Loss · Moving Forward

Surviving December


December was always going to be a tricky one for me to navigate since losing Alex, it’s the month after we lost him and when the whole world seems merry and full of cheer I couldn’t feel further from it. To help me cope this year I took part in a wonderful idea from Jess at The Legacy of Leo blog (go have a snoop here, she’s really wonderful!). Last year Jess & her wife did an Advent for Leo to ease them through December and include their son Leo in the festivities, this year they very kindly opened up the idea to allow other bereaved families to participate and remember their little ones. The idea is beautifully simple, its an alternative kind of advent and every day throughout December you plan to do something to remember your baby, or indeed any loved one who you’re missing at Christmas time; it could be an act of kindness, attending a memorial service, an act of self-care, or something as simple as lighting a candle. The idea is as big as your love and imagination allows it to be.

For me, the 1st December marked a year since Alex’s funeral and it hit hard. Harder than I could ever have anticipated. Throughout November I had been remembering my time with Alex a year ago, the final days of pregnancy, those words, his birth, the times we had visited him and the things we had done to make memories. It had been an emotionally draining month but the constant reflection helped me feel closer to him at a time when we’d physically never been further away from each other. I found Alex’s funeral a relief at the time, we’d had over 3 weeks of living in limbo, stuck between our three children, two very much alive and needing our attention and one who needed us for nothing but who we desperately needed to savour every second with. This surreal period allowed us the time to gently prepare ourselves, so that when the time eventually came to say goodbye we were ready for it.

But that’s the thing with grief, there is no rhyme or reason. The stormy seas can come at any time and without any warning. I’d survived Alex’s first birthday and November by pre-empting the sad days and planning in plenty of distractions but I’d disregarded the 1st of December. It turned out to be a crisp, clear and frosty day exactly like it had been a year ago and I felt like I was right back there, dressed in black and silently screaming on the inside. Those memories of watching my husband carry Alex’s tiny coffin into church and through the church yard whipped the air from my lungs and made my chest ache with sadness. The tears didn’t stop all day and for the first time in a long while, finding my brave face proved extremely difficult. Definitely not the start to December and the run up to Christmas that I had anticipated. But as we all know, life sadly goes on in spite of our loss, so I got ready and took homemade star biscuits into work for my colleagues, my very first Advent For Alex activity. It wasn’t a magical cure to my sadness on that day, nor did it stop the tears but it felt good to include Alex in a positive way and create a happy memory alongside the sad ones from last year.

Since then we have done something every day to include, remember and honour Alex and it has warmed my heart in so many ways. There have been 25 in total so I won’t list them all but some of my favourites were posting Christmas cards to elderly people living in our local area and giving out candy canes to strangers. We’ve adopted a donkey, donated to a food bank, dedicated a star and a light to Alex. In amongst that there was some self care which included a festive afternoon tea, a Christingle service at church and a craft evening at my local SANDS meeting. We decorated Alex’s grave for Christmas and our own Christmas tree in lots of Alex related decorations. Feeling inspired a friend even did a ‘12 days of Christmas’ for Alex and in the 12 days before Christmas she gave a total stranger a candy cane each day and told them Alex’s story, one of these people had also experienced a stillbirth over 40 years ago. What was so lovey about Advent for Alex was how we have been able to include Alex’s brothers and give them ways to remember their little brother. They both lit candles at his grave on Christmas Eve so that Father Christmas could find him and William now wants to hand out a candy cane to pretty much every person we meet!


I heard a lovely analogy of grief the other day, one which I’ve not heard before. It compared grief to a tennis ball and a jar. Our lives as newly bereaved parents were likened to a tennis ball (our grief) being put into a small jam jar (our lives). At first there is no space in the jar, no room to breathe or move without being reminded of our grief. People often think that in time the ball of grief will shrink, giving us more space in the jar and making us less aware of it, when actually the opposite is true and the ball stays the same size; grief is a product of our love and our love will never diminish or lessen. Which means that the task in hand is to expand the jar, to build a bigger life around our grief by living life to the very fullest. What Advent for Alex gave me this December was the extension of dreams on my jar and it felt nothing but truly wonderful! Excluding Day 1 I’ve felt so fulfilled and content, we think of Alex everyday but to physically do something in his name each and every day has been a balm to my aching heart. He’s played a bigger part in our Christmas than I ever thought possible and as I sit writing this, on the very first day of a brand-new year, I can’t help but look back and feel like we did December right!

It’s been so wonderful to see how other families have interpreted their grief into their own Advent’s To Remember online, the Instagram community has felt so hopeful and I’ve looked forward to seeing what other parents have done for their advents each day. There have been some fantastic ideas that I would love to try next year (of course we’re doing it again!). I can’t thank Jess enough for giving me a focus and an outlet for my grief and love this December, Advent To Remember has pulled me through a pretty tough season for anyone missing a loved one and it’s given me plenty of smiles and happy memories to cherish.


I hope you all had a gentle and peaceful Christmas and New Year.


Rachel & Alex xx

Moving Forward

What Would Life Be Like With Three?


It’s a question I often ask myself. What would it really be like? How would we have managed? Would they really have all fitted into the car? Well Saturday we got the answer and I wont lie, it was bittersweet. We looked after my best friend’s son for the day and despite all of the warnings we had received from perfect strangers when I was pregnant, it wasn’t chaos, we didn’t lose a child and we definitely didn’t find ourselves rocking in a corner with a bottle of wine by 7pm. In fact, it was quite the opposite, we had the best day!

But like so many things these days, the experience has left me struggling to appease conflicting thoughts and emotions. I feel torn between the contentment of a great day, the sadness that Alex should have been there and the bittersweet taste of life with three children.

I often got the impression that some people thought we were crazy for having three children. The truth is that I actually wanted four, Rob wanted two and so we did the grown-up thing and compromised on three (with me secretly hoping he would come round to the idea of a fourth).  The general consensus was that three children under the age of four was absolute lunacy! Most of my pregnancy was lived out to a soundtrack of “good luck with that!” “It must have been an accident”! “Are you crazy”? “How on earth are you going to cope”?  “How on earth will you go to a theme park when one child will be sitting on their own”? “How will you ever be able to cross the road when you don’t have a hand for each child to hold”?  My standard reply to these questions was always that we will cope because there is no other option but to cope.

But Saturday taught me something, I learnt that whilst I am in no doubt there would have been tough days where just coping was the only option (isn’t there always with children), there would also have been days where we more than just coped. There would have been days where we excelled at being parents to three children, days where we could pat ourselves on the back and smugly reassure each other that we’ve got this parenting lark sorted. There would have been days where we not only managed to get three children dressed and fed but where we also managed to get out of the house! (A miracle I know!) There would have been days where they screamed with excitement in the car because we were going on an adventure. There would have been days where we made magical memories to last all three of them a lifetime. Having three would not have been the grey hair inducing hell that people seem to imagine it to be and I know that we would have loved every second of it.


So I guess that even though it made me sad to think of what could and should have been, it also settled an internal battle I hadn’t fully acknowledged I was fighting. I realised that I constantly question myself throughout my daily activities, always wondering if I could have coped with Alex in the mix. When I’m rushing in the morning to get two children fed, dressed and at nursery in time for me to get to work I wonder if I would have had enough time to feed and dress an additional child. When I’m battling with two fed up children in the supermarket on a busy Saturday afternoon I wonder how on earth I would have managed with Alex as well. But this is our life now, without Alex, and imagining him in our current lives will never seem like a perfect fit. The reality is, that if things had gone to plan and Alex was with us today then I may not be back at work at all or at the very least I would have been getting up earlier to allow time to get Alex ready as well.

I now realise that the question I need to be asking myself isn’t, how would I have coped? I know for sure that I would have. Instead maybe I can wonder who would have fallen in the mud first? Where would we have gone? What magical adventure would we have imagined? Would we have gone out to hunt for bear’s, fairy’s or dinosaur’s? Who would have eaten all the bread for the ducks instead of feeding them? The thought process of doubting my ability to cope with three children was instilled in me throughout my pregnancy with Alex and then only exacerbated by his loss. His death left me feeling like I had failed my child in the worst possible way and doubting my abilities as a Mother. Our day out with three children gave me back some of what I had lost, confidence in myself.

And the best part of it all? Alex still found a way, as he always does, to send William a white feather. He was there with us hunting dinosaurs in the woods.


Love Rachel & Alex xx

Moving Forward

Back To Work


So that’s our last family holiday of the year over and it’s time to get back to work, literally. Tomorrow is the start of my last week of maternity leave for Alex. I feel so blessed to have still been able to have maternity leave following Alex’s death. A couple of weeks off would nowhere near have got me back in a place emotionally and mentally where I could have functioned properly at work. This period of time has been so precious for me and knowing that the end of it is so close is bringing up so many conflicting feelings. I wasn’t expecting to have this time with my boys to just simply be at home and be a mom with no other distractions such as work or the newborn Alex we were expecting to bring home. The time off has also been essential for me to heal and get acquainted with our new normal. In the early days we called things like this ‘gifts from Alex’, things we never expected to have if Alex had been with us, they often seemed small and insignificant in the wake of Alex’s death but we had to find some positives amongst the sadness and time off to heal and be with my boys was definitely one of them.

I guess the thing I’m feeling most strongly at the moment is anxiety, I’ve never been an anxious person so I find it a tough one to navigate and deal with. I feel anxious about so many things, not just simply returning to work and settling back into my job. Of course I am definitely worried about getting back into the routine of work, making sure we have a dinner ready for when we all get home, doing packed lunches and making sure we’re all up, fed and dressed ready to be out of the door on time. But these aren’t new hurdles, I’ve faced these challenges before and after a few tired weeks I soon get back into the swing of things. The things which worry me most are inevitably related to Alex, my new outlook on life, my children and coping with the sad days.

I’m different. I look like me, I talk like me, I even act like the old me most of the time but dig a little deeper and I am irrevocably changed. The new me has lost the majority of her patience and tolerance for the complainers and pessimists of the world. Unfortunately however, I work in a customer facing role in a busy hotel and complaints are part and parcel of the job. It’s an aspect of my role that has never really bothered me too much in the past, in fact I always quite enjoyed resolving any issues and making sure the customer leaves happy. I feel so differently about it now though, it all seems so trivial and non-consequential in the aftermath of losing Alex.  How do I stop myself from telling the guests who are getting irate over their egg being too runny at breakfast, their dinner being five minutes late or their bed being too hard that life can be a LOT worse. How do I stop myself from simply telling them that I’m really not bothered?  Losing Alex really has put so much of my life into perspective. I just want to tell them that I wish my child was here to taste a runny egg when he’s old enough, I wish I could feed him his dinner five minutes late and watch him race to eat it all or screw his little button nose up at the foods he doesn’t like. Most of all, I wish I could put my beautiful baby into his bed at night and tell him I love him, I don’t think he would care if it was too hard and I would sleep on concrete every night of my life without complaining just to have him back in my arms.

And what about the bad days? They still happen, maybe not as often but when they come there is no escaping them. There is nothing that can stop the waves of sadness, guilt and regret that come over me and nothing that will stop the tears. In the past, I’ve had no problems leaving whatever issues I have in life at the door of work and putting on my ‘be happy for the customers’ face but I worry that won’t be so easy anymore. Being off work has given me a safe place to feel whatever I feel on that particular day and I really have found that to be the best way to deal with my grief. If I’m sad I’ve been sad, if I’m angry I’ve been angry and if I feel I need to go and spend some time with my little boy I have been free to do so. I find it hard to suppress my emotions like I used to, my face struggles to hide what I feel. But I also know that I need to function to the best of my ability at work and be professional at all times, something which doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with grief. I don’t think the hotel’s TripAdvisor reports will fare too well after the guests experience me sobbing on a down day. I guess I just have to hope that I can pull myself together on those days and find that strength to leave it at the door.

How will the boys adjust? I have a feeling that they will deal with this a lot better than I will but it’s my job as a Mom to worry I guess. Will they notice that tired grumpy shouty Mom makes an appearance a bit more now that she’s back at work? Will they notice that I am away from them for longer? They have both taken Alex’s death so well, we have been open and honest with them from the start and they have come through with an unconditional love for their little brother, a firm understanding of where and what he is (a star) and hopefully no negative lasting effects. The one thing that has become clear though, is that they are both very clingy with me since we lost Alex. They will always choose Mommy over Daddy, a normal boy thing I know, but it’s a lot more intense since Alex’s arrival and me being at home all of the time. I guess we just have to carry on as we started and hope that by being upfront and preparing them in advance for me leaving will mean that they will run into nursery without a backward glance. Driving to work having left behind two distraught children screaming your name doesn’t make for the best start to the day.


It’s not all gloomy though, on the other hand I am also excited and eager to return to work. I do love my job, I have a great group of colleagues and it’s generally a happy place to be. My employers have been incredible through our experience of losing Alex and I will always be thankful for their love and support. Although it feels like another step away from Alex I am looking forward to getting this part of normality back in my life, I think it will be a good thing for all of us. I feel guilty for saying it since losing Alex but I still get the normal feelings of isolation which many stay at home moms experience. Some days I crave adult conversation, I miss my work friends and the giggles we used to have and I find that my brain needs a challenge. Again, I feel guilty saying it, I know that so many people would give anything to have what I have and I honestly do cherish every moment, more so than most, but there is only so much CBeebies and PlayDoh that I can take before my brain cells shut up shop and leave me forever.

Most of all though, I’m excited to have a group of people back in my life who know Alex. They met Alex and watched him grow in my tummy, they all tried to guess the sex when I secretly knew that he was a boy, they brought me cake when I needed it and quizzed me excitedly when I returned from a midwife appointment or scan. It will be a relief to be surrounded by a group of people who I don’t have to explain myself or Alex to. I know they will speak his name without fear or uncertainty and that feels like one of the most amazing things right now.

So I’m off to make the absolute most of this last precious week despite my anxieties and pray that I can still fit into my suit!

Love Rachel & Alex xx