Thursday, 17 January 2013

Please join me

After months of witttering on about it, I have finally moved my blog content to a new site HERE. I will be writing about most of the same things I have explored on this blog - my life will always resonate with the joy of having had Juliette in my life and with the pain of losing her - but ten years on, I am a bit more ready to look forward and develop all other areas of my life, with my family, writing and teaching in prison. I hope those of you who have been following me here will join me over there. I look forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

What I'm working on right now..

I'm editing the whole and rewriting the ending of Watching Petals Fall, and giving a lot more thought this time as to what would make it more helpful for other bereaved parents.

I'm ten years into this journey and don't claim to have a map - all our experiences are different and as this blog illustrates, I haven't exactly stayed on the rails all the way. I guess all I can do is show how it's been for me and my family and talk about what's helped or hindered us. There is no recovery - we can't go back to where we were before - but there is acceptance and assimilation, which with work and determination can enrich the present. I suppose that's what I'm trying to say in telling our story.

Thursday, 12 July 2012


Next week it will be ten years since Juliette died. It’s a heavy milestone that I’d much rather step round and be off, whistling on my merry way. Unfortunately my subconscious has other ideas. 

Ten years, it says. A decade. That’s twice the number of years she spent with you. Ten years is a very long time, you know. Isn’t it time to stop harping on about it? What must people think when a song makes you cry? Feeling her loss so painfully at times, even now – doesn’t that make you weak and self-pitying?

I tried to explain the unique resonance of your child dying to someone yesterday. It’s been a big week for the family, but especially for Elodie, who carried the Olympic torch at the weekend. These moments are sharply poignant because of Juliette’s absence. She was young. She should have been there. I, we will go on grieving for the times she missed with us. Losing a person you love will always be painful, but with an older person you have a heap of memories and shared experiences to draw on. When you lose a child you exist forever with the ghost of what should have been.

Elodie was chosen to carry the Olympic torch. We had the thrill of watching her carry the flame down a Suffolk street and hear with pride all the lovely things said about the person she is. However, part of the reason she was chosen was for her fundraising for children’s cancer charities over the past ten years. Would she be the person she is, motivated to fundraise or do any of the things the sponsors noticed in her application if Juliette hadn’t died?  

Yesterday we visited a lovely little school with the torch and Elodie talked to the children about why she’d been chosen.  Her sister’s death, she said, had made her want to do something positive rather than dwell on being sad. It’s been her way of bringing a bit of good to the trauma of losing her sister when she was only seven years old.

When I’ve been feeling low about this upcoming anniversary, I ask myself what exactly I’ve done over the past ten years. As much as I want to ignore the significance it feels important to do the sums and make this block of time worth something. If it has no value, then the terrible fear is that I’ve let Juliette down. 

I know it sounds crazy, and I’m not sure anyone but the parent of a child who has died understands. I’m certain it’s not just me. I hear bereaved parents on the radio, engaged in interviews which can only be agony for them, just to expose bad laws that they want changed – laws that failed to prevent the death of their child. Parents robbed of their children start charities and champion causes. Some of us write books, or ‘simply’ find the strength to bring other children into the world and bring them up. We do all this with the energy that such a massive loss generates. It shouldn’t be so. Every one of us would choose our old lives, but with the filtering realisation that you have no choice, we are capable of amazing acts.

Of course looking for meaning and purpose after our children die is in essence, wrong. When I’m being existential and/or rational I know that neither life nor death has any intrinsic meaning. We are all a series of collisions, accidents of chemistry and physics. Thankfully my scientific knowledge and curiosity is limited. I would much rather embrace my gentler sense that everything is important and has meaning beyond indiscriminate chance. The human spirit needs hope and purpose to survive. 

It’s easy to belittle my achievement in running marathons and in writing a book about our experiences, but I am proud of the people our children are becoming and for what I’ve done in prisons over the past six months. Yesterday I sat around a table in the prison library with four men who’d lived through terrible life events that most of us cannot possible imagine. Over a long afternoon I told them of all the reasons why I love to write, need to write and why I hoped they might get this too. They must have seen a posh-sounding, middle-aged woman with a mad glint in her eye but they listened and responded by letting their imaginations fly on paper. They invented scarred characters, some with dream lives and others a nightmare. They engaged and for a while we were all free. It’s such a privilege and a thrill to work with these men – people that with my life I would never otherwise have met. Prejudice is convenient. It allows us to generalise and stops us having to think too hard about difficult things, but it is dangerous and blinds us to unexpected beauty. Yesterday we talked about judging books by their cover, literally, and figuratively. Since working at the prison, that’s something I’ve stopped doing.

Before Juliette died it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to do this sort of work. I didn’t have the confidence to face a class of primary school children, let alone a bunch of male prisoners. I’m nothing special. I’m doing this because I can - because I’m alive and Juliette isn’t.  I hate the expression, “making a difference” but that’s what I keep feeling, and why I keep going. I couldn’t save my daughter but if only one of these men gains the self-esteem the rest of us take for granted by releasing his creativity, and sees his life could change, then that is something. The bit of good.

Friday, 27 April 2012


For those of us who have lost a child, acceptance is the holy grail we rage against in the agony of the early days. We want an end to our suffering but to accept a situation that is so outrageous, wrong, so desperately unfair is impossible. We just want our child back.

It's nearly ten years since Juliette left us, and in that time the elusive peace of acceptance has come to me only gradually. I will always miss her; always wish she had stayed, but now I spend more of my days being grateful for the time she spent with us. The children we lost chose us for their lifetime, and no one else. You start to remember more laughter, happy times, and love.

Love. Our precious children were brimming with it - to love and be loved by everyone lucky enough to meet them. Why does that always seem to be the case? We start to see that although too short for us, their lifetime was an entire lifetime for them. You can't feel this at first, because there is nothing 'right' about a child dying. Nor do you feel it all the time, and there will always be moments when the pain of losing them is as sharp as it ever was - just read my last post, before Juliette's birthday in March.

I'm thinking about this at the moment because a friend of mine emailed me this quote yesterday. Of course I cried, but when I'm at my most serene it's what I feel to be true. What I can't agree with is the assertion that the death of a child is meaningless. Philosophically, intellectually it makes sense but emotionally and spiritually, losing my own child has meant everything.

Because children grow up, we think a child's purpose is to grow up. But a child's purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn't disdain what lives only for a day. It pours the whole of itself into the each moment. We don't value the lily less for not being made of flint and built to last. Life's bounty is in its flow, later is too late. Where is the song when it's been sung? The dance when it's been danced? It's only we humans who want to own the future, too. We persuade ourselves that the universe is modestly employed in unfolding our destination. We note the haphazard chaos of history by the day, by the hour, but there is something wrong with the picture. Where is the unity, the meaning, of nature's highest creation? Surely those millions of little streams of accident and wilfulness have their correction in the vast underground river which, without a doubt, is carrying us to the place where we're expected! But there is no such place, that's why it's called utopia. The death of a child has no more meaning than the death of armies, of nations. Was the child happy while he lived? That is a proper question, the only question. If we can't arrange our own happiness, it's a conceit beyond vulgarity to arrange the happiness of those who come after us.” 
― Tom StoppardThe Coast of Utopia

Sunday, 25 March 2012


Juliette would be fifteen tomorrow; that's such a milestone for a girl. Her birthday's been at the back of my mind but tonight, running Celeste's bath, thoughts crept in about how it would feel if she were still alive - what she would be doing, whether she'd be excited, what we would have bought her, whether there would be a party - all the normal things. And it feels total rubbish that we're arguing about what cake to make, and who will buy the flowers for her grave and balloons that we'll release with our messages instead. Tonight it feels poor to have these rather than some full-on teenage celebration. I'm feeling sorry for myself, sorry for us and sorry for her that she had no time at all to live. I'm sorry for everything we've all missed.

I know this will pass, perspective will be restored and I'll be back to 'looking on the bright side' soon. This is self-indulgent I know, and that's the reason I'm here rather than on my other blog. I always feel like this at some point around these times, but this year is ten years. Ten bloody years, when she was only here for five. She's been gone almost twice as long as we had her, and I hate that. Are these days ever not going to be hard?

Meanwhile in the spirit of I forget what, I'm visiting a different prison tomorrow to talk about more teaching. They suggested the date, and at the time I thought it would be a good thing to do on Juliette's birthday; a positive distraction. I didn't think I'd come unstuck. I just hope I can hold it together when I'm there.

Monday, 19 March 2012

I'm not here any more

I just wanted to let anyone who has been lovely enough to read and follow After the petals have fallen, that I won't be posting here much any more. I would be so happy if you would follow my new blog, which is...

Geves Lafosse - writing and life

I've been talking there about my work, creative writing with prisoners, but there's space for the rants you've got used to here about life in general as well.

Please come over and read it, and do let me know what you think.