For the last four years since Bobby and Freddy lost their mum, the boys and I have released balloons as a mark of respect, a loving gesture and for the lads especially, a positive way to acknowledge their loss in a way that can be considered by all as a happy occasion.
On the first anniversary it was just the three of us, quietly and sensitively marking the occasion with an easy going day, talking about Mummy and keeping it upbeat. It then developed to having close family and friends; it became more of a social event, I realised sharing the sentiment with others made a significant difference - it wasn't any less about Jade but it was far more about the boys' needs.
With their classmates stood next to them excitedly grabbing hold of the net, which was preventing the balloons from taking flight, any taboo that originally existed was eliminated because everyone knew why they were there and who the balloons were for. It was accidental in a way but the progress in the boys' management of their grief was there to see.
What started off as something we wanted to honour but weren't sure exactly what we were doing or why, soon became an event with purpose, something to look forward to and something that made everyone involved feel great!
'Great' isn't usually a word you attach with 'grief', 'loss' or 'bereavement'; but I believe that when you allow yourself to feel good about the gesture you have made in remembering someone, it overrides the other option, which is to be sad and feel negative and mourn what was taken away, which is equally as natural. They are two very different perspectives, equally as valid, but a choice nonetheless.
When people come to a birthday party you are always suitably grateful that your guests have made the effort, when you see parents have come to support the boys on the anniversary of their mothers death it means more to me than I can ever tell these people.
Last year we congregated outside our house before walking down the street to 'Teletubby Hill'. The sight of so many of their school friends flooding excitedly towards the launch area was a sight in itself, but to see Bobby and Freddy surrounded by those that care about them, eagerly anticipating 'the release' (great words, thats exactly what it must be for them) was very special.
Maybe more significant for me was that one of the boy's friends brought a balloon of her own to let go for her granddad. It had a lovely, heartfelt message written on the side and it paved the way for a significant development to take place. That little girl had taught me that it's possible for people to remember positively those that are missed, not just privately but also within groups without sacrificing the sense of occasion.
Minute silences have long been used to fittingly pay respect at football matches and other events where big crowds congregate. It is unquestionable, a huge public mark of respect, one that no doubt brings great comfort and pride to the family of those left behind. It's interesting though that you see more and more 'minutes of applause' these days - it is slightly more positive in its intentions, but is it any less respectful or appropriate? I suspect not, it's the choice of the family suffering the loss.
Once upon a time, probably World War I, a time of huge national loss, bereavement wasn't to be talked about. It hurts, so lets avoid it - in typical British stiff upper lip. I do wonder in retrospect if a minute silence actually represents that old school way of thinking?
In my own experiences, seeing grief through my children's point of view, to truly pay respect is to talk about the individual, to not let that person be forgotten. Why should our 'thoughts' just be with them, why not our words too?
There's nothing unique about releasing balloons, but what does seem to be a new way of thinking is that if you make these gestures, dare I it say, 'enjoyable' then it is my belief you are making the memories associated 'happy ones'. And for our children that may sadly have experienced a loss too early in their life this encourages a positive approach to thinking about Granddad/Mum/Patch the dog.
My theory is if it is looked forward to, then it's so much easier to do. All I could ever hope for is to have two kids that are able to talk about their feelings for, and their memories of, Mum.
It isn't the releasing of balloons that is so poignant, although messages floating up in the direction of heaven makes sense if you're a child and brings comfort to the adult, it is the conversation that it sparks and the feeling of enjoyment and togetherness that is key to the development of a child's grief in particular.
To put my theory to the test, with the boys' blessing, myself and charity Grief Encounter are inviting anyone who wishes to let a balloon go in memory of someone they miss, to join us on the anniversary of Jade's passing and release our messages together as a group with smiles on our faces and love in our heart!
The venue is Harlow Town Park at 11am for a 12 noon release on Sunday 17 March. Parking is either down School Lane opposite the Greyhound Pub or in Harlow Town train station car park which is a well marked seven or eight minute walk from the bandstand we are meeting at.
I think this could be special for everyone involved, bereaved children especially. We have 1,000 balloons to share but bring your own if you prefer. All are welcome so tell your friends and see you there. And if you're not able to make it down, why not join us wherever you are in the country, in the world and release a balloon to keep the memory alive.
For more information please visit: http://www.griefencounter.org.uk/