Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Turning into Lucia


Perhaps I should blame Lucia. Maybe she's the real reason I had a temporary absence from blogging. I know I told you I ended my blog because I couldn’t keep up with my blogging friends. I also said I had far too many blogs. All that's true but there was another reason I decided to leave the blogging world, a reason I haven’t yet admitted. And that reason had everything to do with Lucia. 

Let me tell you about dear Lucia:

Lucia lives in an English village where she is the undisputed queen of society. Sadly, Lucia’s aunt-in-law has died and poor Lucia is having a very difficult time concentrating on mourning because most of her wants to think about moving to that wonderful, recently inherited house in London. Soon her head is filled with schemes for taking over London society. Her eyes sparkle with excitement as she thinks of rubbing shoulders with lords and ladies, duchesses and dukes. How is Lucia to make her mark? How is she to infiltrate the ranks of the upper classes? How is she to become the queen of London society?

Soon Lucia is dropping her calling cards here, there and everywhere. She makes sure she is seen in all the right places.  She tries to be all things to all people. She quickly learns the rules of society and soon she is rising up the social ladder but…

Life at the top (or near top) is precarious. A lot of effort is needed to prevent a slip back down the ladder to obscurity. Lucia is exhausted. Is all the work worth it, or should Lucia return to the less demanding and more secure role of village queen? Could her husband’s poor health give her a legitimate excuse to abandon London and her grand scheme without losing face?

I love Lucia. Of course, she has many faults. She’s self-centred and vain and scheming. Her life’s aim is to promote herself and her own interests. But still… there is something attractive about her endless energy, her cheerfulness and her ability to escape from disasters of her own making. I love her despite her faults. I actually like to sit back and ponder and enjoy these faults. I think, “I’m really glad I’m nothing like Lucia.” Or am I?

Now I have never wanted to be queen of London society. That would be ridiculous. But have I ever yearned to be an up and coming blogger, climbing the ladder of success and popularity, rubbing shoulders with the Big Bloggers? Perhaps I have travelled here, there and everywhere dropping my calling cards of comments, trying to be seen in all the right places, trying to get people to notice me.

Admittedly, I like to hop around the blogosphere ‘chatting’ with friends. There is nothing wrong with that. But could I also have got myself entangled in a web of self-promotion?

And so I ended my blog for a third reason… because I worried I was turning into a Lucia.

You all know I came back. You all know I am trying to change my attitude. I am no longer interested in getting myself invited to all those high teas, formal dinners and blogging parties. I am not hopping here, there and everywhere dropping off my comment calling cards and being seen in all the right places. I am no longer putting in effort solely to maintain any presence I may have acquired in the blogging world.  I may slip back down that ladder to blogging obscurity but I no longer care.

I am a rebel blogger, having fun.

My dear friend Suzie Andres introduced me to Lucia. (Thank you, Suzie!) And if you’d like to get acquainted with her too, she can be found in E.F. Benson’s Miss Mapp and Lucia books. There are 6 books in the series- Queen Lucia, Miss Mapp, Lucia in London, Mapp and Lucia, Lucia's Progress and Trouble for Lucia- and they are GOOD.

A couple of these books are available free on the ManyBooks site as ebooks. I downloaded the rest from the Kindle store for very little money. But I discovered the complete set in two paperback volumes- The Complete Mapp and Lucia- at the Book Depository. Two magnificent books for just under $5 each, postage free. I ordered some copies and now I am going to make someone very happy this Christmas. At least I hope so!

I have heard some people say they never read fiction. They say they don't want to waste time on what is imaginary when there are so many real things to read about. But I'm not one of those people. I love escaping into a fictitious world. And sometimes, quite often in fact, I return to the real world with lots to ponder, like... Am I turning into a Lucia?

Monday, 28 November 2011

A Slow Learner



It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was helping Gemma-Rose learn to read.

She’d choose a book and we’d sit side-by-side on the sofa and we'd enjoy the story together. Actually, I don’t know if ‘enjoy’ is the right word. It was a very slow process. We hardly ever got to the end of a book. I’d think, “Will Gemma-Rose ever read fluently?” which was a very silly question because I’d already experienced six other learner readers. Of course, she’d learn to read… only in her time, not mine.

For some reason our shared reading sessions came to an end. Perhaps we just got busy with other things. Maybe I subconsciously decided I couldn’t stand any more slow painful reading sessions. Or did I suddenly become a very patient mother, willing to allow her child to learn at her own pace?

So for a long time I read to Gemma-Rose, but she didn’t read much to me. Then one day…

“Mum, can I read you a story?”

I looked at the book in her hand. It wasn’t a picture book but a short chapter book. “That book may be a little difficult,” I replied. (I know, I know... I wasn’t exactly encouraging, was I?)

“I can read it,” insisted Gemma-Rose as she snuggled up next to me and opened the book at the beginning of the first chapter.

"'Isn't it a lovely day, Mum?' Kirsty Tate said happily, as she gazed out of the car window at the blue sky and sunshine..." Gemma-Rose was off and she didn't stop. I sat delighted and surprised as she read chapter after chapter to me. 

“When did you learn to read?” I asked her and she just grinned and shrugged her shoulders as if reading was the most natural thing in the world to do.



On Friday Gemma-Rose appeared with a huge stack of picture books. “I’ve chosen some books and I’m going to read all these to you.” Obviously she'd planned a special event for me. So she settled herself on the sofa and I climbed up on her lap (only joking) and my youngest daughter treated me to all those old favourites I hadn’t heard for some time. She read each one clearly and accurately, with lots of expression, in between lots of giggles.  She was enjoying the tales too.

“Last time I heard these stories, I was reading them to you,” I pointed out.  Yes, it wasn’t that long ago I was in the reader’s chair. It wasn’t that long ago I had to remind myself that Gemma-Rose would read when she was ready. Now she is in the reader's chair and she took no longer to get to the fluent reading stage than any of my other learner readers.

So I have come to this conclusion: it was just as well I was too busy to worry about Gemma-Rose’s reading. I might have intervened and messed things up. Or was I not actually too busy? Could I be learning? Could I have actually trusted her to go at her own pace? Could I have  finally got it right on my very last child? Sometimes it is me that is the slow learner.


Trusting children to learn in their own time? First, I need to trust God. Do I always do that? And when I don't, does God sigh and roll His eyes and get all frustrated? Or is He a loving Father who has never-ending patience with me, a slow learner?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Grief and an Advent Wreath


Sophie and Gemma-Rose were looking over my shoulder as I removed two plastic bags and four layers of aluminium foil.

“Is it OK?” Sophie asked anxiously and when I nodded my head, a smile spread across her face. “I love our Advent wreath. I’m so glad it's survived another year.”

Why did we worry about our wreath? What could have happened to it after a year of storage? Maybe it would no longer still be in one useable piece. I might have unwrapped all the protective layers to reveal a soft, swollen, damp ring of dough. You see, our wreath is made of salt dough.

Salt dough is a wonderful medium for moulding. It’s easy to work with, holds its shape beautifully and costs hardly anything to make. But there is one downside. Salt dough absorbs water very easily from the atmosphere. It has to be sealed very carefully with several layers of varnish to make it durable, and even then it might still not survive.



The wreath we have just unwrapped is actually our second salt dough wreath. The first one only lasted a year or two. But this one is a survivor. It has held our Advent candles for many years, twelve years in all, I think.

Our original wreath actually fell to pieces the year Thomas died. I unwrapped it after retrieving it from the storage box and found it soft and damp. I remember how my heart sank as I looked at the useless ring. The last thing I felt like doing was making a batch of dough and moulding a new wreath. 

It had only been several weeks since Thomas' death. My grief was very fresh and nothing ordinary seemed very important. An Advent wreath seemed very ordinary and unimportant to me at the time, but I knew it was very extraordinary to my children. I wasn’t looking forward to Advent and Christmas at all but my children were. And I realised they needed the joy and excitement of Christmas. They needed some relief from the grief of recent weeks and months. I couldn’t deny them the happiness of Christmas.  I knew I had to make them a new wreath despite my reluctance.


The wreath was actually very easy to make. I mixed together a large quantity of salt dough and used about two thirds of it to make the base. I twisted two snakes of dough around each other and fashioned them into a circle. I then used a rolling pin to flatten the circle, although I made sure I kept the ring fat enough so that it would support the weight of four candles.



Next, I made four holes in the top using a candle as a guide. I added a star shaped edging to each hole. (In the photo, a wad of blu-tac lines each hole.) Then it was time to mould leaves and berries and flowers, which I arranged on the dough ring, using water as glue. I added some whole cloves to the centres of some of the berries and flowers. Before I knew it, the wreath was made.



I popped the wreath into a slow oven for some hours until it was thoroughly dry. Did I turn the heat up at the end to brown it slightly? I think I did.

Finally, I glazed the thoroughly dried wreath with a water based varnish – I found an old tin of wood varnish. The wreath was finished and we are still using it all these years later.


Our 12 year old wreath is looking rather forlorn. It is coated in all those years’ worth of purple and white wax that has dripped from the candles. But we don’t mind. We are very attached to our wreath. It represents many Advents and Christmases. It has sat on our kitchen table every Advent and Christmas of Sophie's and Gemma-Rose’s life.  It has become a family heirloom. I think if it were to break or become soggy and damp, we would feel a little grief at losing it.

Today I saw an exquisite fine china statue of the Holy Family while I was out Christmas shopping. It was priced at $110 so I reluctantly left it on the shop shelf. But I am thinking: what would my children prefer? The beautiful shop bought statue or our home-made decorations such as our old waxy wreath? The answer is easy to work out.

Family treasures are hardly ever expensive. They are the things that were made with love. Both Sophie and Gemma-Rose are unaware of how I was feeling when I made the Advent wreath. They don’t know how difficult it was for me to focus on the ordinary things of life that year. They don’t know I was only able to make that wreath because of love. But they do know it is very, very special.


Salt Dough Recipe
Ingredients:
1 cup cooking salt
1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons cooking oil or glycerine
3 cups plain flour
Method:
Dissolve salt in warm water, mix in oil or glycerine. Mix this liquid into flour. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until pliable and smooth. Keep in an air-tight container.
Place wreath on a tray lined with aluminium foil and dry in an oven 100 -150 degrees C until hard.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Oops!


Oops! 


I seem to have flooded the Blogger feed and the Facebook feed and the Twitter feed with loads of new blog post notifications, dozens and dozens of them. 


Do you remember Micky Mouse in Fantasia? How he multiplied the broomsticks and lost control? That's just how I feel. My heart missed a beat when I saw the Blogger feed. And then I visited Facebook. I didn't have the courage to look at Twitter. But I know exactly what I'd have found if I did. Although I sat here and published post after post, somehow I didn't quite expect them all to appear as new notifications. Well, they are all reposts rather than original posts.


So what have I done? Thanks to Erin's brilliant suggestion, I have imported all the posts from my blogs Stories of an Unschooling Family and Stories of Grief, Love and Hope and reposted them here on this blog. Sue Elvis Writes is now a bumper sized blog!


All my comments were imported and published too. I am so delighted I haven't lost all the contributions written so very generously by readers of my other blogs.


Unless you have been following and reading all three blogs, there may now be new posts here that you've never read before. I hope you will search the archives and share my stories.


So I think I have adequately fulfilled my blog post quota for this week... month...year? Just one more post to publish. In a minute, I will send this post on its way out there to the blogosphere to join all the others.


What's one more notification?





Thursday, 24 November 2011

I Blog for Fun Not for Followers


Callum and I are on our way to town to have some mother-son time together. As I drive along, we chat.

“Are you missing writing, Mum?”

“Oh yes!” I exclaim.

We are silent for a moment and then I add, “I think I’ll start posting on my blog again.”

Yes, it is true, I have missed my blog. It’s only been a few days since I ended it and already I have regrets. All these post ideas keep coming to mind and I have nowhere to share them.

I think about why I ended my blog. Can I fix any of the problems so I feel I can start blogging again?

To begin with I have far too many blogs. I feel pressured trying to keep up with them all. Can I write for just one blog like most normal people? Perhaps I can post all my stories here. What do I write about? Last night I sat down and relabelled all my posts. There are really only seven categories. I write about me and our family, our faith, grief, writing and blogging, books and homeschooling. Can all these topics exist on one blog? Maybe.

My second problem is keeping up with the blogging world.

All the how-to-blog guides say, “If you want blog readers, visit other blogs and follow them, and leave comments. How can you expect readers to take the time to visit your blog if you don’t make an effort to first share theirs. And be sure to post at least three times a week.” All good advice. But sometimes I just don’t have enough time. I clicked the ‘follow’ button a few times too many. I seem to have followed a million blogs. I can’t possibly read all the posts on these blogs, let alone leave comments. And I want to post when I am bursting with something to share, not because I have to fulfil my weekly post quota.

So what shall I do?  I have decided to change my blogging attitude. I am going to be daring and ignore all this very good expert blogging advice. I am going to blog for fun and not for followers.

Will I lose my readers? Probably. The blogging advice I am choosing to ignore was written for a reason. But I have two choices: blog for fun or stop blogging.

So will you continue to visit and share my stories? Will you stop and say hello? Maybe you will decide that I can't expect you to read my stories if I don't take the time to read yours. And I understand that completely. But if you genuinely enjoy my blog maybe you will…

I think I like that: if we all read the posts we genuinely enjoyed and left comments freely without obligation, to show our appreciation, the blogging world would be less stressful and much more fun.

Callum and I continue to chat.

“I knew you couldn’t keep away from your blog, Mum!” He laughs.

“Yes, I like my blog,” I admit. “But this time it’s going to be different. I’m blogging for fun not for followers.”

Monday, 21 November 2011

Thomas' Chair



I wrote the story Thomas' Chair for my grief blog, Stories of Grief, Love and Hope, however it isn't exclusively a grief story. It is also an Elvis family tale. I think if I hadn't said 'here ends this blog', I might also have posted it here.


Here is the beginning of my latest Thomas story:


We have a long pine table in our kitchen, and around that table there are ten matching chairs. On a normal evening, eight of those chairs are occupied. The other two chairs belong to Felicity and Thomas. Of course Felicity only sits on her chair when she comes home on holiday and Thomas has never sat in his chair because he never actually came home. He has never needed a chair.     Read more...

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Happy Birthday Twin!


Imogen asked me to write a guest post for her blog Dancing with Dragonflies, so I wrote Happy Birthday Twin! 


This is how it begins:


We have two sorts of children in our family. Those that look like my husband, Andy and those who look like me. We have ‘your’ children and ‘my’ children. Read more...

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A Mother, a Child: a Special Love


Cooperating with God and creating another human life is miraculous. I have loved the child forming within me from the moment I have become aware of his existence. And when that child has died, I have been devastated.

How can we love a child that has been with us for so little time? Surely our grief and sorrow, when we have to say goodbye to a life barely started, is excessive? After a miscarriage people may say, “You weren’t pregnant for very long. You’ll have another baby. Pull yourself together.” After the death of a newborn child: “At least you didn’t get to know him well. He didn’t become part of your life. It’s not as if one of your other children has died.” But these babies have become part of our lives despite their short time with us.

My feelings of love towards Thomas surprise me at times. My love for him has not faded as the years pass by. In fact it grows stronger. This is all rather a mystery: how can a mother grow in love for a child she no longer has with her?

When you love you open yourself up to sorrow as well as joy. If a loved one dies such an empty feeling results. What is the answer? Not to love in the first place? Could I have prevented myself loving Thomas? No. I had no choice.

The other day I read the following in The Education of Little Tree, the story of a Cherokee childhood by Forrest Carter. Little Tree’s dog had died and he said, “I felt total bad about it, and empty. Granpa said he knew how I felt, for he was feeling the same way. But Granpa said everything you lost which you had loved give you that feeling. He said the only way round it was not to love anything, which was worse because you would feel empty all the time.”

The love between mother and child is not a one way love. It is returned. A baby can recognise his mother immediately after birth. After nine months of living tucked beneath her heart, he has come to know his mother’s voice, her touch, her actions, her heart-beat. He knows where he is secure and who loves him. Thomas never saw me but did he listen to and know my voice? Did he know I was his special person, his mother? Did he know it was my touch he felt as he slipped away from life? Did he love me?

Sometimes it is only when we become parents ourselves that we really appreciate and understand our own parents’ love for us. I think of my mother. Did she look at me with amazement when I was born? Did she marvel at the gift she’d been given? I know she made many sacrifices for me. She didn’t lose me like I lost Thomas but did she still discover that there was sadness mingled in with the joy of motherhood? I moved away from her, I took my place in the world, concerned with myself and my own affairs and often it seems like I never appreciate or return her love.

I often think about being reunited with Thomas in heaven. I will have to wait until then to hear Thomas say, “I love you, Mum.” In the meantime, I can say to my own mother, “Mum, I really love you. Thank you for giving me the gift of life. Thank you for all the sacrifices you made for me. Because of you, I grew up capable of experiencing the special love of a child of my own.”

Monday, 14 November 2011

Birthdays and Death Days


From my diary...

29th November

“… I’ve learnt a new term: death day. It’s been three weeks since Thomas’ death day. Sarah says that’s not long at all. I feel I should be coping better…”

 Last week we celebrated Thomas’ birthday and remembered his death day. Actually one day follows so closely after the other, they tend to get muddled together. And so I felt blessed and happy because of the gift of our third son, but I also mourned his loss.

 I wonder: why does the date on the calendar make such a difference to how I am feeling? If I didn’t keep track of the days, could Thomas’ birthday and death day pass without trauma? Could the days pass like every other day, with my grief locked away inside me in that safe place?

I think the answer is no. My mother’s heart knows it is that time of the year. And I think I need to cry and remember.  The tears and the pain are my birthday gift. They say “Thomas I still care. I haven’t forgotten you. I love you so very much.”

Isn’t grief bitter sweet? We grieve because we love. Would we wish we did not love, so we don’t have to grieve?

Friday, 11 November 2011

A Grieving Mother and a Blog Award



Thank you to Vicky of Creating with Wisdom for passing on an I Blog Jesus award to Stories of Grief, Love and Hope. 

I am so pleased this award has been given to a grief blog. I hope it will turn readers' thoughts to the many bereaved parents who grieve quietly and often alone. And maybe you will say a prayer...

Perhaps you haven't visited here before. This blog is my little attempt to thank God for picking me up from near despair, after Thomas’ death, and giving me hope. I share my Thomas stories in an effort to pass on that hope to others who grieve. I know I could never fulfil the following award requirements on my own. But with God anything is possible...


This award was created by Monica at Equipping Catholic Families and is for blogging moms who:

~Strive for a stronger Faith and closer relationship with Jesus. 

~Aspire to grow spiritually through a vocation as a "King's Kid"... a daughter of God, and a Catholic wife and mom. 

~Seek to encourage others in their own spiritual journeys and Faith formation in their families through the Catholic training tools and gifts that they create and yes...through their blog. 


I need to pass on this award but first I’d like to share some thoughts…

In the months after Thomas’ death there was one thing in particular that worried me. I thought that if I was able to accept all that God allowed in my life, trusting He knew what was best for me and my eternal happiness, then I should not feel such great sorrow. I thought my tears and my heart-ache were a sign that I was more attached to my baby than I was to God and His plan. Didn’t I know I would see Thomas again one day? Didn’t I know God was looking after me? Why was I crying? Were my tears a sign that I didn’t trust enough?

Then one day I thought of Mary standing by the Cross. She knew that Jesus had to die. She also knew that He would be resurrected. She was aware that she would be reunited with her Son. But she still stood at the foot of the Cross and grieved.

Mary understands what it is like to lose a child. After Jesus was taken down from the Cross, He was laid in her arms and she sorrowed.  And so I have come to believe that grief is not a sign of lack of trust. It is a sign of love, great love. Our human hearts love our children so very much. And when we are separated, it hurts. We suffer. And we are allowed to cry.

So for me, our Mother Mary is a great comfort. I can turn to her as one mother to another, and I know she understands.

I would like to pass this blog award onto two bloggers who obviously have a great love for Mary our Mother who understands every grieving heart. I enjoy both these blogs very much. They are written by two special people.

Noreen at Rosary Mom

Dana and Noreen certainly fulfil the requirements of the award.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

My Third Brother

By Imogen Elvis




When I was five, my third brother was born. I already had two brothers, both older than me. But my third brother wasn't to live with us long. Thomas died the day after he was born.

I don't remember Thomas at all. I don't remember going to the hospital to see him. I don't remember the funeral. I don't remember everyone being so sad. I don't even remember getting a new pink dress for his funeral. I have no memories of him at all.

Despite not remembering him, he is still very special to me. We have a box of his things, a little dress with spots of his blood on it, his ear muff, photos from the hospital. We have his teddy bear collection, steadily growing each year. And we have his birthday.

Thomas's birthday is always the same. Every year we give him a candle, a bunch of flowers for the house, one for his grave, and a teddy bear. Mum's room is full of these bears, each with their own name.

We always have a white cake. We always go and visit him in the cemetery. After all, how can you have a proper birthday without the birthday boy? Every year we take a photo with all the children standing behind his headstone. We always have a picnic sitting on the grass afterwards. It's a family tradition.

Happy Birthday Thomas!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Therese Bear


Last Saturday I went looking for Thomas' birthday bear. I was searching for a teddy with character, and I knew I'd know the right bear when I found it. But this year, I had problems. None of the bears seemed quite right and when I arrived at the last shop in town, I was beginning to despair. What would I do if I didn't have a teddy bear for Thomas for his birthday? I couldn't just buy any stuffed animal. 


As I walked around the baby and child shop - one of those places that sells beautiful expensive items every mother adores but every baby could probably live without - I found a cute stuffed animal tucked up in a designer cot. I couldn't decide if it was a bear or a dog because its ears were a bit long. I wanted a bear, not a dog, but I bought the cute animal anyway.


When I arrived home I showed the dog-bear-teddy to the girls and they exclaimed with delight. "It looks like a bear, Mum! What will you call it?" I try and give Thomas' teddies names that are significant to each year. "You'll have to call it Therese! It's been the year of  A (The) Little Way!" suggested Imogen. And I agreed.


So this morning Therese made her appearance. I'd pinned a flowery hair decoration to her head. Now she looks definitely bear-like and not dog-like and very Therese-ish. She is sitting on a coffee table in the lounge, together with a green bird Imogen bought for Thomas, a bunch of green and sparkly flowers and an apple-green candle. Thomas' photo is cradled between Therese bear's feet.




We went out to the cemetery to visit Thomas at lunch time. I was so pleased all our still-at-home-children could be there for this annual event. 






We blew up balloons and tied them to the flower bowl together with a birthday card of birthday messages. We had a new bunch of flowers too.




It was very hot and sunny which isn't very good for photos. The children squinted into the sun and I snapped away capturing the birthday pictures for 2011.




Then it was time for our picnic. We sat in the shade of a tree, whose leaves rustled with a refreshing breeze,by the church and enjoyed our lunch.


Now we are home; our birthday is outing over.


A short while ago, the doorbell rang: a delivery of flowers. Thank you, Cathy and Ian! I cried a few tears at your thoughtfulness.




There have been emails and Facebook messages full of love and hugs and prayers, and I want to thank everyone for remembering us and dear Thomas on his birthday.




May St Therese pray for you and may God bless you.

Sharing Thomas' Birthday


After Thomas died, I thought I was left with only two things: his name and his birth date. And both were very precious to me.

Some days after our baby died a friend said, “Thomas Augustine… what a beautiful name!”
How could I not agree? It was the name of my baby. But instead of being pleased by these kind words, I thought, “Please don’t like the name too much. Please never think of calling a future son of yours Thomas. Please don’t take his name. It‘s all I have left.” But of course I never said anything. The friend had spoken in kindness and she probably had no intention of ever giving a child the same name as my lost son. But I was very sensitive and I worried.

Several months after Thomas died, my sister announced she was pregnant. I was finding other people’s pregnancies very difficult to deal with. Now both my sisters were expecting babies. And I was the only sister with empty arms.

I tried to smile and I was doing my best to be happy for my sister. I was even thinking about offering my congratulations when…

“My baby is due on Thomas’ birthday, 9th November!” She sounded excited.

Would my sister’s baby take my son’s birthday? Would Thomas not have a day that was just his? Would he be forgotten as the family celebrated his cousin’s special day? Would he even be replaced by his new cousin?

I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t put my feelings in words. How could I? I didn’t want to spoil my sister’s happiness. But I sorrowed. My sister probably didn’t know the agonies I was going through. For weeks and months my thoughts strayed back to her baby’s due date. On the 9th November we would be remembering Thomas’ birthday and mourning his death. Would we also be welcoming a new member to our family?

I told myself a birthday is just a day on the calendar. It doesn’t really matter which day a baby is born on. But it did matter.  I tied myself up in knots over this issue.  Then one day I could stand it no longer. I poured all my worries out in prayer.  I said, “God, you know when my sister’s baby will be born. If it is on Thomas’ birthday then you will have to help me bear it. You will have to make things right. You will have to help me celebrate the birth of her child. I can’t worry about this anymore.” So I handed over everything to God and refused to think any more about it.

Thomas’ first birthday drew near and we made plans for celebrating his special day. I tried to be generous. I thought about gifts and cards and congratulations I might have ready for my sister’s baby.

The 9th November arrived. We celebrated Thomas’ birthday. And my sister’s baby did not arrive. Her baby was born two weeks late.

I think about myself. I think about my sister. Looking back I don’t think we understood each other at all. Never having lost a child, my sister didn’t really understand my need to keep one day on the family calendar just for Thomas and Thomas alone. How could she? And I didn’t understand her excitement when she announced her due date. I didn’t understand that she wanted to share Thomas’ day because it was special. I thought she wanted to take my child’s day whereas really she wanted her child and mine to have a special bond.

In those early days of sorrow, I was a sensitive bereaved mother clutching at names and dates, trying to keep them solely for the child I no longer had. Unlike my sister, I failed to see the joy that could come from cousins sharing a birthday.

Since Thomas’ death, I have met a few people who have an association with the 9th November: a friend’s husband died on Thomas’ birthday a few years ago, another friend’s daughter was born on this day, I even noticed our parish church of St Thomas Aquinas was opened on this day 25 years ago… They all share the same day with my son.

God connects us together.  He ensures we meet the right people at the right time and he uses many means: our choice of work, the ages of our children, our place of residence, our blogs(!), our interests, even names… and certain dates on the calendar.

I am no longer so sensitive. I have come far enough through the pain to look around me and I no longer focus solely on my own child. I look at the friends who share Thomas’ day. God has connected us together for a special reason and these people are important in my life. I am glad we share the 9th November. And I would now gladly share this day with my niece if that was what God had intended.

So on this day, the 9th November I want to say:

“Thomas, my heart aches because you are not here and I miss you so much.  I still sometimes wish you were here on earth sharing our lives. But that cannot be. I used to think all I had left of you was your name and a date. However, I have much more than that. I still have you.  Now I am willing to share your name and your birthday. Through them I have been connected with some very special people. You live on in those bonds.  You live on in my stories… And you live on in my heart. I love you so very much. Happy Birthday!”

 And…

Happy Birthday Emma and Catherine.
Michael and Waltraud, may God grant eternal rest to your souls.
Vera and Veronika, may God hold you close and bless you and your families.
May God bless our parish, St Thomas Aquinas, Bowral.
And an early Happy Birthday to my dear niece, Bethany.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Congratulations and Celebrations

I wrote this story last year, for Thomas' birthday. As his 12th birthday approaches, I'd like to share it again...



I woke up with a heavy heart this morning. Our girls woke up with a feeling of excitement. It is a birthday. Thomas’ birthday.

I wonder why I feel so sad. It has been eleven years since the day of our baby’s death. Surely that is enough time to get over the grief? I have come to the conclusion that grief never really disappears. It is put into a compartment where it becomes manageable, hidden under layers of more immediate concerns. Life moves on and joy and hope return. It looks like grief has gone. Then a crack may appear and all the pain and suffering seep out to once again cause a heavy heart. This can happen on those expected days like anniversaries and birthdays, days like today. But sometimes sorrow can return in a flash when I am quite unprepared.


I remember talking to a friend last year about the time I spent in hospital with Thomas. I shared a room with three mothers who were all busy with their newborn babies. The babies were breastfeeding or snuggling up to their mothers or sleeping peacefully in their cribs. But there was no baby and no crib by the side of my bed. Thomas was a few floors away in the neo-natal intensive care ward. The other beds in the room were surrounded by flowers and presents and cards and visitors. The mothers were on and off the phone accepting congratulations. As I was telling this story to my friend, a huge wave of sorrow engulfed me and tears streamed down my face, much to my surprise. And the cause of the pain? The memory that we didn’t receive even one congratulations card. Unlike the other mothers, no-one had congratulated me on the birth of our son.

Thomas died and there were endless expressions of sympathy. Our home was filled with flowers and sympathy cards and home cooked meals. Everyone offered help and prayers and their time just to listen. We were so blessed.

So why is the absence of a congratulations card so important? I didn’t even realise it was that important until the conversation with my friend. I think I just wanted someone other than us to be glad Thomas had been born. I wanted him to have the same welcome into the world that all the other babies had been given. I wanted everyone to be happy that we had a third son instead of just feeling sorry he’d died. My friend’s empathetic ear had stripped away all those protective layers over my heart, and sorrow bubbled over.

But today I expected my heart to be heavy and it is. We have had our usual picnic outing to the cemetery. We have taken birthday photos of all the children around Thomas’ grave. We have given him a new bear which we have called Mary McKillop and we have all written in a birthday card which we tied to the flower bowl by his headstone. There will be birthday cake for dessert tonight. Yes, we have celebrated our son’s birthday.

Thank you, God for the gift of our son. His life may have been short, too short in order for us to be congratulated but it was long enough to realise how blessed we are, and to want to celebrate this special day year after year.



Sunday, 6 November 2011

Here Ends...


Here ends this blog…But let me explain…

I have been blogging for just over a year and I have had a wonderful time, playing with words, exploring different topics, telling stories, answering comments and getting involved in conversations, hopping across the blogosphere discovering fantastic blogs, learning and sharing with others, making online friends… Yes, it’s been a great year. But now I feel it is time to move on.

I have been so busy recently. Real life has swept me along and I’ve not had much time for writing, let alone visiting the blogs I follow and keeping up with online friendships. It doesn’t seem to me acceptable to keep writing and posting and expecting people to stop and read my offerings, when I haven’t time to reciprocate and keep up with everyone else’s posts. So I am saying goodbye.

I thought about quietly slipping away. I thought about letting my blog lie idle without explanation. But if I did that, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to say thank you to all the readers who have supported this blog over the past months. I wouldn’t be able to say thank you to all those kind people who have stopped by and commented and contributed to the many interesting conversations we have had. I wouldn’t be able to say thank you to everyone who has offered me their friendship and support and help…

So thank you to Vicky, Noreen, Mary, Victor, Colleen, Dana, Stephanie, Susan, Beate, Suzie, Elm, Leanne, Grace, Erin, Gae, Ellen, Kelly, Tricia, Shannan, Julia, Kim, Angie, Colleen, Holly, Anne, Sara, Melanie, Ann, Willa, Misty, Lily, the Priest’s Wife, Natalie, Meg, Lou, Therese, Anthony, Amy, Jenny, Bethany, Elizabeth, Kathleen, Mandy, Cathy, Tanya, Leslie, Kathleen, Evan, Angie, Elise, Toni, Beth, Imogen, Sharon and that prolific commenter Anonymous for taking the time to add to the conversation. I have always been so pleased to see you at my blog. Thank you for your support. And thank you also to anyone who has arrived quietly to share my stories, and to those readers who took the time to follow or subscribe to Sue Elvis Writes.

I thought about deleting this blog but maybe someone will land here by accident and want to stay and share the posts I have already written. There are 125 stories on all sorts of topics waiting to be read, and if you’d like to stop and say hello, I will continue to publish and reply to comments.

Or you could email me. Or hop over to Thomas’ blog, Stories of Grief, Love and Hope.  I hope to continue sharing my Thomas stories there. They are my work for God.

So I have come to the end. It has been a wonderful experience. But now I will say…

Here ends this blog…

… unless of course, I change my mind.