Poem for an August night

The air is heavy.

Thick with humidity,

The scent of over-ripe fruit

And a barbecue.

Summer’s last nights 

Are honey-sticky.

The leaves are already falling,

Worn out by drought.

The apples are red

And insect-marked.

It’s still too hot to

breathe properly,

But Autumn is coming soon.

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July evening

Quarter past 9 at night.

In winter I would be inside,

Hiding in a blanket.

Curtains drawn against the dark.


But it is July.

I sit in the garden,

Watching the clouds turn from 

Pink to orange to peach.

I see bees still working,

While a noisy sparrow flies

Into its roof-nest.


The apples are changing

from green to rosy red.

Roses climb overhead.

Slugs grow fat on juicy grass,

And honeysuckle scent

Bathes in the warm air.

8 July 2021

Rainbow walk for Samuel’s Hospice

I had seen a few adverts for the ‘Rainbow run your own way’, to raise funds for Children’s Hospice South West – the group of hospices that Charlton Farm is part of here in South West England. Charlton Farm is where my son Samuel lived for most of his very short life. It is a wonderful place that cares for children with life-limiting illnesses, and their parents and siblings.

I ignored them at first, telling myself that it was too much effort, and I wouldn’t raise much money anyway… then I saw it advertised again and thought that I could easily walk for 5km, and would rope my kids, parents and in-laws in. I admit that I didn’t feel enthusiastic. I was struggling after Samuel’s second anniversary, and didn’t know if I would be up for any challenges.

To win a medal, you had to raise £15 person that you registered. I thought that I could probably give enough for myself and my two kids to do so. In the end, I signed up 6 of us to our family team.

I set up a Justgiving page, setting my target at £100. That was quite high, but I was trying to be optimistic. I met the £100 target within 24 hours! So I set the new target to £200. The money flooded in. 🙂

Alex Dixon is fundraising for Children’s Hospice South West (justgiving.com)

In the end, I made over £650 including gift aid. And I later found out that I was in JustGiving’s top 20% of fundraisers for the month of June. That’s out of thousands of different Justgiving pages.

I couldn’t believe how generous people are. I am so grateful for everyone who gave – including some people that I don’t know. I guess that it’s personal – people know that my family were helped by the hospice. And I obviously have lovely friends and family.

My team also won the prize for best fancy dress – if you know me well, you will have an idea of how happy that made me.

We did the 5km walk around Stanton Park, which is where Samuel’s memorial tree is. It’s a special place for our family. I thought that a team of 6 was pretty good to do the walk, but people kept asking to join us on the day. We had 23 people and 1 dog on the team. It was fabulous to feel so supported by my family and friends. It was such an enjoyable day, and the weather behaved. Not everyone knew each other before the walk, but they all got on well and it was a great atmosphere.

I am so glad that I decided to sign up for the rainbow run your way. I love Charlton Farm and their amazing staff- and hopefully they will be able to support families like mine for many more years.

May is a difficult month, with it being Samuel’s birthday and anniversary of his death – but this was something positive to focus on.

Thank you everyone who joined in and donated.

Grief never goes away,

never gets smaller.

You never get over it.

It’s not a hill.

Your life as one left behind
Goes on, yes.
Memories are made:
New ones
without your loved one.
Sometimes happy,
Sometimes sad,
Sometimes nothing.

It’s possible to have good days,
Smile,
Enjoy coffee.
It’s possible to keep going,
Be busy,
Be sociable.

But grief,
The price that we pay for love,
Never goes away.

Some people will get it,
Without you having to explain,
Many will understand
Without personal experience.
Others will seem to forget,
Or expect you to
Move on and stop making them uncomfortable.
Some will tell you about how
hard their petty problems are,
And you will try to
sympathise,
But the reality is that they have
no idea.

You will lose some friends
Because they can’t deal with your sorrow.
You will make some new friends
Who love you, scars and all.

We don’t wear all black
Or cry every day,
But still
We grieve.

Grief is not a hill to get over.

It’s a path that lasts a lifetime.

We took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch always takes place in January. It allows the RSPB to assess how wildlife is coping.

https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/everything-you-need-to-know-about-big-garden-birdwatch/

It’s Sunday afternoon, and Bethany and I are sitting in the gazebo in our garden, wrapped up in coats and blankets. We have coffee, hot chocolate and chocolate brownies to hand.


So far, we have only seen two seagulls flying overhead. We also heard a bird’s claws scrambling about on the gazebo roof, but we couldn’t see what it was. We heard a crow in a nearby garden earlier. It’s snowing lightly and very cold.


To stave off boredom, Bethany is now drawing a Robin in pencil in her drawing pad. I have drawn one too. We often get robins in our garden. But not so far today.

I put nuts and birdseed on the grass earlier. They aren’t tempting the birds to our garden yet.

It’s quiet, although we can hear birds calling. I don’t know if we will see any birds this hour. It’s snowing a little.

A flying insect passes nearby. I thought that it was too early in the year for them?

We are probably scaring the birds by being outside, but this is more fun than watching from the warm indoors. It feels like more of an adventure. My feet are getting cold.

A single starling flies past, twirling and showing off. It’s unusual to see one by itself: they are usually in flocks of 20 or more.

The snow is getting a bit heavier now.

There go some seagulls: 1, 2, 3.

I am enjoying sitting outside and looking and listening. It’s peaceful. A silent snowy Sunday afternoon.

We both eat a brownie.

There are some perfect snowdrops at the base of the apple tree. I notice that the apple tree has many buds, waiting patiently for spring.

Hooray! Bethany spots a male blackbird, who quickly flies into the garden and finds a snack near the bushes.

A little brown sparrow pauses for a second on the fence.

That’s it, our hour is up. We spotted only two birds, but had a peaceful time together in the garden watching the snow fall.

National Grief Awareness Week: my story

Care for the family, who have a bereaved parents’ group, lead by the lovely Mike and Kath, spoke to me about my experience as a pregnant Mum who knew that her baby would die, and grief after your child has died.

https://www.careforthefamily.org.uk/bereaved-parents/a-very-short-life

When Samuel died

We knew that Samuel would not live for long. We found out at my ‘normal’ 20 week scan, which happened to be 3 days after Christmas 2018.

We knew that he would never talk, never take his first steps, never start nursery or school.

The cardiologist told us that the average life expectancy for a baby with his congenital heart defect was 2 days. I hoped for a few more, so that he could meet as much family and friends as possible. Of course, any baby can die during labour, so there was that awareness too.

We and other Christians prayed for a miracle,  but myself and Mike both felt that he was never destined for a long life. We would have gladly taken it, of course. Why didn’t God heal our Samuel? Only He knows. I do know that Samuel’s life is just as valuable as someone who has lived to 100, or climbed Mount Everest or became a millionaire. Every single person is loved by God, and that is not dependent on their looks, education or achievements. I do know that thousands of innocent babies and children die around the world every day, from disease, war, poverty, illness, accident, unknown causes and parental choice. So he is definitely not the only child currently chilling in Heaven. I miscarried before Bethany was born, so he has an older brother or sister with him.

When I was about 6 weeks pregnant, and then again at 17 weeks (after completely normal 9 and 12 week ultrasounds that didn’t show any problems); I did hear clearly a male voice in my head saying “There is something seriously wrong with your baby.” I hadn’t been thinking or worrying about my pregnancy at the time either. So I had some warning.

Thankfully we were in a lovely hospice for most of Samuel’s life, called Charlton Farm.

https://www.chsw.org.uk

We had as peaceful and enjoyable a time with him as we could. And it wasn’t just that Samuel’s every need was met. We were looked after as a family too. They were a real blessing, and we will be forever grateful to them.

I remember the last full day of his life, Saturday 11 May 2019. It was the weekend, so Connor and Bethany were with us again, after a few days at school (staying with Mike’s parents.) Being a Saturday, more family were able to visit, which was great. My sister in law, Mary, came to visit us in the morning. My sister, Laura, who had visited from Scotland ‘for just a few days’, more than 2 weeks before, was living at Charlton Farm with us, mostly to look after me as I had had a c-section and was fairly immobile. She was an absolute angel to us all, and I can’t thank her enough for being there for us. My brother Vince, and his fiance Anna visited us that afternoon. So Samuel was blessed to have all of his aunties around him on his last well day.

We went for a walk up to see the horses on the farm at the top of the steep hill with Mary and Thalia (Samuel’s nurse for the day), that morning. It was a warm sunny day. The kids played on the very posh private school nearby’s outdoor play equipment. We noticed that Samuel was struggling to poo, which is a sigh that we had been warned about. It was because his heart was failing, and the digestive system is the first thing that struggles to work due to reduced oxygen. He could still breathe fine on his own and wasn’t in any pain.

That afternoon, Vince and Anna arrived. We had a lovely time sitting in the garden while Samuel slept in his pushchair or was held by everyone in turn, and Bethany played in the nearby sandpit. Everything felt so relaxed and happy. I thought at the time that this was going to be a happy memory to cherish. You don’t always know what you will remember, but I just knew this time. Samuel was ok, if sleepy and not hungry. The exact opposite of his brother at that age!

We knew that his time was probably coming to an end, but didn’t know how long it would take. And there is always hope that you will be given a few more hours and days.

That evening as Mike and I watched a film, strangely I can’t remember what it was, we could see that Samuel was starting to physically deteriorate. He was still comfortable and didn’t need any interventions, but one of the hospice’s regular doctors made the effort to came to check on him anyway at about 11pm, long after she had gone home for the day. A trick of his was to creak at you almost like he was trying to communicate. He was also a surprisingly alert baby who stared at people as though working you out. He got more creaky and more pale. We felt calm, but there was sadness as we knew that we would have to face his death soon.

We told the two nurses on night duty to wake us up if there was any concern about his health. I was downstairs in his room, as the trip to the bedrooms upstairs was too tiring and I wanted to be near to Samuel at night. My sister was in the next bedroom. At about 2am, nurse Sophie woke me up to say that they had tried a little medicine, but he was quite poorly. I had a cuddle, and after a while he picked up a bit. About an hour later, they asked if they should wake Mike and the kids, as Samuel was struggling. I agreed, and soon Mike, Connor, Bethany and Laura came into the room. He was very pale and we told the kids that he was going to die soon. The nurses had given him some medication to make him more comfortable. We had some cuddles, and all said goodbye to him. He was in my arms as I sat in bed when he died. It was all so calm and quiet. I think that he had the best death that anyone could hope for.

At about 4am, we had said our goodbyes and the nurses made us all a hot chocolate while we sat in the nurses’ station where Samuel had spent many nights in a nurse’s or my arms. There are sofas and a big window. We watched the sun come up.

Samuel had a happy life and a peaceful death. He was hardly ever in a cot or pushchair as everyone fought over cuddling him. He made such a big impact on our and many other people’s lives in his 11 days on Earth.

We are sad, and sometimes angry; and it is incredibly unfair. We will never stop grieving our son. But what happy memories we have with him. He has helped me to think about life differently: about what is really important.

My 5th cancerversary

The 5th cancerversary is a big milestone for survivors. And 5 is a big number, definitely. Sadly it doesn’t mean that it will never come back. Cancer can hide in your cells, even spread to many parts of your body, even decades after treatment for the primary cancer has finished. But, of course I am grateful to be well now, and happy to have been around for those extra years with my family.

This year, the whole world decided to join in with the chemo feelings of social isolation; loneliness; possible loss of income or job; fear of being really sick and dying; lack of control; and general inconvenience. Doesn’t feel great does it?

Strangely, this isolation caused by covid 19 has helped me to feel less isolated. Because we are all in this situation together, my family has not been singled out for a change. That feels much more manageable. We’ve got it a lot easier in fact, than many people do. We are not NHS or key workers. All we have to do is stay home. Thankfully, so far none of my friends or family has caught the virus.

When I received the unexpected shielding letter from my hospital last week, I was not as relaxed about it. I have had a few random health problems over the last few years, including an awful cough and breathing problems caused by a chest infection that didn’t heal for 6 months. But I suppose that it’s the chemo that got me on the list.

So, once again, the shadow of cancer hangs over me, meaning that I am again seen as a vulnerable person. I have been put into the ‘poorly person’ box  again, and I don’t like it at all. I think that the biggest problem is one of identity. I am Alex. I am not a cancer victim. I am not my illness. I needed to remind myself that the letter doesn’t change this. They are, in fact, looking out for me. That’s a good thing, that the NHS cares about little old me.

The other issue is one of control. I have been in uncontrollable  situations many times, so have learned this lesson before. But I guess it’s a lesson that needs to be learned again. Strangely, there is so much strength from admitting weakness, by realising that there are very few situations where you are actually fully in control. Nobody is always strong.

That’s the advantage of having faith in a God so much stronger and wiser than me. I don’t need to pretend to myself and others that I am god of my own life. Because I’m not. I didn’t choose when or how I was born, and I won’t choose when or how I die. I have found a peace in that.

For now, I am enjoying my lovely house; garden full of new life; and family who I get to spend more time with.

I will never be grateful that I had cancer, but I am here, I got through it. And if that isn’t a good reason to eat chocolate cake, I don’t know what is.