A Celebration of Life

When Hugo died, we were disconsolate, heartbroken.

Our son had changed our lives, and shown us what true love is.

We knew that at his funeral we wanted to celebrate his life. What Hugo meant to us, what Hugo had taught us.

To show off our baby boy like the proud parents we are.



While we are not religious, I had an urge to hold Hugo’s funeral at our local church. It is the same church where I was christened. The church turned out to be a good choice: the curate was lovely and very helpful.

The funeral directors were also incredible. There wasn’t enough they could do for us. Hugo’s funeral was held on a Monday, and they opened specially for us the weekend before so we could spend time with Hugo in the viewing room.

I cuddled and sang to Hugo, and admired his beautiful face. Both Martin and I read to Hugo. We left a range of toys and books in his casket with him, as well as some photos of us, and letters we had written to him. He also had a star scarf that I had in my wardrobe wrapped around him, and some scattered stars (of course!).

Hugo looked so incredibly handsome. Like he was just asleep.

Some of the toys, photos, and books that keep Hugo company in his casket.

Some of the toys, photos, and books that keep Hugo company in his casket.

On the Sunday afternoon I had my final cuddle. I was so reluctant to let him go. I knew he was dead of course, but we had such little time together and I wanted to make every moment matter. I gently stroked his face, and his dark hair – so beautifully soft. It is his warmth while he was alive I try to think of, not how cold he was then.

We issued a general invitation to the church funeral service, with close family only at the burial, followed by a wake at our local pub.

Our guests were asked to wear bright colours – no black. We also invited them to wear their team’s football shirt if they wished. It was about celebrating your individuality, being who you want to be, in honour of Hugo’s determination.

I wore a bright pink dress. The dress was special because I had worn it during a cuddle with Hugo, him tucked down the front. Martin wore a brightly-patterned shirt he had bought specially; he was quite particular about it. While shopping in John Lewis, the shop assistant making small talk asked what event the shirt was for. I imagine he was expecting to be told it was for a wedding, or garden party or something. He responded well when told the shirt was for our son’s funeral.

The day of the funeral was a beautiful bright sunny April day. The funeral car arrived with Hugo’s blue casket, and the flowers. We all walked behind the car – the church is only around the corner, and I needed the walk, the air.

Martin carried Hugo’s tiny little casket into the church. I followed behind carrying Hugo’s star-shaped flower tribute made by a local florist – it had exceeded my expectations.

A close-up of the star.

A close-up of the star.

We couldn’t believe there were more than 60 people in the church. The number included our family, friends, work colleagues, and people we hadn’t seen for years. Daily updates about Hugo’s progress had been shared on Facebook, and our tiny boy had captured so many hearts.

Martin and I both wanted to read what we had written for Hugo. I had written this poem, and Martin had written a eulogy describing how much he loved Hugo, what Hugo had taught him, and how he hopes Hugo is enjoying his adventures up in the stars. We took in in turns to read lines so we didn’t become too overwhelmed.

Uplifting hymns, such as ‘Lord of the Dance’ were sung, and we had a contemplative moment listening to Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s hauntingly beautiful version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

We had to travel to the cemetery for the burial. The burial is not something I like to think about very much: the hole in the ground, my baby being lowered into it. Wracking sobs from me.

It was the first time I had seen the baby and children’s section at the cemetery. I was overwhelmed at the number of graves. So many. Too many.

Meanwhile, our guests had gathered at the pub. Our pub doesn’t usually open on weekday afternoons, and nor does it serve food, but he kindly opened specially and provided a buffet for us.

The remembrance book.

The remembrance book.

Our guests, while drinking and eating, were also busy drawing and writing with coloured pens in a remembrance book I had provided. It is a beautiful book, blue hard-backed, with blue ribbon ties. People were invited to write about Hugo, or about life in general.

The book is an emotional read: I feel so proud that my tiny boy, who weighed no more than a tin of baked beans and who so few people were able to meet in person, had touched deeply so many people’s hearts. Comments included how Hugo had made them laugh with his antics; how impressed they were with his physical strength, and his resilience. How they will never forget him.

These are small, but valuable comforts.

The inside pages of the remembrance book.

The inside pages of the remembrance book.

The day of Hugo’s funeral was one of the most challenging of my life.

We celebrated our son’s life. The life of a special boy whose impact and legacy belies his size, and his short life.

That thought is the one about that day that I try to remember.



34 thoughts on “A Celebration of Life

  1. Nicola Young says:

    I admire you so much for sharing your story. It must have been incredibly hard to write this and go through that day again. You are one brave lady and I’m sure others will gain strength from your words.


  2. maddy@writingbubble says:

    Beautiful post in celebration of the life of your amazing little boy. Through his strength of character and your incredible ability to describe him, your little Hugo has touched so many lives. xxx


  3. Sara (@mumturnedmom) says:

    As I sit here in tears, my heart breaking for you all over again, I wish I knew what to say. Your strength in creating such a celebration of Hugo is inspiring and I agree that a funeral should celebrate the person and their life, even as it acknowledges our grief. As always, I am honoured that you shared with #ThePrompt.


  4. Tim says:

    I love the way you and Martin turned this into a celebration of Hugo’s life. Thank you for sharing.

    You’ve reminded me of the funeral of a close university friend I attended a little while back. Although not unexpected – he had a brain tumour – his death hit me hard because we were the same age, both with young children (his a few years older than ours). The service was mostly traditional but finished with one of his favourite songs (The Stranglers’ Always the Sun) and the emphasis of the wake was very much on celebration rather than mourning. I cried at the time, but every time I hear the song now it brings a smile to my face and memories of good times we shared together. It’s how it should be, I think.


    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Thanks, Tim. I’m sorry to hear about your friend. I think a celebration of life is a positive way to approach a funeral. It doesn’t take away the sorrow, but it is about acknowledging everything the person meant to you, and the contribution they have given to the world. I love that Stranglers song, and now have it in my head. It’s good that the song brings a smile to your face – happy memories. x


  5. SingleMotherAhoy says:

    This must have been so hard for you to write, to re-live.
    My dad ‘s ashes are buried in the children’s section of the cemetery – he shares a plot with my sister who died under similar circumstances to Hugo. Just the sizes of the plots are something I find really hard to get my head around whenever I visit. Such tiny little spaces.
    I can’t say I “enjoy” your writing, that’s the wrong word. But once I start reading one of your posts, I can’t stop. You have a real talent for writing x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Leigh Kendall says:

      I’m sorry about your sister, Vicky. The children’s section of the cemetery is beautiful, but yes the size of the plots are difficult to see. Thank you for your kind words about my writing, and for reading – I know they are not an easy read xxx


  6. Katie / Pouting In Heels says:

    Oh Leigh, what a brave and beautiful post. Gosh you did him proud my lovely friend. What a wonderful way to honour and celebrate the life of your beautiful, courageous boy.

    I’ll be honest. It took me 3 attempts to read this post as each time I had to stop because of tears. As always you continue to astound me with your honesty, love and bravery Leigh. I know #hugoslegacy will be of small comfort to you after your enormous and horribly unfair loss but you really are doing such wonderful work.

    Little gorgeous Hugo may indeed have been taken far, far too soon but what an impact he has had and is having on people. Thank you so much for sharing. With much love xxx


    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Bless you Kate. Hugo made such an impact on the world in his 35 days, and we wanted to celebrate everything he means to us. I think it’s important to be honest about these things, and hopefully help it be talked about more openly. Much love to you too xxx


  7. mummyshambles says:

    It’s hard to find the right words to say but the love shines through yours. All life should be celebrated, no matter how brief. Your little star deserved a special celebration of his life and you did it. Some people live a full life and never really touch the lives of others, your little man has touched so many. Beautiful words, Leigh. X


  8. babylossmama says:

    I know it’s an unusual reaction, but my first thought when reading this (with tears in my eyes) was “what a beautiful day.” Perhaps it was your writing, but more likely, it *was* a beautiful day, a hushed, vividly-colored, loving day where people from all over came together, reached out, and treated one another kindly. A very special day to celebrate the life of a very special boy. I love the top picture with his little fingers curling. How I wish I could slide my finger into that tiny, strong fist!


    • Leigh Kendall says:

      It’s a perceptive observation – despite the sadness, it was a beautiful day. It was a day full of love, celebrating Hugo.

      Oh, I love that photo of Hugo too. It sums him up perfectly – feet out of his nest, waving his arms around. He really did have a strong fist – so wish I could feel it again. xxx


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