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"Sadness is still there. Yet I know now I can keep moving forward. I have survived the worst of worst years."

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By Shona Johnston

My second beautiful daughter, Gail, was stillborn at full term a year ago. She died just before she was delivered and she was perfect. She looked exactly like her big sister, only with black, black hair.

I have had a year of dense fog, of intense and excruciating pain, of inner turmoil. It has been an immensely difficult time. I have questioned every aspect of Gail's death and everything about myself. I have broken over and over. I have at times been consumed by her death, and sometimes I still am.

It has also been a year of finding joy, of being grateful, and of becoming kinder, in Gail's memory.

I scrabbled around with my grief for about six months, "leaning in to the suck," as Sheryl Sandberg so eloquently puts it. I read as much as I could about grief and bereavement. Time and again I read the same message: You cannot change what has happened. But you can change your reaction to it.

So I made a New Year's resolution. I decided to do a random act of kindness every single day in 2017 in memory of my daughter. Sometimes it's an act of kindness for other people. Sometimes it's an act of gratefulness. Sometimes it's an act of self-care.

The acts of kindness I have done for others have included leaving envelopes with positive thoughts in cafés; knitting for baby-loss charities; donating to food banks; sending positive feedback to people's bosses if they have done a good job; and looking after a friend's daughter when she was in hospital. I always explain that I'm doing the act of kindness in memory of Gail, and I ask the recipient to pay it forward. I use the hashtag #GratefulActsInspiringLove or #Gail, and I blog about my experiences.

Doing kind things in her honour gives me back some meaning—not necessarily a meaning to her death, but meaning to the suffering that I have gone through and new meaning for my life.

It was Gail's first birthday last week. I asked all my friends and family to do a random act of kindness in her memory as a birthday present. I was totally overwhelmed at the response. More than a hundred friends, family members, and others did something kind in Gail’s name. My Facebook timeline was filled with pictures and messages of what they had done. It made what could have been a sad and depressing day into a day filled with hope and love.

Nothing will ever change the fact that Gail has died. Nothing will bring her back to our family. But doing kind things in her honour gives me back some meaning—not necessarily a meaning to her death, but meaning to the suffering that I have gone through and new meaning for my life. I like to think I was a pretty kind person before, but this has given me a new understanding of other people’s difficulties.

This "journey" of grief isn't over for me, and I'm not convinced that this "journey" has an end, or needs to have one. Sadness is still there, and I suspect always will be to an extent. Yet I know now I can keep moving forward. I have survived the worst of worst years. I know I have a lot of support and love walking beside me. I can smile. I can find joy, especially in my older daughter, Freya. I am carrying on through this. I know that, whatever life throws at me now, I can handle it. And I'll do it by keeping Gail in my heart. 

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Find more information about Shona on her blog

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