#WearItOut

On Friday 3 March, exactly one month today, will you wear a bandana and join me in supporting The Brain Tumour Charity’s #WearItOut campaign? Our united community will come together to raise awareness and vital funds for research into brain tumours – all while rocking a bandana! It’s especially poignant for me this year as the date falls just after the first anniversary of losing Michael, and I’d love it if everyone who knew and loved Michael, or who has come to know our story from my blog or Instagram, will don a bandana and make a stand with me on 3 March.

This is a statistic I often quote, but in the UK less than 2% of cancer research funding is spent on research into brain tumours. For the 10,600 people diagnosed each year, this isn’t good enough. You can help us change this. The Brain Tumour Charity aims to raise £150k throughout Brain Tumour Awareness Month in March, which could fund 600 days of research.

This year, the theme of the campaign is to Make your own bandana, Buy one or Use one you already have, so it couldn’t be easier to join in! I’ve been making a mountain of bandanas which I will be selling in my Etsy shop to support the campaign, and donating 100% of profits to The Brain Tumour Charity: The Michael Barry Fund. I’ll also be encouraging all of my creative pals to make your own or style up something you already have! Read on for more ideas of how you can get involved later in this post.

Whatever you do, make sure to wear your bandana loud and proud on the 3 March and get people talking about brain tumours. Post a selfie on social media using the hashtag #WearItOut, or wear one to work, to the post office or the supermarket and tell everyone about the campaign! Keep your eye on my Instagram feed as on 3 March I’ll be giving away a few Tip Top prizes for the best bandana pictures you share!

If you choose to make your own bandana or style something you already have, I’d love it if you could make a small donation to support the campaign by texting TMBF81 £5 to 70070 to donate £5 to The Brain Tumour Charity: The Michael Barry Fund, or make a donation here.

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To kick things off, with a bit of digging I’ve managed to find an excellent snap of Michael in a bandana to inspire us all. So here he is rocking a bandana at a festival! I think this was taken the summer before I met Michael, so I’m guessing it was at Truck or Reading? Always with his polo shirt buttoned up!

Buy it

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I’ve made a whole batch of fun and colourful bandanas which are now up for sale in my Etsy shop. I’ve made two varieties, either with a wire to easily twist and wear in your hair, or without a wire so you can tie it in your hair, around your neck, on your bag, around the brim of your hat, around your wrist – whatever you can think of! They are a slim design, equivalent to a traditional square bandana which has been rolled up, as I find this easy to style!

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I’ve used bright colours and bold prints, all in crisp 100% cotton, and every bandana is a one off. Each bandana is finished with a woven label reading #WEARITOUT in support of the campaign. I’ve made some in shades of red and turquoise, which are the colours of The Brain Tumour Charity. I even managed to find a beautiful Liberty Tana Lawn in a print named after the Olympic Diver Tom Daley, who is a patron of the Charity, which is available in the Charity’s colours, so I had to use it!

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You could also head to The Brain Tumour Charity’s online shop to buy one of the Charity’s bandanas. There are two designs to choose from!

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Make it

Why not unlock your creative talent and design your own bandana? The possibilities are endless! I’ll be posting tutorials here in the coming weeks for how to make a simple square bandana, or how to make a wired twist tie bandana like the ones I have for sale in my Etsy shop. And I’d love to see how you guys interpret the concept. Basically, as long as it’s something you can tie around your hair or your neck, anything goes in my book! So why not knit your own, crochet something, make one out of pom poms, upcycle an old tea towel or cushion cover? Here’s one I whipped up by making a patchwork out of scraps of fabric from each of the dresses I have made!

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You could take a bandana or scarf you already have and jazz it up, maybe add a fun trim like the pom pom border below, or cover it in glitter! You could even just take a plain bandana, handkerchief or square of fabric, grab a sharpie and use your design skills to doodle something fun!

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And if you’re looking for more inspiration, there are fun tutorials on The Brain Tumour Charity’s website to make the designs below, or you can apply for a free fundraising pack which includes stencils and other ideas of how to make your own!

If you do make your own, don’t forget to share a picture using the hashtag #WearItOut, and text TMBF81 £5 to 70070 to donate £5 to The Brain Tumour Charity: The Michael Barry Fund, or make a donation here.

Use it

Why not look in the back of your wardrobe and wear a bandana that you already have? It’s the perfect way to get involved this Brain Tumour Awareness Month and look great doing it! If you’re anything like me and have a hoarded collection of vintage scarves, now’s the perfect time to show them off, and I’d love to see how you style yours! I tried styling a quirky lipstick print scarf Michael gave me for Christmas a few years ago.

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If you choose to wear your own, don’t forget to share a picture using the hashtag #WearItOut, and why not text TMBF81 £5 to 70070 to donate £5 to The Brain Tumour Charity: The Michael Barry Fund, or make a donation here.

I’m really excited about this campaign as it’s so easy to get involved. I can’t wait to see how everyone rocks their bandanas! Thank you for your support!

Lucy x

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Finding my feet

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If grief is the negative image of love and if it hurts just as much as it was worth then pain is a form of remembering” – author Julian Barnes, in conversation with Robert Peston.

This is a post I’ve been wanting to share for some time but I wasn’t quite sure how, or even if, I should write it. I hesitated as although I have written about loss and grief before, I have tried to do so in a positive voice, because I believe that is the best way I can honour Michael. This is a lot more honest and personal than anything else I have written and I’m not sure if this is something anyone will want to read, but I feel it is important for me to write this now, partly because I find writing so therapeutic and also because I am learning that modern society is horrendous at dealing with bereavement, especially in younger people, and if we don’t talk about it that will never change. I also often worry that I’ve become so used to being strong and putting on my brave face that I make all this seem easier than it is, or as if I’m coping better than I really am.

Something I am still finding incredibly difficult is having to speak from my perspective alone. Talking about what I feel and what I have lost seems insignificant when the biggest loss of all is Michael’s – the life he should have lived, the years he should have filled with his infectious personality and immense capacity for love. But I know I have to learn to talk in these terms, so here goes.

It’s been just over 7 months since Michael died and somehow I am surviving the days and tentatively taking steps into this new world without him. For anyone, the loss of a partner is life altering. Your entire future disappears; not just the love and companionship of the partner you have lost but also the hopes and dreams for the life you planned together. As we were at a very particular point in our lives when Michael was taken ill where everything we had been planning for was just about to happen, the extent of the loss was magnified.

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Before Michael became ill, we were a young married couple and life was full of possibility. We met in Oxford, fell in love, moved to London together, got married, left London for new jobs in Nottingham, and were desperately saving to buy our first house and move back to my hometown of Newcastle-under-Lyme ready to start a family. Then in January 2014, the day before we were due to sign contracts for the purchase of our first house, Michael had a seizure which led to the discovery of a Grade 3 cancerous brain tumour, and our world was turned upside down.

Above all else Michael needed me and I had to be by his side, and so from that day I did not go back to work. We had to let go of the house we were buying while he focused on getting through surgery, and so we put our dreams on hold. At first we hoped it might just be for a few months while he recovered from the surgery and got through a gruelling course of radiotherapy. Michael and I both loved to plan, and had so far approached our life together with endless enthusiasm and ideas for how to make the most out of each chapter. This was to become an important coping mechanism for us, and so we began to adjust.

We took the leap of moving Michael’s care from Nottingham to Newcastle-under-Lyme so that we could still relocate as planned. We moved into a small rental property close to the hospital so we could easily walk to his treatment sessions each day. We unpacked our new home, filling it with happiness and colour. We embraced all of the extra time we now had together, even if it was mostly spent either at home while Michael rested or on tentative trips venturing little further than our own postcode. We scaled back our dreams and looked at smaller houses we might buy once he got through the treatment and we could both gradually go back to work. We talked about new careers and options, trying to embrace the silver lining of this life altering change, and we clung on to hope.

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But the treatment didn’t work and the side effects made Michael incredibly poorly, so a few months turned into a year, with more surgery and chemotherapy planned. Again we tried to adapt to the change. We moved to another rental house within walking distance of my parents, family and oldest friends so we had the support we needed on our doorstep. We stopped talking about buying houses or trying new careers because it all seemed too painful, but the dreams were still there in our hearts and our secret shared Pinterest boards. We cherished every moment and tried to continue making the best of the time we had. And we hoped.

At the beginning of 2016 Michael became more unwell and we were told there was nothing more we could do. Seven weeks later I lost the love of my life, the other half of my whole. Suddenly there was no more hope because we couldn’t save him, and there was never going to be a silver lining.

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I moved out of our rented house and back home with my parents, not just out of necessity but also choice. I am fortunate to be incredibly close with my parents and they were by our side every step of the way from the moment Michael was first taken ill, so it was a natural decision. I don’t want to live alone now and I couldn’t function without my Mum and Dad’s love and support, and their loss was just as significant as they loved Michael deeply, so now we look after each other while we find our way in these dark days. I decided to take some time out rather than trying to go back to my previous career, largely because I was a Solicitor specialising in preparing Wills and dealing with the administration of estates when someone dies, which I obviously couldn’t face now. My job also feels like part of a life that doesn’t really belong to me anymore.

Despite not working, in the months that have passed I have kept myself busy. I packed up and moved out of our house, dealt with all of the painful practicalities of loss and decorated and settled into my bedroom at my new/old home with my Mum & Dad. I discovered some artists’ studios available in Stoke and, feeling like trying something new, I signed up for a creative space to share with my Mum. I set up our beautiful studio with the hope that once I feel ready we might start hosting fun creative workshops in the space, but until then as a place to take time out from the world and heal. I’ve learned dressmaking and made 36 dresses and 2 jumpsuits, and started to learn pattern drafting with a view to potentially selling the dresses I make.

Most significantly, I have set up a fund with The Brain Tumour Charity in Michael’s name to raise money for brain tumour research which is drastically underfunded and has little public awareness, then created and launched a range of fundraising products inspired by my Michael, organised a fundraising auction, and took part in two wonderfully successful fundraising events organised by Michael’s friends, so that in total we have already raised over £10,000. So you could say I’ve been busy, and all at a time when I am in the murky depths of grief and it takes most of my energy just to get out of bed each morning.

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I’m not saying any of this to blow my own trumpet, but more as a small acknowledgement of what I have achieved at the hardest time in my life, and I guess a justification for why I haven’t just gone back to work. I know that my life is different to most people my age (29, in case you were wondering). I knew it would be from the moment a doctor in A&E took me into a side room to show me the MRI scan revealing a brain tumour. I’ve experienced the extremes of life in a way most people will, fortunately, never understand and I am a very different person because of it. To borrow from the brilliant writer Nora McInerny Purmort (who I have raved about before as everything she has written about her own loss has helped me immensely):

Yes you are thankful that you had it at all, that you were loved and seen, that you lived your vows fully, that you witnessed life and suffering and death while all your peers were like, I don’t know what you were doing but probably just something more normal and sometimes hi I hate you for that I can’t help it I’m sorry I’m in therapy. Sad isn’t the right word. It’s bigger than that, so much bigger.

So now I’m trying to learn how to acknowledge the difference, and try to cope with the anger and jealousy I often feel for anyone who gets to live the life I should have had. What I wanted was a calm but happy life, with a husband and a family, a decent job, a nice house. That is not going to be my life now. There are no more rules to follow and it’s time for me to tentatively start treading my own path. I am determined that Michael’s legacy will be what shapes my life rather than ruins it. I am fighting every day to try and establish an existence holding on to what I can from our plans for our life together, in so far as is possible now I have to go it alone. And most importantly I have a huge responsibility of living for the both of us now. That’s what helps me to take on each day even when it all feels too much.

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Whilst I am starting to rebuild my life, I am not trying to “move on”. I am learning that Michael’s death isn’t something I will ever get over, and nor should I, and that grief for the loss of my soulmate will become part of who I am just as much as his love is.

When you lose someone, you are often routinely offered platitudes and clichéd phrases about time being a healer and how someday you will move on. In most cases such comments are well meaning and really no-one’s fault – as a society we are terrible at talking about grief, and most of us instinctively want to say something cheering and positive in the face of sadness. Yet I have found this approach to be unhelpful and incredibly difficult when you are talking to someone who is bereaved. You cannot fix the problem or cure their grief and chances are they don’t want you to. Michael and I loved each other so intensely that it would be completely wrong for me to do anything other than feel this pain. What I need is for people to just be there experiencing it with me, and trusting me to let it shape the type of person I want to become. You don’t have to make it better. You just have to be there, and not look away. The best anyone can do is to show up, sometimes to help me to escape it or other times to just be at my side in the darkness. As Megan Devine wrote in the Huffington Post, “when we don’t see grief as a problem to be solved, but instead as an experience to be supported, loved, and witnessed — then we can really talk about what helps.

So what comes next? Right now, I’m just trying to take my time, and every day is still a challenge. I know that I can’t yet give all of my creative ideas for the future quite the attention they deserve, so for now our studio will continue to be a place to while away a calm and peaceful afternoon at the sewing machine, and hope that perhaps next year I might be ready to give it a go. I’m also having a bit of a love/hate relationship with the internet at times. You all know how much I love the Instagram community as I’ve gained so much friendship and support from it, but it can be intense, overwhelming and hard to keep up with, so I’m working on finding a better balance.

I’m also  going to be taking a little bit of a slower pace with fundraising for The Michael Barry Fund over the next few months. Setting everything up and turning my initial fundraising ideas into a reality has taken a lot of energy. Whilst the charity work is incredibly important to me and something I am making a lifelong commitment to, and a huge part of what has saved me these past few months, I’m realising that I also need to take a little more time to figure out my own life in the midst of it all. But I have so many more ideas up my sleeve once I’ve had a little rest, and I know our friends and family will be keeping up the sterling fundraising in the meantime. I’ll also be continuing to sell my Tip Top wares through Etsy and occasionally in real life too.

I’m sure this has been an incredibly heavy going read, and I know that my little blog is usually a place where people might like to stumble upon pretty pictures of dresses I’ve made. But writing about Michael and our story, both the magnificence of the love we shared and the horror of the illness which took him from me, is really an inseparable part of all this. It’s the reason I’m writing this blog and trying something new rather than sitting behind a desk in my old life, and I hope this gives a little more context and understanding, so please indulge the interruption.

Lucy x

A sort of Book Review: It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too)

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The internet can be a wonderful thing in leading you to stories of those people who have walked a similar path, like this new book by Nora McInerny Purmort. This is a little different from what I usually post here as I haven’t written a book review before, and this really isn’t a “proper” review but more of an opportunity to talk about a very poignant book.

Lately I’ve been battling a tidal wave of feelings as some of the numbness of the first few months without Michael has started to wear off. Whilst I’m filling my days with making fundraising plans, setting up the new studio and sewing colourful dresses, I’m feeling everything in new ways, especially late at night when everything is usually amplified. I don’t imagine this is unusual at this stage, and it is also good since I know I need to feel all of this and let the grief come out because that’s how much I love him and that’s how much I miss him.

On one of my “I can’t sleep so I’ll scroll through Instagram until the early hours” nights, I stumbled upon a quote posted on Emily McDowell’s feed taken from the introduction to a new book called It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too). It read that the book was intended “for people who had their life turned upside down and just learned to live that way. For people who have laughed at a funeral or cried in a grocery store.” I have done both, so I clicked through to read more and discovered that the author and I have something very tragic in common – she is a young widow who lost her husband Aaron to brain cancer, and has written an inspirational memoir about their love and her loss. I bought the book immediately and on my next sleepless night I started to read. Two days later I’d finished it. I laughed, I cried, I sobbed, and somehow this book helped me to start putting the feelings that are engulfing me into some sort of order by saying all the things I was trying to.

Whilst I have been open about many aspects of my life and loss on this little corner of the internet, I find it hard to talk about the difficult parts and so choose to focus on writing about trying to be positive and keep living in the wake of tragedy. The difficult parts are however very present and very real. So to discover that someone has been brave enough to write about her own very similar experiences from a sincere yet positive perspective, and to have done it with such dignity showing complete love and respect to her husband, her son and their story, has been so helpful to me.

I’m struggling with adjectives here because it feels uncomfortable to say a book about such personal loss is “incredible” or a “must read”, but it is so beautifully and honestly written from such a fresh and modern perspective that it needs a fiercely complimentary adjective. The author writes openly about love, life and loss, and does it all with a sense of humour and balance which makes this book poignant to some yet accessible to everyone, mixing in anecdotes from her life to give context and meaning. It is very much about the tragedy the author has lived through and she tells their story in such a way that you feel as though you experienced it all too, yet she carefully avoids going into much medical detail or telling too many stories of cancer and hospitals. She also talks freely about the way tragedy changes not just your life but also your relationships with others, with a reflective and insightful awareness of her own interactions with friends and family, all of which has helped me greatly. She does all of this with warmth and wit, and by the end feels like a close friend who you’ve shared a bottle of wine with whilst talking about your lives. Although obviously our stories are different and I am not trying to compare, there are some inescapable similarities, from diagnosis following an out-of-the-blue seizure to twice brain surgery, chemo and radiotherapy, as well as showing inspirational strength and positivity in the face of illness to keep living how he wanted. Because of this, I wish I could send a copy of the book to everyone in my life to help them understand what it’s really been like to have lived through the past few years, yet somehow have coped.

What I like best about this book is that it is a love story, and one that I am proud to say I can relate to in so many ways. If we put cancer to one side, so much of what the author is writing about is meeting someone wonderful where love suddenly becomes easy, who loves you for who you are and yet makes you a better person, and who shows you that life can be happy and full no matter what happens if you are open to it and work at it. It’s also about losing that person, and being equal parts a crumbling mess and a picture of strength because you loved so hard and so deeply that you can’t be anything else.

Since losing her husband a year and a half ago, the author Nora has not only written this book, but she has also set up a non-profit called Still Kickin raising money through sales of t-shirts and apparel which goes to help a new “hero” each month who has been dealt a crappy hand in life, and founded the Hot Young Widows Club (whose name is intentionally uncomfortable). The club is described as being “for the group of women, larger than you know, who go through life everyday carrying along the ghosts of the life they had and the life they almost did” and is intended both to get people talking about the uncomfortable topic of grief and bereavement at a young age, and to support all of the members who never wanted to be members but life had other ideas. She is extremely inspirational, and just reading her story has already given me so much more energy and drive to try and make a difference in my own small way through The Michael Barry Fund for The Brain Tumour Charity.

So, I wanted to take the opportunity to say how grateful I am to the author for sharing her story, and to tell everyone to GO READ THIS BOOK!

(And if you’d like to read more about the author’s story, there was an excellent piece in The Guardian recently to promote the book, and I’d highly recommend taking a read.)

Lucy x

#growsunflowersformichael – June Update

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I’m so happy that so many of you are taking part in the #growsunflowersformichael challenge, and the hashtag is filling up nicely! Thank you to everyone who has joined in and shared pictures! I’ve also created a Facebook page for the challenge here, so if you’re a Facebook person please give it a like and share your pictures there too.

I thought I would share a little round up of everyone’s pictures so far, and also show you some of the beautiful bespoke sunflower gifts I’ve received from my lovely Instagram friends recently. I’ve said it before, but I’m so grateful to have found such a lovely and talented community on Instagram. You’re the best!

First off, here are some progress shots of my sunflowers, which are looking mighty good if I do say so myself!

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Since planting the sunflowers out in the area of the garden we have designated as “Sunflower Parade”, I’m trying to remember to take a picture on my phone each week to track the change in height, and they are certainly starting to shoot up. The 3 in the centre are different giant varieties (Pike’s Peak, Kong and Giant) and they are certainly living up to their name. I’m also growing a couple of red sunflowers which are keeping up with the giant varieties so far, so it’s anyone’s race! They’ve all now graduated from barbecue skewers to proper supports, which in time will have to be upgraded to taller and stockier bamboo sticks.

And here are some of the lovely pictures you’ve all been sharing on the hashtag:

It makes my day each time a new picture pops up on the hashtag, and I’ve also been lucky enough to receive some very special sunflower happy mail over the past few weeks.

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The lovely Emma of Fairytale Collars made me this amazing bespoke sunflower collar. It was such an incredible surprise! The design is so detailed and I love wearing it. I’m a big fan of Emma’s gorgeous collars which have taken Instagram by storm over the past year. It’s always exciting to see when someone comes up with a unique product idea and Emma has created the perfect brand and is constantly coming up with cute new designs, so it was a real privilege to know Emma made this one especially for me. Thank you so much lovely!

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I first discovered Zabby Allen’s super stylish and colourful instagram and blog through Lucky Dip Club. She’s a crafty queen and amongst lots of other things is the editor of the Lucky Dip Club magazine Girl Planet, which is one of my favourite parts of the LDC boxes this year. Zabby recently surprised me with a set of personalised “M & L” sunflower prints, which are beyond perfect. I love the bright retro colours and design, and I know Michael would have loved these too as he was a sucker for a good piece of wall art and had a real appreciation for great design. They are now taking pride of place on the wall in my new studio (which I will share more of soon!) and making me smile every time I look up from my desk. I’m the absolute worst at taking photos of things in frames, so these pictures really don’t do justice to Zabby’s incredible design. Lesson learned – take a picture before framing next time! Thank you so much Zabby!

Thanks for reading and please keep sharing your pictures using #growsunflowersformichael – I love seeing them!

Lucy x

#growsunflowersformichael

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Today marks 2 months since we lost Michael. As time starts to pass I have been thinking a lot about his legacy and how to keep his spirit going in everything I do.

I’m going to start a sunflower growing challenge in his memory using the hashtag #growsunflowersformichael and I’m hoping you might join in! Sunflowers were Michael’s favourite flower as they are so cheerful and uplifting. They are also the perfect representation of his positivity and courage – I found a quote on Pinterest recently which read “I want to be a sunflower so that even on the darkest days I will stand tall & find the sunlight”, and this is exactly what Michael did.

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Michael loved gardening and it was a hobby and passion we shared together. When we left London in 2012 and moved to Nottingham, we rented a huge 1930s house with a beautiful but slightly wild garden. As with everything he did, Michael approached the garden with a boundless enthusiasm and soon had a vegetable patch cleared and dug over and a greenhouse full of seeds ready to plant. In every house we moved to after that, Michael’s first priority was always to plan the garden. He was happiest with his hands in the soil and dirt on his nose.

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By and large, Michael grew vegetables and I grew flowers, but there was one exception to this – sunflowers. He loved sunflowers, and last year we made a dedicated border to grow as many as we could. When Gardeners’ World gave away some free sunflower seeds last summer, we applied and received a few extra varieties giving us an abundance of seeds. Seizing on this opportunity, we popped some in the post to Michael’s Grandad (from who he inherited his love of gardening) and started a competition to see who could grow the tallest sunflower. We thought we would likely be at a disadvantage due to our more northerly climate, but Michael was determined to win. Our tallest sunflower was 9 foot 3! It was great fun and a lovely way for Michael and his Grandad to connect.

Michael had ambitious plans to grow even more varieties this summer, and so now I intend to carry them out and do him proud. Since he enjoyed our sunflower growing competition so much, I thought it might be fun to turn it into an annual event. To start with, I gave out packets of sunflower seeds at Michael’s funeral to carry on the competition and encourage all of his friends and family to grow sunflowers in his memory. My aim is for everyone who knew and loved Michael to always think of him and smile whenever they see a sunflower. As all of my IG friends and lovely blog readers have been so kind and supportive, I’d like to open it up and see if anyone else might like to take part?

The idea is simple – buy a packet of sunflower seeds, plant them, look after them, and see if you can grow the tallest! And I’d love it if everyone who would like to take part in the challenge could use the hashtag #growsunflowersformichael to share their progress on Instagram. It would be so wonderful if we could use the hashtag to create a virtual field of sunflowers, all grown for Michael.

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I’m also very willing to share some of the wide variety of seeds we have collected, so if you would like to take part but don’t have any sunflower seeds to grow you can drop me an email at smileandmake@gmail.com with your name and address and I will pop a few seeds in the post to you.

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Happy growing, and may the best sunflower win!

[Sunflower brooch by Hello Sunshine]

Lucy x

 

Keep Going

Michael

I’ve been writing this post in my head for a little while now and it feels like the right time to share some of my thoughts.

I lost my husband and the love of my life in February at the age of only 35. Michael was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour 2 years ago and after bravely facing many rounds of surgery and treatment, ultimately his condition could not be cured and became more aggressive. He was my entire world and without him I am only half of a whole.

The bravery and strength Michael showed throughout his illness was truly inspirational, and I am so proud of my incredible husband. He refused to be defined by his illness and to let anything stop him from living his life as he wanted, and even on the hardest of days he always made me smile. He lit up a room and his energy, enthusiasm and sense of fun were infectious. It is simply impossible to think about Michael without smiling as he gave us all so many happy memories. I have been lucky to hear so many wonderful tributes to Michael from those who knew and loved him, and the common theme is always that our lives are richer for having Michael in them as he was the kind of guy who brought people together, made every moment more special and brought out the best in all of us.

Wedding

The loss I am feeling is devastating and I simply don’t know what to do without him. We had so many plans to achieve our hopes and dreams, and I am adjusting to the reality of losing my husband and the life we dreamed of. But whilst our time together was too short and we should have shared our entire lives, I know how rare it is to love someone as completely as Michael and I loved each other and I am grateful for every moment we had together. And so now what I want most of all is to carry on living the way we planned, and to do it for both of us. These are the darkest of days for me, but I must keep going for Michael.

I have written before about how despite Michael’s diagnosis we both chose to live positively and this is something I hope to continue. For me, part of that was being creative, engaging in the wonderful community I have discovered on Instagram, and by starting this blog. I used to be a solicitor, but put my career on hold when Michael was diagnosed to care for him as I didn’t want to miss a moment by his side. Whilst things like sewing and taking part in social media might seem trivial, they provided a positive distraction at a time when we were transitioning to a different pace of life, and provided an outlet so that I could stay strong and positive for Michael and be everything that he needed me to be and a little bit more besides.

When Michael’s illness became worse at the beginning of January, I put all of this to one side as it just didn’t feel right and I needed to focus on caring for my husband, but Michael wanted me to carry on.  It will come as no surprise to those who knew Michael that his priority was still to look after me and make sure I was happy even when he was so poorly, as kindness and love always poured out of him and he was the most loving husband I could ever have wished for. With his encouragement I actually made a few dresses back in January in the times while he was resting, and I started sewing again recently and it has been a wonderful therapy and distraction. He also told me how much he liked that I shared snapshots of our life on Instagram and my blog and wanted me to keep doing this, so I promised that I would try and carry on as soon as I felt brave enough, and now I am doing it for Michael. My posts may be a little sporadic for a while as I find my feet in this new reality, and I will not always feel strong enough to fully engage through comments etc. as sometimes I struggle to find the right words, but I will be trying.

Lucy and Michael - engagement shoot

And so now I thought I would share some of the small ways I am already trying to continue living positively for Michael:

  • Talking about Michael, because as I said before you just cannot think of Michael without a smile creeping in. To start with, I have printed mountains of photos ready to be scrapbooked, and I am planning blog posts about his amazing lego creations. I have so many stories to tell and photos to share.
  • Trying to be more like Michael and to live by his example, whether that means channelling his irrepressible sense of humour, his shining enthusiasm and dedication to everything he did, his kindness and generosity, or some of his bravery and courage even in the darkest of times.
  • Continuing to find small ways to stay happy, sometimes by losing myself in therapeutic sewing and making, and by carrying on the hobbies Michael and I shared such as gardening. We planted an olive tree yesterday in Michael’s memory in our garden, and I have also chosen a new rose for my rose border called “Bright Smile” as the name just sums him up. I have also redecorated my bedroom which was a helpful distraction, and plan to share a room tour soon.
  • Taking the time to give something back, both through fundraising for the charities who have given us so much support and through fighting to protect and improve the NHS. My best friend Jo has already raised over £9,000 for Douglas Macmillan Hospice through some incredible fundraising. Jo is currently the associate choreographer on the tour of the brilliant musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and while the show was in Stoke the cast held collections after every performance for Douglas Macmillan in memory of Michael, and the stars of the show posed for pictures in exchange for donations. They all went above and beyond to raise money for an incredibly important charity, who gave us so much support throughout Michael’s illness and supported me in caring for Michael at home. The amount they have raised is so inspiring, and I hope to continue to support Douglas Macmillan and other charities who have helped us, and I already have lots of ideas!

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I would also like to take a moment to say a few thank yous. Firstly to my wonderful parents for their unwavering love and support and for never leaving my side. They have been there for Michael and I through every step, and there are truly no words to say how completely incredible they have been and how lucky I am to have them. To my brother and sister-in-law for constantly shooting up and down the motorway to visit and give me huge hugs, for always listening and helping us through, and for keeping me in supply of chocolate! To my friends and family for making me feel completely surrounded by love, and for making sure I keep going and keep living. And finally to all of the lovely friends I have made through Instagram who have sent me messages and comments – I have read every one even if I haven’t always managed to respond, and I am so grateful for all of your support.

Lucy x

Choose Happy: How to stay positive when life gets tough

My guy

I’m sharing a more personal post today on how to stay positive and keep happy in challenging times. Last year my lovely husband Michael was diagnosed with a brain tumour and after two years of fighting he is still going through treatment, and is currently in the middle of a course of chemotherapy. I have taken a break from my career to care for him and life has been on pause for us while we focus on his treatment. This isn’t something I have chosen to share previously on my little corner of the internet as I have in general used my blog and Instagram feed as a place to share the happy times. I am incredibly proud of my wonderful husband and his positive approach to life is inspiring, and so I decided to share how we manage to keep going and stay positive even when life is hard.

I am a firm believer that happiness is a choice, no matter what life throws at you. When Michael first received his diagnosis our world was in chaos but we didn’t want to just feel sad all of the time. So every day, we wake up and choose to be happy. Some days this is easier than others, and some days it is just plain impossible, but we always try. I’ve come up with 5 tips for how we keep positive and happy, and I hope if you are reading this and life has been tough and unfair then this might help you too. All of the pictures I have included below are snapshots of our daily life from my Instagram feed.

1. Make the everyday special

These days we spend a lot of our time at home. If we are ever feeling a little fed up but Michael isn’t up to getting out and about, I make an extra effort to make everyday things more special. For example, instead of just making a mug of tea, I make a pot of tea with our best china served with biscuits and treats. I serve our drinks in my collection of colourful melamine cups or in mason jars with stripy paper straws and umbrellas to make even a normal drink of squash feel like a fancy cocktail. I set the table for meals using our best cutlery and colourful napkins, or serve cereal in a tea cup with milk in a cute jug or bottle on the side. It helps to brighten up our day and make things a little more colourful even when we have to stay home.

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2. Dress up

It’s easy on days where you won’t be leaving the house or will be spending the day at the hospital to just pull on any old clothes because who’s going to see, so why make the effort? But I find that if I do get dressed up, it helps me to face the day and feel a little more positive. I have a quote I found on Pinterest taped up inside my wardrobe that reads “Don’t save things for a special occasion, every day of your life is a special occasion” and it’s become a mantra for me this past two years. Every day I challenge myself to put together a cute and colourful outfit and it helps me to feel a little more brave, and it makes Michael smile to see I’m wearing something fun even if we aren’t doing anything special.

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3. Get crafty

We have always enjoyed making things but recently crafting has become very important to us both as not only does it provide a welcome distraction and focus, it can be so therapeutic just to create something. I love sewing, knitting, crochet, painting and scrapbooking to name just a few and will try my hand at making anything pretty. Michael is a huge Lego fan and has been working on designing and building his own modular buildings to create an amazing New York inspired street. The buildings he creates are often modelled on places we visited on our honeymoon or places from some of our favourite films. We both love the process of planning a project, and then sharing the finished result on our Instagram feeds. If you’d like to see some of Michael’s projects,  please do check out his instagram over at @michaelpingu

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4. Stay connected

It can be easy to feel a little disconnected from the world when life is on pause. Instagram has been a real solace as we can connect with people with similar interests and find constant inspiration and ideas without even having to leave the house. As well as posting snapshots of our daily life on Instagram, we’ve also taken part in lots of Instagram giveaways, community hashtags like #makeitsewcial and parcel swaps which have all helped us to feel a bit more in touch with the rest of the world. I loved taking part in Make it Sewcial on a Monday where everyone shares a photo of a crafty project they have been working on. I loved giving and receiving comments and feedback on each other’s projects as I have found it to be an incredibly supportive and positive community. Allison has moved on from the Make it Sewcial project now, but the hashtag is still going strong and I am always looking for other crafty hashtags and competitions to continue taking part in (if you have any suggestions please let me know!).

We also love receiving happy mail in the post as when you are home most of the time a cheery letter or parcel can really brighten up your day. I am a Lucky Dip Club subscriber, which if you don’t already know is the amazing subscription box service run by the incredibly talented Leona. It is always a happy day when my monthly Lucky Dip Club box of loveliness pops through my letterbox. I love scrolling through the Instagram hashtag after I’ve opened my box to see every one’s pictures, and it helps me to feel like I’m part of something.

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5. Grow something

There really is nothing better than getting out in the garden to help clear your head. This year we grew over 50 varieties of fruit, vegetables and flowers in our little garden, raising as much as we could from seeds or bulbs in our greenhouse, and it has been so rewarding to watch things grow. There is always something to do in the garden so it is a great way to pass the time, and you get to eat your own fruit and veggies as a reward for your hard work!

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Obviously these are just my thoughts on what helps us to face each day with a smile, and not everything that works for us will work for you. But I hope the message you will take away is that no matter what life throws at you, try to make the most out of every day and, whenever possible, find time to do the things that make you happy.

Thank you for reading!

Lucy x