Summertime

This is a delicious raspberry and white chocolate cake. I made it for a friend of mine, another bereaved mother on the occasion of her daughter’s 2nd anniversary. Loaf cakes are much more transportable than sandwich cakes and this cake needed to travel in hand luggage on a warm day.  Raspberries and white chocolate are a winning combination. It’s a fabulous summertime bake. This very simple recipe was taken from a wonderful food blog; http://www.kitchenfeasts.com. Do take the time to read this blogger’s story (hers isn’t for me to tell) and marvel at the recipes.

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Summertime is now a season of remembrance in my new life. My dear Dad & Conor’s anniversaries fall just 10 days apart. I have been anticipating these days since the temperatures increased and the days got longer. While others are planning holidays I’m wondering how to mark these two events and anxious about the impact they will have on my wellbeing.

Dad’s first anniversary was yesterday. He died peacefully at home aged 70. It’s not just a 70 year man old I miss. There’s a 30 something man rescuing me from the top of the climbing frame I wasn’t supposed to climb. There’s a 40 something man driving a nervous me and my bags off to University. There’s a 50 something man letting me drive his car for the first time. There’s a 60 something man coming to stay for DIY holidays. I am grateful for every memory I have of Dad and I. Yesterday I decided to spend the day doing what Dad might do if he was still here.  When staying with me Dad liked to take off for the day with a train ticket and the Irish Times newspaper. He would complete the crossword over a pint. So this is how Conor’s Daddy and I spent the day remembering and celebrating Dad. I only wish I had inherited Dad’s crossword ability.

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Conor’s 2nd anniversary is just days away. While it’s a baby we buried, I now miss the two year old who should be playing around my feet. Conor is ageing with me and I will forever miss the boy, the teenager and the man who should be. The circumstances around Conor’s death make his anniversary more complicated. Conor died 3 days before he was born. Everything about it is upside down. Are we marking a birthday or an anniversary? I find myself using both words to mean the same thing. Conor’s life was short but it’s impact on our lives is as big as the universe. A Mother’s love for her child lives on even after death. By marking Conor’s anniversary we get the chance to extend Conor’s presence in our lives and create new memories. This year my amazing sister (Conor’s Fairy Godmother) is coming to stay. We will join other close family members (Conor’s grandparents, Aunties and Uncles) at his grave to reflect. We will visit the beach where we brought him in his little coffin on the day of his funeral. We will write his name in the sand, a tradition his family and others have followed (thank you to all of you who continue to send us photos). Then, like at any birthday, we’ll have cake.

Conor and my Dear Dad are in my thoughts every day. Conor’s life and death has changed me forever.  Anniversaries occur just once a year but the build up to them is difficult. There’s a fear that time is slipping further away from the days spent with our loved ones. There’s a repeat of “this time 1 year/2 years ago” thoughts. There’s a sense of injustice. It should be a kiddies party being planned for Conor. I sometimes feel a pressure from others that I should have moved on by now. I will continue to keep moving forward (accepting there will be times when I feel like I’m going backwards) but I will never move on. I will embrace these days as the chance to remember and celebrate those who live on in our hearts.

 

Remembering Dads

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These are some fairy cakes (Conor’s Daddy calls them buns) whipped up quickly one evening to bring into work. I added desiccated coconut to the sugar icing. If like me you love coconut, then you’ll love these. I call them my “taste of paradise” cakes. Conor’s Daddy likes it when I make individual cakes as he gets to raid them before they leave the house.

This Father’s Day we need to remember all Dads. There are those of us missing our own Dads. There are Dads like Conor’s Daddy missing a child. I am also aware of mothers whose young childrens’ fathers are sick or have died. They are left wondering how to mark this day for their children.

This is our second Father’s Day without Conor in our arms. Sometimes the impact of baby loss on the Dads can be underestimated. Conor’s Daddy had bonded with his baby with every kick, conversation and scan. Names were chosen and he couldn’t wait to meet our child.  Thankfully our generation allows fathers to be part of their child’s care. In those hours we had in the hospital Conor’s Daddy showed his son a lifetime of love. He cut the cord knowing his son would not take a breath. He held and then washed Conor. He carried Conor in his arms through a busy maternity hospital past Dads with balloons and car seats. He showered him with kisses and held his hand. He carried Conor across the hospital grounds to the chapel and then out of the chapel in a coffin. He handed his only child over to the undertaker to be put in the ground.

Conor’s Daddy’s heart was broken on bad news day too. The two of us, new parents with empty arms returned home in a state of shock. We are now 22 months on. We have had to bear witness to our own and each other’s grief.  We are two different people and have grieved differently. A counsellor I know describes being on the same roller coaster but in different carriages. We don’t necessarily experience the same ups and downs. Over time we have learned to respect each other’s way of grieving. We both know more than anyone that there are no fixes or shortcuts. We have realistic expectations of ourselves and each other. What we do share is a profound love for Conor and a want to tell people about him.

This Father’s Day I will acknowledge Conor’s Daddy and I hope others will too. He misses the life he should be having with Conor more than anything. There are balls not getting kicked and stories not being read.  I will also remember with fondness and sadness my own dear Dad who taught me about kindness. This is the two of us, with me about the age Conor should be watching him paint…

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Once Upon a Time

Theirs was a love story like many played out across the world. Boy meets girl (though thankfully in Ireland it could equally be boy meets boy or girl meets girl). Boy and girl date before boy pops the question on a moonlit beach. Girl says yes and subsequently drinks too much champagne in celebration. They have a wonderful wedding day surrounded by family and friends (and June floods). They were overjoyed to discover two would soon become three. Their beautiful son Conor was born and they all lived happily ever after…

At least that’s how their story was meant to go. The genre of their story changed over the course of just one night’s sleep. The sudden and out of order death of their son turned their story into one of the greatest tragedies. No one is meant to bury a child. This was a tragedy our main characters didn’t know if they would survive. At times they didn’t want to survive such was the pain. To the rest of the world they looked just like the couple in the first few chapters but they were changed forever. The length of their son’s life didn’t matter, they had planned the rest of their lives around being three. Their new protagonist was missing. The boy who had kicked his way into extra time kicked no more. The boy they were ready to dedicate their whole lives to was gone. Life could never go back to what it was. Minor characters came and went from their lives. Thankfully many remained taking time to get to know our new characters and their new story.

However this is not the end. Theirs is once again a love story. It is no longer the conventional boy meets girl story but one with twists and turns and an unknown future plot. The love they have for their son Conor motivates them to keep going. Their love for each other is stronger for the experience of becoming parents to a little boy. They are finding ways to live as three even if one is invisible to the naked eye. A life lived, however short cannot simply be ignored or forgotten. It is easier to move forward in their new life by remembering and celebrating Conor’s life. There are millions of beaches still waiting to have Conor’s name written in the sand. There are stars to be collected and birthday cakes waiting to be baked. Their protagonist will always be at the centre of their story.

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Forever loved and always remembered – Conor Patrick.

Written on the occasion of Conor’s Mummy & Daddy’s 4th wedding anniversary.

The Loneliness of the Bereaved Parent

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These are some almond and blueberry cakes. Each cake is supposed to have 3 blueberries but I didn’t let a lack of blueberries stop me from making them. Only one cake met the quota! If like me you love marzipan, you’ll love these. It’s a simple, tasty recipe (see below).

I am the 1 in 200. Sadly in Ireland and the UK 1 in 200 babies dies before, during or shortly after birth. 1 in 200 sets of parents are heartbroken.  This figure is surprisingly high, but we, the bereaved parents are the minority. We are the 1 among 199.

Life can be lonely as a minority parent. There is something uniquely challenging about losing a child at the same time our peers are celebrating theirs. The majority parents are celebrating pregnancies, new babies, first milestones, first days in school, communions, exam results, etc. This leaves minority parents thinking “this should have been my son/daughter”.

I have experienced a different kind of loneliness as a minority parent. My previous experience of loneliness found me looking for company on a quiet day. This new type of loneliness finds me avoiding or carefully chosing company. I don’t feel so alone when I’m at home on my own or with Conor’s Daddy. I might reach out to other bereaved parents because there’s nothing like hearing the words “me too” to ease the loneliness. However sometimes, when I am surrounded by majority parents, I can feel like the loneliest person on earth.

I am now able to recognise other women living a different life to the majority. Like me they may have had a child die. They may be struggling with infertility or waiting to meet life partners. These woman are in your staff room and within your extended family. They may go silent because there are times when there is no more lonely a situation than one where you are surrounded by the excitement that comes with majority parents talking about babies or children. Be mindful of the silent women in your groups. Never assume that having no living children or a single child is a life choice. Reach out to these women with sensitivity. You might just help them feel a little bit less alone.

*Top tips…

Here’s the recipe. Be sure to have enough blueberries!

https://alittlethoughtforfood.wordpress.com/2012/12/24/berry-marzipan-cupcakes/

 

Food for Thought…

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Do the carrots in carrot cake contribute to your 5 a day?  This cake also contains fruit (orange/lemon zest and sultanas) so it’s practically healthy. I made it for Conor’s Grandad’s birthday. There was lots to go around and everyone loved it. You need a bit of patience to do all the grating of carrots and zesting of fruit but after that it’s pretty simple stirring all the ingredients together.

Conor’s other Grandad (my dear dad) died last year following a 7 month illness. His doctors were very honest with him from the start and he was given a very guarded prognosis. Together with his doctors he made the decision to give treatment ago. My dear dad was a realistic optimist. The realist in him knew this illness would probably kill him. The optimist in him hoped the treatment being offered might give him some more time with us. Before his retirement Dad had worked as a project manager. He lived his life with the same level of organisation he gave to his work. Dad subsequently project managed his illness and death. Once diagnosed Dad put his financial affairs in order. He communicated his wishes in relation to end of life care and dying. We were fortunate that we were able to realise Dad’s wish to die at home. I know this isn’t always an option. Dad died at home surrounded by all his family. After his death we used his instructions (in a file on his laptop) to organise a funeral. He got given a day he would have been proud to attend. He even picked out the photo to use in the funeral service booklet. I believe that Dad’s conversations and planning gave us; his family the greatest gift of all. While we were in the grips of grief we were guided by him and his wishes. We were able to come together to give him the death and funeral he wanted. This gives me great comfort.

The topic of death is such a taboo in many people’s lives yet we will all be touched by dying and death. Most of us will also have to say goodbye to loved ones. While my father was dying I observed some people only comfortable to talk to him about the weather and traffic. Dad respected peoples’ comfort levels and he knew who he could open up to. Thankfully there were people for him to have the big conversations with. It could have been a very lonely place for him otherwise.

Conor’s Daddy & I had never discussed dying or death before the sudden and completely unexpected death of our son Conor. To be honest I had never even given the topic much individual thought. We found ourselves with just days to give birth and plan a funeral.  Looking back I’m not quite sure how we managed it but we did. We gave Conor a beautiful service attended by our inner circle of family/friends. We were still far too shell shocked to cope with a large funeral. We are now the owners of a family burial plot with space on Conor’s headstone for two more names. We know we want to be buried with Conor.

Soon after Conor died I wrote to an organisation which runs pre-marriage courses for couples wanting a church wedding in Ireland. Much of the content is outdated with couples now living together before getting married. I told them of the need to add conversations about dying and death to this course. Ireland has changed and people aren’t simply marrying another from the same town as they did in previous generations. Ireland is very much a multicultural state. Indeed Conor’s Daddy and I, like other couples are from two different countries living in a house which isn’t our forever home. Where does this leave couples should one of them get very sick or die suddenly? We are also living in an age of choices around dying and death. There are so many options. There are burials, cremations and leaving bodies to medical science. Dad had the time to plan and communicate his wishes. Not everyone gets this time. We need to open the lines of communication when we are well and able to make decisions. Dying is a part of life. We could take away the taboo and potential loneliness if it could become part of normal family conversation. It would also give loved ones direction at a most difficult time. We all need to have big conversations about end of life care, death and organ donation with our loved ones. It doesn’t have to be morbid. It might sound crazy to some but Dad and I had a laugh at times discussing our thoughts on dying and death. The big conversation may end up being the greatest gift you too can give to your family and loved ones.

#BigConversation

@DyingMatters

*Top tips:

http://stiritupmagazine.co.uk/recipe/mich-turners-moist-carrot-cake/.

Here’s the brilliant recipe. I decided to soak my saltanas in orange juice instead of rum as I’m not keen on rum. It was very easy to turn into a showstopper cake with cream cheese frosting.

Find what you like to do and keep doing it.

For the year after Conor died I was a regular attender at a support group for bereaved parents. I met parents who were both newly bereaved like us and others who were facilitating groups a number of years after losing their children. Looking around the room it was obvious to me how much better those who were longer bereaved were functioning. They could talk about their children without the tears, sobs and snot (grieving isn’t pretty!) of the newly bereaved. Theirs was a language of love. Ours was a language of not just love but also of fear, anger, sadness, anxiety, jealousy & guilt to name a few.  I felt paralysed by my grief in those early months.  I wasn’t just dealing with the sadness of losing Conor but was having to re-learn how to live in a world I barely recognised.  At the support groups I asked these longer bereaved parents for advice. I asked what helped them to feel better. It frustrated me that I rarely seemed to get any straight answers or instructions.  I wanted to learn how to feel happy again. I wanted to learn how to live my new life. Yet I wanted Conor to be part of my new life and not simply a family secret.

It took me a long time to realise that there isn’t really any advice to give a bereaved parent (something the non-bereaved who want to see us fixed struggle with). All you can do at the start is to keep breathing. Slowly functioning gets easier and the new life a little less scary. You appreciate the good days and do what it takes to survive the bad days. You surround yourself with those who lift rather than knock you.  However,  one piece of advice I do recall receiving is to ” FIND WHAT YOU LIKE DOING AND KEEP DOING IT”. I have embraced this concept.  I prioritise doing what I like to do rather than simply doing what I need to do. We got in a cleaner which frees up our weekends. I now live guilt free – chores can wait. I have since found joy not just in baking but in crafts. Here’s today’s Cakes for Conor…

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I made this mosaic tea tray in a class I joined with other bereaved mothers last year. This class is one of the highlights of my week. It brings me both peace and joy to have “Conor time” while making something so beautiful. The two hours pass in an instant. I recently made this patch for a national remembrance quilt…

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Both these pieces were made by the person who failed her art exams in school! It isnt about having a talent its about finding what you like to do and doing it – guilt free.  It’s about giving yourself moments of peace and joy and making those moments last longer. They dont cancel out all the hurt but can bring some healing, if only temporarily to a broken heart.

Living life knowing the worst CAN happen

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This is the cake I made for Conor’s Granny’s birthday. She loves both cake and chocolate so this was sure to be a hit. It’s a fat-less sponge but don’t for one minute think it’s healthy. It is filled with and covered with loads of chocolate buttercream.  It’s a little tricky rolling the sponge into its “swiss roll” shape. Fortunately the chocolate buttercream frosting covers all the cracks. I shaped it to look like a festive log. This Conor’s granny is both a reader and taster of Cakes for Conor!!

I live my new life knowing the worst CAN happen. The worst is far more than just a few cracks in a cake. I have become a worrier. I know from talking to other bereaved parents that I am not alone with my new anxieties. If a baby can die suddenly at the end of a perfect pregnancy anything can happen. Doctors refer to Conor’s death as like an accident meaning it could happen out of the blue to anyone. I think of it more like a lightning strike.  Accidents can and do happen and lightning can strike twice.

Since Conor’s death I have become more acutely aware of health issues in both me and my loved ones. In the space of a year I buried my son and my dear dad. I do not want to lose anyone else and I don’t want people to lose me. I am one of 5 mothers I know who in the weeks after our babies’ deaths were investigated for breast cancer. Fortunately we all got the all clear. Our breasts were probably just reacting to our bodies no longer being pregnant. We had each responded to all the new lumps and bumps with a heightened state of anxiety. I know of two dads who were investigated for possible heart attacks. Thankfully they too were fine. I have not become a hypercondriac but I take any new signs or symptoms seriously because I now know that the worst CAN happen. Once I start to worry it is only someone in a medical role who can reassure me that all is fine. Being told to stop worrying by well wishers only adds fuel to my anxieties.

Friends of mine who have had pregnancies after the loss of a child have experienced  huge anxiety. They too know that the worst CAN happen. People congratulate them and tell them to stop worrying as this pregnancy will be fine. They know that there are no guarantees. People talk about the odds of something happening again. They gain no comfort in odds knowing that someone has to be the one in however many.  Every trip to the maternity hospital takes them back to their bad news day. Thankfully maternity hospitals don’t just unhelpfully tell them to stop worrying but recognise their anxieties and their extra need for reassurance.

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I hope that one day my worries will lessen. I hope that one day I’ll stop visualising the police knocking on my door any day Conor’s Daddy is late home. In the meantime I’m finding ways to give my poor anxious mind a break for a while. I am trying meditation (I’m still a bit of a cynical novice) and gentle distraction (reading and of course baking). Now where’s my next recipe…..

*Top Tips

https://www.nigella.com/recipes/yule-log

This is the recipe I used. I spotted a link to it over Christmas. I think it works well all year round. It’s already very sweet so don’t even think about swapping dark chocolate for milk chocolate.

 

Mother’s Day

This Sunday is Mother’s Day in Ireland and the UK. It’s a celebration of Motherhood but has become another survival day in the calendar for the bereaved. This year I’ve been receiving reminders of the day everywhere. The baking pages I follow on social media have features on cakes. The hotels I’ve stayed at have emailed overnight deals. I can’t walk down the high street without witnessing floral window displays. I’ve sent my mother a generic card with my own message because I could not bring myself to shop for a Mother’s Day card.

Mother’s Day is another trigger in a world of “what should be”. There should be a one year old leaving inky fingerprints on a card bought by his Daddy. There should be hugs and kisses. Instead there are empty arms and broken hearts. This is our second Mother’s Day since Conor died and it already feels more of a challenge than last year. The loss of a child is for life and the triggers continue to hurt.

Recently someone told me she knows a mother who also lost a baby at term due to a sudden stillbirth. She said it’s this mother’s second child. She then said it would be worse for her as having another child she knows what she’s lost. This comment has offended and upset me deeply. The loss of any child is huge, whether it’s the couple’s first, 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc. Those of us who have lost our first child don’t need to have experienced raising another child to know what we’re missing. Our empty arms ache for the child we once carried. We also grieve our dreams of parenthood. None of us know if we’ll ever get the chance to parent a live child.

I made these lemon cupcakes for friends of mine. They loved the lemon butter icing. It’s made by simply mixing lemon juice with butter and icing sugar. I really loved doing the finishing touches to make the cakes look pretty. I’d like to dedicate these floral cakes to all bereaved mothers this Mother’s Day but especially to all those who know my empty arms. We are still mothers and our role is worthy of being celebrated too. Bon appetite….

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Just Conor

After months of writing about Conor it feels right to introduce you to my amazing son…

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Every parent thinks their baby is the most beautiful but “Beautiful” is the word most use when I show people my favourite photo of Conor. He had an absolutely beautiful little face. His profile was identical to his Daddy’s. I can still picture Conor as I watch his Daddy sleep. Here is Conor in the first baby grow ever bought for him after his 20 week scan. He was affectionately known as Junior during his 41 weeks and this is written on his clothes and hat. (The hat which is 3 sizes too big for him!) Conor had a most perfect little body and the softest hands. Sadly we’ll never know what colour eyes he had. This photo was taken during the short time we had to say both hello and goodbye to Conor.

I miss my little boy and the life he should be having so much. My empty arms ache for him. He is the first person I think about as I wake up and the last as I go to sleep. This photo is the face I see in my thoughts. Part of me died with Conor and I miss that person too. Somehow after Conor died the rest of me kept breathing. As time goes on it is getting easier to live my new life. The sadness never goes away though.

However it is Conor’s little life and not just his death that has changed me. I have a discovered a courage and a voice I never knew I had. It is something I have observed in parents of living children who would do anything for their children. My new voice will do anything to keep the memory of Conor and others who are sadly no longer with us (my dear Dad), alive. They can live on forever in our hearts and minds. I believe it can be Conor’s life’s legacy that one by one the bereaved will find their voices.

To my fellow cake lovers, Cakes will return next post. There are lemon cupcakes and a chocolate log to be written about.

 

The Adventures of Christmas Conor

Conor’s Daddy and I are just back from spending Christmas in Budapest. Exploring the sights (and of course tastes) of the city helped us to get through a Christmas that should have been so different. We brought with us candles which we lit to remember Conor, his Grandad John, Conor’s little pals and all those missing from our homes. We also brought our “Christmas Conor” decoration and he ended up on a great big adventure.

There were no cakes baked for Conor this Christmas. There were however a whole new set of Hungarian treats to be tasted. This Chimney Cake was our favourite…

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The Chimney Cake was sold at market stalls.  Its a sweet yeast bread.  The dough (similar to brioche) is shaped into a long strip and wound around a spindle and cooked over charcoal.  It’s a bit like a BBQ. The cake is coated in sugar and melted butter while cooking.  Once cooked you can pick a flavour to dip it in.  We picked coconut. It’s eaten freshly baked and is delicious.

Budapest is an intriguing city.  It has such a significant recent history.  It regained independence only after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.  While learning about its history it struck me that our generation in Hungary is the first in a long time to know only freedom as adults.  Their children’s generation will have choices and opportunities that their grandparents could only dream about. It’s something those of us in the west have taken for granted.

In my old life I attended a talk by a bereaved mother whose young son had died many years before.  I have never forgotten her describing how difficult she found what would have been his 18th birthday.  Up until this point she had pictured him in a uniform attending their local school.  Once she reached what should have been his adulthood she had no idea how to picture what he would have been doing.

This trip to Budapest and taking pictures of Christmas Conor’s adventures has me wondering what Conor would have become and what choices he would have made…

I enjoyed talking the photos of Christmas Conor’s adventures. They provided a welcome distraction from the grief that followed us over to Budapest.  We nearly lost Christmas Conor in the castle moat and like every good mother I rescued him, spat on a tissue and cleaned him up! I now have 17 years to get used to the idea that I will never know what Conor would have or could have been. I know that what’s more important than any career or achievements, would have been that he was happy and loved.