When Joshua arrived 15 months after his sister Sophie, our family felt complete. We had a beautiful daughter and a fabulous son – life felt perfect. As parents Paul and I were both actively engaged with our children, with each of us spending time with them individually on different activities. And often, of course, we were all together. There were four seated at the table, or two at the breakfast bar, two in the back of the car, two playing catch or four of us playing tennis. Our balanced, square-shaped family worked brilliantly.
Family life dramatically changed in 2001 when we received terrible news that Joshua, aged 8, had an inoperable brain tumour. He died just 21 days after diagnosis. Our lives were turned upside down, our hearts broken and family life as we knew it, shattered.
After Joshua died, it felt like we had been knocked into a very different shape. Sophie, just 9, still needed our love and attention, but it often felt one parent was more than enough and we didn’t want to swamp her. Family life was very painful and hard work. Family occasions and holidays were never the fun-filled, natural celebrations that they once had been. We were broken, with many sharp edges and gaps where our Joshua should be – gaps in our conversations, our plans, our hopes and dreams. Touchlines, cubs, rugby-tackles on the carpet and World Cup stickers were all boy activities we would no longer do. However hard we tried, we felt we didn’t fit anymore with family and friends. The three of us felt more like a triangle. However, we were still a valid shape and we had a strong foundation. We gradually had to accept that new shape and make choices to learn to live with it, build upon it and enjoy it.
13 years on, we can see now how we have grown and our family shape has become a circle. Our lives are fuller, our edges softer and we are more flexible and resilient.
We have chosen to start new traditions, try different activities, make new friends, get a kitten (random, but highly recommended) and replace goal posts with a badminton net.
We have made choices to nurture and parent in other ways – and as a result our family has grown. It is not a conventional family, as it includes a variety of people of different ages and at different stages of life. We now enjoy having a student living with us and we host two different welcome events in our home for newcomers to our church community. We also have many “adopted” children that stay and share their lives with us. From a place where our home-life “hurt”, we have managed to recreate a “family” atmosphere of a different type which is enjoyable, full and of benefit to many others.
We will always be thankful for 8 wonderful years with Joshua and the family shape we once were.
However, through choosing to love and support others, we have developed and experienced new opportunities to be parents and to share our home, as we had loved to do before Joshua died. We’re thankful too that honouring his life and his memory, in many different ways, has helped to re-shape and restore us and gives us permission to live well.