Tomorrow I turn 38.
I’m getting older, I have another candle on my cake that my 3 children should get to blow out for me. I should get a photo on my birthday, surrounded by my boys with a huge smile on my face. A smile that represents how grateful I am for my family and the life we have created. I should be looking to the future and wondering what the boys will achieve in the next 12 months with me, and the memories we will make.
This week I’ve thought about the 2 birthdays I had with William. The first in June 2020 when we were in lockdown but restrictions had eased slightly, and you could socialise outside. During the day friends and family came to visit, they popped gifts and flowers on the doorstep and we’d chat for a bit. Keith got me a pink birthday cake with a plastic tiara on it. Every time someone arrived, I got a photo of them wearing the tiara. I loved looking back at the photos of everyone smiling. We made the best of a strange birthday that year.
My birthday in 2021 was on a Friday, Max headed off to school and I went to the garden centre for tea and cake with Lewis, William and my parents. Around 5pm a few family members came to our garden for pizza and cake. I have a beautiful photo of me sat with William and my niece on my lap, and Max and Lewis either side of them. It’s still one of my favourite photos as it’s of all my little ones together.
This year, 2022, it fills me with dread. My heart felt heavy and my stomach ached on Max and Keith’s birthdays because William wasn’t with us, and I know my birthday is going to be filled with the same feelings at times. Keith asked me if I wanted a Moonpig card, which he usually creates with photos of me and the boys on it, (the photos that I’ve already pre-approved. He always includes a sneaky photo of himself as well to make me laugh) but I said ‘no’. In fact, I said to him ‘I’m not sure I’ll ever want a photo card again’. I don’t like that I feel negative going into my birthday weekend. I am consumed by grief every day, and reaching this milestone without William feels like a punch in the stomach. I feel guilt that I get to turn another year older. I feel heartbreak that William only got 1 birthday, and that it was in lockdown, so it was a day at home with Max, Lewis, Keith and myself. We didn’t get to throw him a first birthday party with all of our family.
Luckily Lewis has a football tournament on my birthday, it comes as a welcome distraction and secretly something I really enjoy. I’ve told my parents and a few friends that watching the boys play football is the only time I feel close to 100% escapism from all the feelings associated with losing Will. I’m that shouty mum on the side line who pretends she knows what she’s talking about. My favourite part of the day is when the children get a medal and an ice cream, it’s wonderful to see them so happy.
Due to the tournament, this year I’m going to see my extended family the day after my birthday and have a bbq or fire up the pizza oven and celebrate on 12th June. It will be low key, but with drinks flowing and music playing. I know that surrounding myself with my family is what I need, and within the comfort of my own home. I’m not going to buy a cake this year, but create a doughnut tower with marshmallows, sweets and brownies slotted in somehow. Check out my Instagram to see what I make on Sunday!
(I wrote everything you’ve just read at 11am on Monday 6th June, then at midday the following happened)….
As I was typing this, I spotted the mail on the side. 2 items, one was the Squires magazine (the gardener in me flicked through this first, I like to see the plants of the season, and the vouchers!) and secondly an envelope addressed to me. It looked like a birthday card but I didn’t recognise the writing, I took a knife out of the drawer and cut along the envelope so I could take a peek inside. I spotted something wooden, with a blue ribbon attached. I pulled it out and the card that was also enclosed. It was a wooden star decoration that you could hang up. I impatiently skim read the message. The first things that stood out to me were the words ‘SUDC’ and ‘11th June’, which is my birthday. I sat down and took the time to read the letter word for word. My heart was racing. On my birthday, SUDC are running a virtual event called ‘Stars for our children’. We’re invited to write our child’s name on the wooden star and hang it somewhere special at home. All SUDC UK families can do the same and it’s a way of remembering all the children and families affected by SUDC. The hope is to use hashtags on social media to bring all the children together and to raise awareness of sudden unexplained death in childhood.
After reading this I felt a small bit of excitement. I could picture us writing William’s name on the star and hanging it on the Acer tree in the centre of our garden, and having our baby boy with us. Holding the star in my hand and running my fingers around the edge of it, I thought I’d find a pretty dress that I could wear on my birthday and have my photo taken in it by my William star. I struggle with family photos as William isn’t in them, but I am trying to document milestones and find small pieces of happiness and joy in the day. I think it’s important to be able to look back and be proud of how far you’ve come, how you survive the day to day, the birthdays and the holidays etc. Nothing is easy, but 200 days on and we’re still standing, we’re still hoping for brighter days and we are doing all of this with William firmly in our hearts. Looking through my wardrobe I found a blue dress from Reiss that I’ve had for years, but it matches the colours of the SUDC UK charity perfectly. That’s the dress I’ll wear. Max and Lewis have blue football tops in the same electric blue colour too. I am able to picture us in the garden together and that has boosted my mood. Within the space of an hour, I went from feeling very lost and without purpose, to then planning my little star ceremony in our garden on my birthday.
A wonderful present for my first birthday without William is to raise awareness of SUDC, and help to support the charity that are working so hard to make this predictable and preventable. Sudden unexplained death in childhood is a category of death, not a cause of death. I’m taking to Instagram to ask my followers to share William on Saturday. Nothing would make me prouder than to see my little bunny on 11th June across everyone’s stories.
Thank you for all your continued support and love during these heart-breaking days.
Forever missing a piece, but always with me in my heart.
Sudden Unexplained Death In Childhood
Child Bereavement UK
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