Looking after yourself

As a rule, I'm not a big fan of April as a month. It hasn't always been this way but it's over a decade since my Dad died by suicide and I spend most of April (and sometimes a lot of March as well) dreading the anniversary at the end of the month.
It's even tougher because it's Dad's birthday on the 10th and so it can feel like there is no escaping the grief that can overwhelm you on the anniversary of losing a loved one. As soon as I've dealt with one I'm hit by the other and it's pretty hard.

The temptation for me on these days is to stay in bed, pull the covers over my head and not talk to anyone all day. And if you feel the same then my advice to you would be to do it! Allow yourself the time and space for grieving - even if time has passed and some well-meaning but naive friends are telling you to 'move on'.

Party Planning - Tropical Party Outfits for Boys

I've gone a little bit 'tropical party' crazy at the moment and friends are looking at me in shock (horror) when I talk about the bargains I've just picked up in Poundworld or my plans for an epic balloon arch. Afterall, it isn't Lily's birthday until the end of September!

The thing is, we're going for a Moana-inspired tropical theme and all the shops are full of amazing designs, accessories and inspiration right now. I know that if I wait too long I could miss the canoe (sorry) and end up missing out on some great products.

Party Planning - Tropical Party Outfits for Girls

It may be five months until Lily's 5th birthday party but I've already started planning. Partly because I'm a sad and desperate wannabe-party-planner but mainly because if you're planning a tropical, summery themed Moana party then then summer is by far the best time to pick up supplies.

It also comes with the added benefit of being able to spread the cost by picking things up as you go and the chance of getting some bargains when they're easily accessible or on sale at the end of the season.

As all the shops roll out their summer clothing ranges I've noticed a huge range of tropical-inspired dresses, playsuits and skirts - all of which would be perfect for a summer BBQ, party, wedding or a late-September 5th birthday party!

Junior Park Run - Lily's first time

Lily is four and half years old and yesterday she took part in her first ever Junior Park Run.

She ran (and walked) for 2km and completed the course smiling and waving in about 18 minutes.

I have no idea whether this is a 'good' time or expected of a child her age. All I know is that she could have taken twice as long and I still would have sobbed with pride as she ran down that last section.

Overcoming loss by suicide

I don't think I will ever forget the day, as much as I'd love erase it from my mind like clearing the trash can icon on your desktop.

It was a relatively normal morning. I lived with my boyfriend in Highbury, North London and was heading into university to take one of the first exams of my first year studying Journalism with Sociology. A French listening and speaking exam. I wasn't nervous. My French classes were taught by a particularly 'cool' lecturer who liked to talk in depth about the primal experiences she felt during childbirth without pain relief. As you do.

My sister called my mobile as I caught the bus from outside my flat. She was worried about our Dad. He'd left a 'strange' voicemail on her phone whilst she'd been working at a pub the previous night.

Alarm bells went off instantly. He had the said nearly the exact same thing to me the day before. He loved me. He was proud of me. I deserved better than the parents and family I had been born into. He trusted me. He knew I would always look after my younger sisters and baby brother.

Louise had tried calling him. He hadn't picked up.

Something was wrong. I knew it. Knew instantly.

But it was over an hour later, half way through my examination when I realised I had missed calls and the super cool teacher let me take a break, that I heard the words.

"I'm so sorry Steph. I'm so sorry but he's dead."

My father had died by suicide. And everything was a mess.

I don't even know how to describe the effect this has had on my life. I didn't realise at the time that the horror I was experiencing was merely the epicentre of an earthquake that I would still feel 12 years on. Time may have passed but the tremors still come and the earth moves beneath me, tripping me and engulfing me in sadness, anger, confusion and guilt.

Hearing those words was like a bomb going off in the middle of my life and even though I got up straight away and kept walking, it was like being in a movie where the sound goes off and everything goes into slow motion in the aftermath of an explosion. 

I still feel like I'm pressing a makeshift bandage into a wound, putting out fires, squeezing the hands of the people I love, and calling for help.

But life has moved on, like it would have done if my Dad had been alive. I've grown older, my siblings have grown up. I've had boyfriends and break-ups and am now happily married with two children. I never finished my degree. I never learned to drive. I have made friends, lost friends and made new ones. I haven't traveled much but could describe in detail different worlds like Middle Earth. I've had a career and even though I don't want to be a journalist, I still love to write.

I really love to write. I use this blog like Dumbledore's pensieve. Pulling out the thoughts in my (often mixed up) brain and attempting to make sense of them in my ramblings. Sometimes I dream of becoming a big blogger like so many I follow and admire but really the writing process helps me even if I don't hit 'publish'.

It's highly unlikely that anyone will stumble across this blog if they're looking for help and advice after losing a loved one to suicide - I've survived but I have no miraculous cure or advice on how to cope with the pain you are feeling. I'd love to write an uplifting end to this post, some tips on looking after yourself and working through your grief but the only thing I can honestly say is that life goes on. Life for me didn't end when my Dad died, it changed but it didn't end. It's hard and sometimes it's really really crap. Like, seriously crap. But life is precious and there is always hope, and it goes on.

The light in the darkness is the everyday, wonderful things that happen that make you smile. Even for just a little while. The comfort in a hug from your children or a cup of tea with a friend. The happiness you feel for others when they achieve something, when they get engaged, graduate or celebrate their Dad's 60th birthday.

The teeny tiny ways that someone lives on after death, in your memories, triggered by a word, book or song.

Next week I deal with the anniversary of my Dad dying and I'm hoping to write about my feelings and the impact his death has had on my life since then. I don't mean to be morose or depressing, if anything, I'm hoping to gain a greater insight and maybe even some healing from sharing my experience and thoughts. If you've read this far, thank you.

National Offer Day - How did it go?

Last year I wrote out my feelings about Lily starting school - the frustration of not being able to 'choose' and the worry of doing something wrong.

In the end, we decided not to 'fiddle the system' and temporarily change churches in order to get Lily into our first choice.

This was fine - our second choice and catchment school was a very close second. In fact, I'll admit that it was probably Matt's first choice and is so close to our home that I would have been happy with taking Lily and picking her up every day. I don't drive and so proximity has always been a key deciding factor.

Book Review - Air and Ash

I have been doing so much reading lately, especially books that would fall into the 'Young Adult Fantasy' genre. As a 30-something year old Mum of two, I don't really fit into that category's target audience but it is still one that I know well. I love a book which has a gripping story line without always having to go down the 'Epic Fantasy' route (which is an equally awesome genre, obviously) and ever since I picked up my first Tamora Pierce book in a Bideford discount book shop when I was 13 I have loved books with a strong, young, female character.

Throw in some adventure, magic and a hint of romance and I'm usually hooked.

Tales as Old as Time

You'll know I love to read and so I was very excited to receive my Blind Date with a Book from Parragon Books this month - I had no idea what to expect but received in the post two fantastic books to tie-in with the newly released Beauty and the Beast film, each with a unique perspective into a tale we think we know so well.

Lost In A Book

First up is 'Lost In A Book' by Jennifer Donnelly.

At first I wondered if I was just a little older than the target reader for this book but I hadn't counted on the feelings of happy nostalgia that come with something you've liked for so long. Belle is by far my favourite Disney Princess and with her love of books, I certainly identify with her character, if not her looks.

The children's TV programmes I can't live without

Well, I could probably survive without these little nuggets of animated brilliance but life certainly wouldn't be the same.

Before I had kids I was one of those parents who wanted to limit my future poppet's screen time in order for their brains to grow merely from wholesome, organic sources and entertainment.

Ha ha ha.

That didn't last that long.

I've watched way too much children's television now. If you're sat questioning Flop's parenting techniques or wondering what idiots voted in Mayor Goodway then you're probably in the same boat as me. Sometimes, kid's TV is ten times more painful to sit through than a visit to the dentist.

I'm looking at you, Peppa-frickin'-Pig.