown coat.

It was love at first sight for all of us. It was the best Christmas ever as we spoiled Fudge, lavishing her with the affection she craved since being abandoned as a stray. Even the home gave her away, waiving their usual admin fee as she had a poorly leg.

Two days after we had her was Christmas Day 2010 and we all enjoyed a fantastic walk in the snowy Shropshire countryside with my mum. We bought doggie Christmas treats and we felt great pride at being able to give her a "forever home" with our family.

Despite Neil being against having a dog so long, Fudge inevitably became his best pal, he got used to feeding her and taking her out most often, even though the rest of us had promised we'd be the ones to do that.

He took her to an obedience class, where the teacher laughed, wished Neil luck and sent them home - there was no helping Fudge, she was too mischievous - and totally not a fan of other dogs, or cats come to that, or ducks, swans, sheep, horses or rabbits.

Anything with four legs rather than two and Fudge was all for seeing them off. This summer I started to see some improvement and just now on our walk, she was the best ever. I told her to 'leave it' when we spotted a Staffie over the road and she just whimpered as I stroked her nose and told her she was a good girl for not going ballistic.

All the time Neil was ill, we both wanted to get back to training her but had to keep postponing appointments due to hospital stays.

Last Christmas is a blur, Neil was out of hospital and I cooked Christmas dinner, Fudge made a massive fuss of him.

Since Neil died, Fudge has helped us all laugh again as she chases a squirrel or murmurs with contentment when we fuss her. But she's also a massive pain in the neck - still in desperate need of training.

She gets me out of bed far too early every morning for a walk, has the most disgusting wind and welcomes everyone into our home with a wag of the tail and soppy look. Apart from the wind, she is the most wonderful companion.

She also eats clothes pegs, raw oven chips, refuses all doggie toys and barks at any dog with the temerity to walk past our house.

I've now booked to go back to training, a different class, to finish what Neil started.

This Christmas will be our first without Neil and our third with Fudge. I know there will be tears but there will be lots of laughter too, thanks to Fudge.

Inspirational people by Sarah, aged nine

This is a blog post written in March this year. I wanted to share it here as what Sarah wrote continues to mean a lot to me.

I've not written about my husband's illness. I haven't considered this deeply private anguish to be anyone else's business and I don't want to say anything to add to the distress of my closest family, most of all, our beautiful daughters. 

Now I am in shock again. A turn of events last week has been particularly harrowing and a subsequent hospital stay traumatic. I can't find the right words to say what's up. My body and mind is still absorbing this latest news. Alone in my car, I have screamed as loud as I can, or I may offer up a silent scream as my face stings with more tears. I try to let the pain out. It's not enough. 

I've been happy sometimes to share good news -- like when a treatment we were warned had meagre chance of working evoked a 'remarkable' effect.  Or when, after spending more than a month not being allowed to move and having a cumbersome corset brace fitted to support his back, Neil was walking down the aisle - no brace, no frame, no stick. A fortnight earlier he couldn't manage a single step. If friends contact me online to ask how we are doing, I may offer a snippet of news, but I haven't said much.

Yet this week also brought great cause for celebration. Neil's birthday was a wonderful day where our house was filled with friends, family and laughter.

Among the cards, my sister-in-law Helen sent us some homework by our niece Sarah as she thought we may enjoy it. I was so touched by what it said, I wanted to share it here.   

Inspirational people by Sarah 

Why are they inspirational to me?

This week's homework is about inspirational people. I have chosen to write about my Uncle Neil. He is inspirational to me because over Christmas and New Year, he organised a big celebration to show his love for his friends and family, even though he has been seriously ill and has been in and out of hospital.

Neil is my dad's brother and he lives near Birmingham with his partner and two daughters, Emily and Melissa (our cousins.)
In November last year, Neil was diagnosed with cancer. He was then immediately taken to hospital and stayed there for a number of months. Each time his family came to visit him he remained positive and planned the family wedding celebration in the new year. You would never hear him feeling sorry for himself or complain.
At the wedding, Uncle Neil was amazingly brave and was forever smiling. Obviously he was in a lot of pain but he didn't make a fuss because he knew it was everybody's special day, especially his wife and children. Neil needs a brace because he is so ill but he didn't wear it at all throughout the day. Uncle Neil was feeling very tired but he managed to make an excellent speech and made sure everyone was having a great day too. 

What work do they do?

At the age of 18, Uncle Neil went to Canterbury University and studied journalism for three years. Four years on, at the age of 22, he worked for the BBC and various other newspapers, before going into business with his wife. Unfortunately now Neil is unable to work due to his illness.

How do their lives truly reflect on the teachings of Jesus?

Despite his illness, Uncle Neil is a kind, caring and loving father and husband. He is determined to overcome his illness with good humour and optimism for the future. He always puts other people before himself and shows great courage in the face of his pain. This is how Jesus would want people to live.

How can I be more like them?

To be more like my Uncle Neil, I should stop taking simple things for granted. I have a lot of things to be thankful for like: good health, a loving family and caring friends. I should be more thankful towards them because some people in this world don't have these things.

I've added some comments below from the first time this was published as they make me smile.