An Open Letter to a Recently-Bereaved Mother

Dear Broken-Hearted Mama,

I see you, numb.

Yet so full of pain. Pain that you cannot even begin to describe.

You may feel like the pain is unbearable, that the pain is going to crush you, that the pain is too much.

You may feel like your life has ended. That you do not want life to carry on.

I understand. I have been there.

My son Hugo died at the age of just 35 days. He had been born when I was 24 weeks’ pregnant, my first and so far only child.

Each one of those 35 days is so precious, but not enough.

No amount of time can ever be enough.

While your life has not ended; you continue to exist, your life as you knew it has ended. The end of innocence. The harsh realisation that bad things happen in life – and not just to other people.

Bad things happen to you, too. No one is immune.

We evolve during the course of our lives, of course. But grief changes you: suddenly, abruptly, shockingly.

Your relationships may change: some for the better, others for the worst. You are likely to discover that the old adage about seeing the best and worst of people during times of crisis is true.

Some people – even those previously closest to you – may not know how to deal with your changed relationship. The changed you. Most will want to do all they can to help you but because they do not know what to do for the best may blunder, put their foot in it, utter endless platitudes, and when tempers get frayed make you feel as though you are at fault.

The knowledge that the blunders are well-intentioned is unlikely to make you feel any better. It may feel like constant salt in the wound.

Me and Hugo enjoying a cuddle.

Me and Hugo enjoying a cuddle.

So much of your pain cannot be expressed in words. What you may want most of all is someone to sit with you as you cry or stare into space.  Someone to understand that you don’t know how to express your emotions. That sometimes, the power behind those emotions scares you. That you think the pain will never ever end.

But many people are uncomfortable with silence. People may want to talk at you, want to tell you about their own experiences of bereavement. Or they may want to tell you what they think you should do. They want to make you ‘better’, not realising life will never, ever be better. You may well sit their patiently waiting for them to shut up – but it is fine to ask them to stop talking, too.

People may not mention your child’s name, worried it may upset you but failing to appreciate that not mentioning them upsets you more – and after all, the worst has already happened.

People may not want to talk about your child with you, filling you with frustration. They were your beautiful, perfect child who you grew and love with every cell of your being, now and forever more. You want to talk about them, how proud you are of them, irrespective of the time you spent with them. This reticence from other people may lead to resentment.

It may lead to a feeling of isolation. A feeling that it may, as a consequence, be better to avoid certain people, certain places, certain situations not because you want to, but because you need to protect yourself from further hurt.

The knowledge that you are now ‘different’.

That is enough negativity for now. As I said, you will see the worst in people – and the best, too. The kindness of people can know no bounds. Compassion, empathy, the compulsion to reach out and help – the help you need, not what they think you need.

Those who will sit with you as you cry, as the cascade of tears fall, holding your hand and passing endless amounts of tissues..

And those people can often come from places you least expect; relationships can take on a new depth, friendships and acquaintances can be strengthened, new friendships forged often with strangers with whom you may now share a common experience.

Those who share the common experience, those who ‘get it’ are invaluable. It often does not matter if you have never met them, it does not matter if their child died in circumstances that are completely different – they understand. You may find you have a certain shorthand with them, and not having to explain is liberating.

You may feel the value of liberation: grief is exhausting. It seeps in to your pores, into your bones. The simplest of tasks can seem challenging; your memory unreliable, turning even the smallest thing that makes your life a tiny bit easier into a precious gem.

You may feel like you will never be happy again, never smile again. Indeed you may feel like you do not want to be happy again, nor smile again – or that you deserve to.

The feeling of guilt can feel all-encompassing. The knowledge that rationally, you know you have no reason to feel guilty – that you did everything you could, and would have done more, if only, what if – is irrelevant.

I still feel like I failed my child. I did not keep him safe. Even though I know, rationally, if he had not been born when he was we both would have died.

Emotional torment.

And the anger – oh, the anger. So raw, so visceral. Anger at the world in general, at the hand life has dealt you, at the world being so bloody unfair. Anger at those who embellish and become melodramatic over trivial everyday annoyances (no, spilling your coffee is not the worst thing ever.)

Anger at those who seem not to appreciate their children, take them for granted. But in the same breath, thinking you are glad that other people are blissfully unaware of such heartbreak.

More than a year on after Hugo died, I have learned to feel happy again. It is a different sort of happiness than before. A happiness borne out of different priorities and perspectives.

But that does not mean that I am better, or that my life is better. No, not by a long shot. I still get bad, low, devastating days as a result of a trigger, or of nothing at all. Those days can make me feel like I am back to the beginning, back to the darkest days, all my progress out of the window.

I have to remind myself I am not back at the beginning, that it is the fault of the path of grief. Grief does not progress in a straight, orderly line. It is a mass of intertwined squiggles that make no sense, with no end.

And that is part of the reality. Grief has no end. There is no better, only different.

You may discover within you a strength you wish had lain forever dormant. That strength comes from intense love, intense pain, and it can take on the world.

I am not going to tell you what to do, how to grieve. I cannot do those things, because while we may share a similar experience in common our individual journeys are so very personal.

But I would like to share with you a few points that have worked for me, take them or leave them as you will:

  • One day at a time.
  • Don’t expect too much of yourself.
  • Whatever is right for you, whenever is right for you.
  • Find people you can trust to confide in, or just to listen.
  • Be open and honest with your partner about your feelings, no matter how much it may cause extra tears – you need to be honest so you can support each other.
  • Find a way to express your grief – whether that is drawing, writing (on a blog or in a private journal), talking to someone, raising money for a charity.
  • Try to be gentle to yourself, and take time for self-care. Grief is exhausting, meaning you need to find ways to recharge your batteries.
  • Take time for your grief – ignoring it does not make it go away (as I discovered to my cost).
  • Being selfish when you need to be is acceptable – often life after loss is about personal survival.
  • There will be days when just getting out of bed is an achievement – and there will be days where you feel you can take on the world.
  • Bad days can come from nowhere.
  • You are not a bad person. You deserve love and happiness, even if it may take time to return, take a different form and be fleeting.
  • There is no ‘normal’, no better. Just different.

You will get there, Mama.

You can survive.

We are all here for you.

With love,

Hugo’s Mummy, Leigh xxx

Blue and Thinking of You


The colour of the sky

The clear expanse of sea

The colour of your hat.

It makes me think of you.



The colour of a mood, they say:

Sad, melancholy, bereft,



Sad, melancholy, bereft, low


But I do not call it ‘blue’


Blue is your colour

My darling

It makes me think of you


And how can I be blue

When I am thinking about you?


I am sad, bereft, lost,


When I think about how you are not here

The gap is as big as the sky is blue on a clear summer’s day

The sadness as deep as the all the seas put together

My sorrow is infinite as I hold the little blue hat you once wore.


My gorgeous boy –

Your eyes peeking out from your hat

That perfect nose

Your head of dark hair.


I hold your little hat

That you once wore

It connects me to you

It still has your smell,



I will never know if your eyes would have been blue

Like your daddy’s.

You will never see a clear blue summer’s sky

Or play beneath it.

You will never see the clear blue sea

Or play in it.


This makes us sad, melancholy –

Yes, blue.

And that is because

I love you.




Moving Forward, Not Moving On

Moving forward. Moving on.

These terms sound pretty similar, but they are different, very different – and the distinction in respect to living with grief is crucial.

‘Moving on’ implies putting something behind you, letting something go. The effort of trying to move on from a relationship that has ended, especially one that has ended acrimoniously.

It seems that ‘moving on’ has positive connotations. Moving on means you are being strong, courageous, putting the negative stuff behind you and facing the future with a positive outlook and a bright smile.

Many bereaved become frustrated with the notion that we should ‘move on’. Observations such as in this recent published research bearing the headline that “two years, one month and four days is the time it takes to feel better following bereavement” is incredibly unhelpful, implying that there is some kind of time limit on grief.

And what does ‘better’ mean, anyway?

That you’re better than you were in the raw early days? As in better able to function as a human being once the shock has worn off.

That your behaviour is ‘better’ – or more favourable – than the earlier days? This is often more about others wanting to be able to take away your pain – well meant but futile – as well as about other people’s discomfort with responding to your pain. Grief can make the bereaved rather ill-tempered and unreliable for various reasons. We don’t like that behaviour either but we have little choice but to find a way to live with it.

That you’re ok now? Life carrying on as normal. Phew, that’s over, as you were!

‘Better’ is such a subjective term, grief such a personal journey that is different for everyone its use in such an article is pointless.

(The article is actually more helpful than the headline implies, arguing the case for more bereavement support and for people in general to feel more comfortable talking about death, but which do people remember more? The hyperbolic headline, or the boring old facts in the article?)

Perceived time limits on grief can lead to comments such as “Ooh, she never got over the loss of [child, spouse, parent etc]”.

Well, the truth is you don’t. Perhaps some people might be better at hiding their pain, and sorrow. They might put it away in a little box inside their mind, but just because it is not talked about, it does not mean it has gone away.

I love this quote from the wonderful Megan Devine of Refuge in Grief. She organises the invaluable Writing Your Grief course I did a few months ago. She hits the nail right on the head.

‘Moving on’ from losing Hugo has never been my goal. Hugo is my child. I loved him for every second of his life, and I shall love him for every remaining second of my life.

There is no moving on from that.


For the first few months, my priority was survival. There were times when I felt even simple survival was beyond my grasp, such was the pain that I feared would never, ever end.

I wanted to find a way to move forward with my life. To incorporate Hugo in to my every day life in spirit, as I would have incorporated Hugo in to my life as the mother of a living baby.

It is why I work so hard on Hugo’s legacy. I am connected to him every moment of every day, I know, whether or not Hugo’s legacy exists.

I do not need to prove my love for Hugo, but making a difference for others is my way of carrying my love for him.

It gives his life and mine meaning.

Gradually, I have learnt to feel less guilty about feeling happy, or doing something just for me. A smile on my face does not mean I feel ‘better’. I am all too aware that a bad day or a trigger is always just around the corner, and I have an armoury of self-care tactics to try and manage them.

The image below, from Tonkin’s Model of Grief is a succinct representation about moving forward with grief.


Image shared by the Grief Geek on Twitter

The top row of jars on the top represents the popular view that over time, grief shrinks, becomes less overwhelming, takes up less space in our lives.

The bottom row shows the reality: that grief stays more or less the same over time. The shape of grief – the way it looks from the outside – may change a bit, but ultimately it’s the same size. Grief remains the same even as our world after bereavement grows larger.

To sum up, the diagram is a brilliant visual way of demonstrating that we don’t ‘get over’ or ‘move on’ from the loss of a loved one. Instead, we find a way of carrying the loss with us, living with our grief, dealing with our triggers – of moving forward with our lives.

‘Moving forward’ is a phrase I prefer to ‘new normal’. What is ‘normal’ anyway? Life evolves, ebbs, flows. It is not that you move from one ‘normal’ to another ‘normal’ and stay there.

‘Moving forward’ requires resilience. Resilience is the understanding (learnt the hard way) that life will not always go your way, that crappy stuff will happen to you and to the ones you love, but finding ways to not let it keep you down. Finding ways to keep you moving forward.

My cheeky Hugo

My cheeky Hugo

I Wish

I wish you were in my tummy for the full 40 weeks.

Or if not, that you could have come home with Daddy and me.

I wish we had thousands of photos of you tracking every day of your life, every milestone, every special moment.

I wish I was able to watch you grow.

I wish we were able to watch that feisty personality grow, develop, form you from baby to little boy.

I wish I were able to sing you to sleep.

I wish I were able to give you a bath, watch you play with your toys and you insist on having a bubble bath punk hairdo.

I wish we were able to have cuddles, so many cuddles, breathing in your smell.

I wish my house was full of your things, clothes, nappies, wipes everywhere. Toys strewn across the house.

I wish I had more than my handbag to think about when I leave the house.

I wish I could see which new food you wanted to try next. Which you spat put.  How much you just chucked on the floor.

I wish I could see how you got on with Fat Cat.

I wish I could take you to the park.

I wish I could read books with you.

I wish I could be running around after you, and celebrate you taking your first steps.

I wish I needed eyes in the back of my head as you took every opportunity to show off your walking.

I wish I could try to have to figure out what your babbling meant, marvelling at you trying to form words.

I wish I could splash in puddles with you.

I wish I could comfort you when you needed that.

I wish I could see the look on your face when you saw something that excited you.

I wish I could see what most interests you.

I wish you, me and Daddy could be a normal family.

I wish I could feel your arms around my neck, your head on my chest.

I wish I could stroke your beautiful dark hair.

I wish we didn’t have to visit you in the cemetery.

I wish I didn’t have to think when buying you a present whether it will withstand the elements outside.

I wish you didn’t have to be born so early.

I wish there had been a magic cure to save you.

I wish I could cuddle and tickle you and hear you giggle.

I wish I could see you and Daddy playing together, forging a special bond.

I wish life was not so unfair.

I wish I did not have to talk about you in the past tense.

I wish I did not have to put up protective barriers around myself, because since you died I have been broken.

I wish I did not have this leaden weight in my chest.

I wish I did not have this darkness in my mind.

I wish I did not have to see symbolic signs of you everywhere, because real, tangible signs exist of your real, living presence.

I wish I did not know such pain, such sorrow, such longing.

I wish I knew such burning love, a Mother’s love that I could express to a child in my arms.

I wish I could cover you in kisses.

I wish I did not have to wonder what you would be like in the future.

I wish I did not have to miss you, Hugo.

I wish.


Sunday Thought July 5, 2015: Live It For Georgie

Today’s Sunday Thought is dedicated to a very special little boy, Georgie, his Mummy Oana, and the rest of their family to ask you to #LiveItForGeorgie.

Georgie was born in January 2014, and was tragically diagnosed with leukaemia when he was just three months old.

A year ago today, beautiful Georgie left this world.

Gorgeous Georgie

Gorgeous Georgie

A kiss from Mummy

A kiss from Mummy

Oana is a special Mummy whom I have got to know over social media over the past year. We bereaved mummies have a kind of shorthand that only we understand, a sense that while our journeys, our experiences are different we get it. We don’t have to explain.

I was delighted to meet Oana at BritMumsLive last month and give her the hug I’ve been saving up for her. We spent time talking about our boys.

Hugo’s death made us realise how very precious life is. It made us appreciate what is important in life – and those things are often the simplest, most humble things.

Things that Hugo was never able to do, enjoy, or experience.

Things that Georgie will never be able to do, enjoy, or experience.

That’s why Oana is asking people to #LiveItForGeorgie today.

Do something, anything, that you enjoy today. Take a photo and post it on social media (Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram) with the hashtag #LiveItForGeorgie.

I’ve already been posting photos of things I enjoy, things that I wish Hugo could be with me enjoying: flowers, eating an ice cream, a stunning field of sunflowers on holiday. The most spectacular sunset.

My Instagram photos are compiled in the right hand sidebar of my blog, so you can have a nose if you wish.

The things we tend to take for granted will never be enjoyed by Hugo, Georgie, Matilda Mae, Mabel, Anderson, Aneurin, Freddie, Angus, Isabella, Finley, Florence, Abigail, Frankie, Hattie, Flic – and all other babies in the stars.

Get out there today. Have fun. Enjoy life.