Halloween

This post has been written in reverse. Usually the bake comes first and is followed by my words. Often the bake prompts a thought or theme that I want to explore. This time I found myself wanting to write about Halloween. Yet, no post would be complete without a bake. Yesterday I found myself with 90 minutes spare before meeting a group of bereaved mothers (willing cake eaters) at our craft class. This was more than enough time to mix, bake, decorate & clean up (my least favourite step).  I followed the simple all in one Fairy Cake recipe (see “light up for love” post) and using black & white icing I decorated ghosts & witches hats….

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I am now uncomfortable with some elements of Halloween. Since Conor died I view Halloween with new eyes. I find some aspects insensitive. I grew up in London at a time when Halloween was overshadowed by the fireworks associated with bonfire night taking place just five days later. I remember making witches hats out of black card in school and once raided my mother’s white sheets to make a ghost costume. Halloween was little more than that. I have spent my adult years living in Ireland where Halloween is so much more and I have witnessed it become a bigger and bigger spectacle. I have neighbours who turn their homes into spooky grottos. Some gardens look like horror movie sets.

The parts of Halloween I now struggle with are the joke coffins and gravestones. Gravestones are an unwanted reality for the bereaved and are no joking matter. I never imagined that at the time I should have been buying blue 0-3m clothing I was shopping for my son’s gravestone. Who knew there was so much choice. We found ourselves browsing other graveyards, admiring shapes, size, wording, colours, materials etc. We walked around Conor’s graveyard armed with a measuring tape so his gravestone would sit well alongside the others. Just five weeks after Conor’s death we found ourselves in a cave on Valentia Island, Co Kerry picking out a piece of slate for our son’s headstone. We sat down with the stonemason and designed the gravestone Conor will eventually share with his parents. It was a most surreal experience. Having spent happy childhood summers in Co Kerry it was important for me to bring a piece of beautiful Co Kerry to Conor’s resting place…

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The artificial world of Halloween decorations also reminds me of the challenge many of my new friends face trying to support their surviving children following their babies’s deaths. These siblings have an innocence that is lost forever. They live with the knowledge that anyone can die. I have a friend whose young children regularly visit Conor’s grave. Their baby sister is buried in the same graveyard. They notice any new items (including a new windmill bought by Conor’s Daddy) left on the grave and they show Conor their new toys. They know me as “Conor’s Mummy” which makes me smile. I can only imagine their confusion as plastic headstones and coffins come and go from their neighbours gardens. Death and gravestones are an ever present reality in their lives.

I don’t wish to cancel Halloween. I love seeing all the carved pumpkins. I am nostalgic for witches hats and white sheets. I am happy to see black cats and spiderwebs. I just wish it would stop there. There is no need for artificial coffins or gravestones. Leaving hospital with a baby’s coffin would be anyone’s worst nightmare. The sad fact is that for one family nearly every day in Ireland, this horror story is our cruel reality.

*Top Tips.

It was a last minute decision to bake these fairy cakes. My butter and eggs were straight from the fridge when the recipe asked for softened butter & eggs at room temperature. I gave the butter a 7 second blast in the microwave (do not allow to melt).  I read recently to place eggs in a bowl of warm water to quickly bring to room temperature. Happy Halloween baking.

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Light up for love

This is one of the fairy cakes I made with my little niece this weekend. We used a piping bag for the icing and she loved squeezing the gooey pink icing out of the bag. After piping the heart shape she exclaimed “I love hearts”. Her enthusiasm for this simple recipe was infectious.  It was a bittersweet moment. The thought that I should be doing this with my son is never far away. The fairy cakes tasted as good as this one looks.

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Grief is the price we pay for love.  We do not stop loving someone when they die. I haven’t stopped loving Conor or my dear Dad since their deaths. I fell in love with my baby from the moment I knew he was growing inside me. I treasured every “good morning Mummy” kick. Those 41 weeks were our time. It was love at first sight seeing Conor after delivering him silently into this world. He was shown a lifetime of love in his short life. If love was enough to save Conor, he could have lived forever but sadly love cannot stop lightning strikes. As time passes I have become less afraid of my sadness.  It is in my sadness I feel the strength of my love. My tears are simply an expression of my love.

Since Conor died I have questioned my role. I am a mother but how do I parent a child I cannot feed, bathe, dress or cuddle? What do I do with all the love I have for Conor?  Conor’s Daddy and I find other ways to show our love. Here are some of them…

  • We keep Conor’s grave looking tidy and colourful. Along with his grandparents, we keep a candle lit in his lantern. Although I haven’t quite worked out my relationship with his grave, I want his space to look loved.
  • We write Conor’s name in the sand when we visit the beach and love it when others do the same.
  • We remember Conor in cards using our ink star stamp to symbolise “our little star”.
  • I create. I have made cakes and biscuits using Conor’s star symbol. I recently made a mosaic for our garden. Making something for my son makes me feel like a good mother.
  • I tell the world about Conor in these posts. http://www.cakesforconor.com has now been read in 24 countries! (I am aiming for more so please share this post with family and friends living away.)
  • We light Conor’s candle at night. It’s a special candle given to us in thanks for fundraising. It’s made of wax but has a tea light holder on the top so you never need to burn the candle down.

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October 15th is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.  It is a day of remembrance for all those babies lost through miscarriage, stillbirth, newborn death and SIDS.  It was established by bereaved parents in the USA.  The day aims to raise awareness of the impact of infant loss on families. It acknowledges that our babies existed and will be forever loved.  The day is observed with remembrance ceremonies and candle lighting vigils. At 7pm it features a Wave of Light with candles all over the world burning for all our babies who didn’t get to stay.  Here are some of the candles burned last year by friends and family to remember Conor…

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This is the first year that International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day will be officially recognised by our Irish Government. This Thursday 15th October I will be the proudest mother in Ireland. I have been asked to tell Conor’s story at a Baby Loss Awareness and Remembrance Event. There will be a room full of people in a city centre hotel listening to me speak about my Conor.  At 7pm we will pause to light our candles. This Thursday 15th October at 7pm I ask you all to light a candle for Conor and all our babies, for our love is like a light that never goes out.
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*Top tip.

Once again I used a very simple all in one recipe from Mary Berry.

http://www.goodtoknow.co.uk/recipes/430522/Mary-Berry-s-iced-fairy-cakes

I followed the 10 second rule to get the icing to the correct consistency.  (You can look this up on YouTube.)  You cut through the icing with a clean knife and count to 10. If your line is still visible after 10 then the icing needs more water.  The icing is too runny if your line disappears before 10 seconds.  Give it a go. It’s the best tip I’ve found to achieve a perfect consistency for piping.