Closer 

Yesterday I completed my 3rd and final; Three Welsh 3 Peaks in Four Weeks Challenge. I’m currently nursing my tender legs with lots of ibuprofen and muscle freeze gel.
I’m extremely grateful for all the kind support from family and friends that myself and the teams that I walked with on the first two challenges recieved.

Between the three challenges we’ve raised over £3,800 so far, for four awesome charities; the CATS Foundation, Noahs Ark Appeal, Ty Hafan & The Wallace & Gromit Bristol Children’s Hospital Appeal! 

Four charities close to mine and fellow team members hearts.

And I couldn’t have done this without the support of my fellow team mates, along with our friends and family who helped spur me on to complete three tough challenges.

And of course, I couldn’t have achieved this without Archie in my head and in my heart. It was my wee man who inspired me to get into hiking and he’s always with me when I’m on the mountains as motivation to push me on and up. 

For everytime the muscles ache, the lungs hurt and the sweat drips I think of him aswell as the causes I support and he gets me to the to the top.

Yesterday for example was the toughest! The 3 peaks but in reverse to the standard way of undertaking this challenge. 

Starting small on Pen Y Fan at 4am, I stormed up the track, pushing through the wind and fog to hit the top in 39 mins. I did my usual acknowledgment of thanks to Archie; a touch to the trig followed by a look up with a kiss blown to the sky above. 
And as I descended the first peak a little bird flew out just a few feet in front of me. Then he flew, landed, flew and landed again by the side of me. To anyone else this would have been just a bird but in the tranquility of the moment, this was Archie being with me in spirit. The little thing then flew off and so did I with a feeling of warm encouragment to complete the first mountain.

Cadair Idris was a similar affair with the fog. She is a menacingly beautiful mountain: majestic to look at whilst scaling but everwhere you look it just wants to hurt you! And she does just that! Amazingly I had the mountain to myself. And despite the strong winds at the top and hanging on to Sonny James’s teddy who I was doing this challenge for, it was awesome to look up again and give my thanks to my wee man.
Then my final peak of Snowdon was the highest and toughest with the two previous mountains having sapped the energy from my lungs and legs.

This is my favourite summit. For a number of reasons: the serene views and the challenging terrain make the journey a worthwhile accomplishment. But mainly because the higher I hike on a mountain the closer I feel to Archie.

I don’t know if there’s a heaven as such but I know he’s up there looking down, proud of his daddy.

So having smashed this challenge by doing 3 in 4 weeks, it makes sense that my next mountain event is harder and higher so watch this space!

That means continuing to share these experiences with awesome people, raising money for great charities and getting closer and closer to my boy.

Three

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I must admit, I woke up a blubbering mess. It wasn’t planned. In fact I was going into today with my half full attitude and lots of air punching. “Yeah! I’ve got this!”

But, the impact of the realisation that it’s now another year that’s passed since I last held my wee man has hit me  harder than expected.

Three years since I last whispered in his ear that I love him so much.

So today there’ll be no stiff upper lip or facade. No manly “I’m ok!” With a shrug of the shoulders.

I’m just going to do the normal thing that I should do on a day like this.

Therefore today, my glass isnt half full or half empty. I’ve tipped it out.

So, if you see me today and there’s some snot involved then you’ll know why!

Anyway….

Miss you mate. Love Daddy x

On this day……

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I came close to turning Facebook completely off yesterday! Well, for at least the next 3 to 4 weeks. It’s difficult to leave that place forever (we’ve all tried!).

Whilst in stationary traffic on the way to work yesterday, I glanced down at my phone and had the usual FB notification from their ‘On this Day’ feature. So I clicked to see what memories I had to share and there it was, a post of the youtube video of ‘I don’t want to live on the moon’ from Sesame Street from three years ago.

It was posted as I lay next to Archie, wondering if it be the last song we’d listen to together as at that time (on that day) he was given not long to live. In fact everyday after admission to Ty Hafan a few days prior to my post was a potential final day.

His awesomeness however shone through and he pushed on for a few weeks more. That’s why he was Amazing Archie.

I wasn’t prepared for the impact that this FB Memory had on me – I knew this month was going to be tough but this hit it home that although time is a healer, it’s never a curer.

And I then began to panic that for the next 3 weeks all my daily memories that FB would kindly remind me of would be those of definitively losing Archie over that period of time. And the following weeks after that would be of further posts about the emptiness of him not being here anymore. And I wanted to switch it off.

But I haven’t. Although yesterday was hard and the next few weeks will be just as, these are memories of not just saying goodbye to Archie but of enjoying the last of his days with him. And that’s how I’m going to plough through this month. The glass half full way of thinking that I always refer too in my previous blogs.

I’m going to listen to that song again later. And this time it will make me smile. The moon for just an afternoon.

‘Well, I’d like to visit the moon
On a rocket ship high in the air
Yes, I’d like to visit the moon
But I don’t think I’d like to live there
Though I’d like to look down at the earth from above
I would miss all the places and people I love
So although I might like it for one afternoon
I don’t want to live on the moon’

Let’s see what great memories FB notifies me of over the coming weeks!

Brad – Archie’s Dad

 

AA +

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So, I’ve just finished a three month programme of counselling and for the first time in a long while I feel really good!

Its been 5 months since my last blog and that’s because in all honesty things haven’t been that great and I prefer to write when I’m in a good place about bereavement, Archie and how things generally are.

However, as I have discovered through my recent discussions, most of my previous blogs posses some form of a façade, to show you, my friends and family that I’m doing ok. In reality its been a struggle. Think of Smokey Robinson’s ‘Tears of a Clown’.

On top of the burdens that grief produces, like rocks around my neck, the weight of pretending that all is tip top uses quite a lot of energy. It exhausted me to the point where I couldn’t see through the fog that your mind creates when you’re looking for answers to questions that bereavement forces you to query. The main one being; ‘Is it my fault?’

Myself and Lauren not only lost a son, but people we love lost a brother, a grandchild, a nephew, a cousin, a friend, a family member. Those around us also lost a piece of us, I lost a piece of me. It’s something that’s become a battle.

I tried counselling shortly after Archie passed away but it wasn’t right and I wasn’t committed. The stubbornness in me thought that no one can help and I’ll just have to ride it out. After all, people lose people all the time. It’s natural and I should just let time be a healer (I now cringe when I hear this!).

However by not talking about how I felt for a long period of time it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the feeling of grief can just consume you. And that it did.

But, after finding the right person to discuss how bereavement has affected me it’s done me a world of good. I’ve discovered many resultant negative traits that have been a by product of loss; mainly guilt and responsibility that I allowed to manifest which in turn produced this awful heavy feeling that I have carried around with me.

Counselling has taught me many positive things and I now look at things from a completely different perspective and finally have started to put myself and those important to me first. If anything Archie has taught me is that life is too short!

I cannot change what’s happened. I’ve learned that I’m not to blame for all the bad that’s happened in my life and it’s unhealthy to hold myself accountable.

So, I’ll concentrate on things and experiences that will benefit me and those around me, including a new job which I believe will compliment my new outlook on life very well.

My advice to anyone is talk. If you’re feeling down, just open up and let people know. You shouldn’t be ashamed and talk to a professional if you need to. It’s not taboo. You will not be judged. Hey, it might even make you feel better.

Anyway, I didn’t get a certificate for passing my counselling sessions today. I don’t think it’s the norm. However, I will do something I rarely do which I now feel comfortable doing and that’s giving myself a pat on the back. And an A+.

Bollocks to it. I’ll make it an AA+ for Amazing Archie!

High five.

Remembering Archie

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It occurred to me recently that its been a while since my last blog. It also occurred to me that its been a while longer since we said goodbye to Archie.

It was a moment of thought that once again confirmed to me that time is not only precious but it can pass by so very quickly. But not fast enough where our memories of our little man seem further in the past. This is because for the short time we had with him, so many fond moments were created with Archie and at so many special places with so many amazing people.

And one of those special places is Ty Hafan.

It’s where myself & Lauren came to remember Archie at a place so close to our hearts, just before Christmas. Not in a sad way however, but in the only way we could, that would honour our little angel and put a smile on his face up there.

The day began with an appearance in the Christmas panto where I had the honour of playing a princess! Lippy and blusher applied, dress zipped up and with my phone placed safely in my handbag I took to the ‘stage’ and had a right old laugh with the other parents, staff and guests who all took part. Grief makes you do funny things and this was up there with the funniest, but Ty Hafan has that effect on you. It sounds strange, but its difficult to be sad in a place that you’d expect to feel sad in, particularly if that’s where you said your last goodbyes.

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Make up removed, dress hung up and BAFTA nomination in the post, myself, Lauren, along with Archie’s siblings; young Matilda & Sam went to see Archie’s pebble in the Ty Hafan garden. As Matilda ran around happily, too young to understand about Archie’s association with this wonderful place, both myself and Lauren agreed that that this is how we want her, Sam and older brother Jack to feel whenever they come here. As that’s how we believe Archie would have remembered it here too; as a fun and happy place.

That afternoon myself & Lauren agreed to be filmed talking about Archie and how Ty Hafan helped, supported and cared for him and our family through such a tough time. We shared our special memories that were created there and how much the place and the amazing staff mean to us.

This is all part of us keeping Archie’s flame burning. Whether it be appearing in a panto, talking on film, climbing mountains, or just taking a walk in their gardens, in doing so we are honouring our amazing little man the best we can.

And although time moves so quickly, our memories will always be there to help slow things down as we reflect on the legacy that Archie has left in our lives that we can fondly share with others.

 

Good from Bad – A Team Effort

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You could probably tell from my last blog that the last few weeks have been tough!

I also wasn’t looking forward to the fact that Archie’s 4th birthday was imminent and that the start of September would also have been the beginning of his pre-school year. A time where myself and Lauren would not only be shopping for his birthday presents but for his new uniform, lunch bag and looking forward to seeing him off at the school gates to make new friends and enjoy experiences that would help mould him into future life.

So, during these sad moments, you have to go back to the beginning to understand the end and that’s what I did to help me get my glass half full again.

I reflected back to the time when Archie was diagnosed. It was then, with the help of friends and family, Lauren and I decided to pull the curtains open, approach our unfortunate situation with bravery and positivity and try and make the most out of Archie’s limited life expectancy. I remembered that feeling of strength we both had at the time, despite being delivered that terrible blow, we had both agreed that we were going in this together as a team, head on, and being there for Archie and his brother Jack as normal parents as we could be.

It wasn’t long before we discovered that we belonged to a greater team. An assembly of family and friends, who like us, inspired by Archie, wanted to make good from something that was bad. We were in awe of the support and this helped drive our new ethos and determination to give Archie the best short life he could have.

During that process, Archie became known as Amazing Archie which in turn naturally produced Team Amazing Archie; a group of family and friends that would help us achieve our goals to raise awareness of Archie’s Tay Sachs disease and fundraise for our chosen charities that would provide our family with care & assistance.

The first main event organised by our newly incorporated ‘Team’ was in Feb 2012, two months after diagnosis, at the local rugby club.

And when my glass was half empty a fortnight ago, I searched for my thank you speech I gave to those who supported and attended the event to help inspire me to turn the tap back on;

“Many thanks to all of you for coming tonight.

Both myself and Lauren are overwhelmed, touched, blown away by the amount of love, support and generosity that we have received and we are eternally grateful for this.

As you know we received the devastating news before Christmas that our beautiful boy Archie had Tay Sachs disease which unfortunately is incurable and life limiting.

After the shock of receiving this news and with the help of our families and close friends, myself and Lauren decided it wouldn’t be fair to Archie and to those around him to shut the curtains and let the inevitable tear us apart.

We decided as many of you saw from our Facebook statuses that we were going to make the most of Archie’s time here and raise awareness of his disease to help him and others.

It is a bit of a cliché but the phrase time is precious has never rung so true. I’m sure you’ll agree but most of us spend the majority of time in a rush; to and from work, round the shops and in many a case we rush to get to the weekend quicker. We would give anything now to slow time down and our message in this respect is that we want you all to cherish every moment you have especially with your loved ones as we will cherish the time that we have with our Amazing Archie.

We really appreciate your attendance and contribution tonight and want you all to enjoy yourselves. Times are hard and any donation that is made tonight will benefit Archie directly and indirectly as we are also supporting the following charities; The CATS Foundation (cure and action for tay sachs), Caerphilly Children’s Centre and Ty Hafan and we thank you all for your generosity and kindness.

We would also like to thank Helen Owen & Paul Morgan of Morgan travel, Julie James, Aimee Harvey and Brian Watson for their assistance in arranging this night. It has been incredible what you have done. We would also like to thank the kind friends and businesses who have donated prizes for the raffle which we will list on Archie’s Facebook page and also thanks to all of tonight’s entertainers and volunteers.

As well as tonight there are friends and family who are doing so many great things with fundraising e.g the st David’s day run, the three peaks, sky diving, bucket collections, school dress down days and more to follow!

I like to finish by saying that we want you all to have a good night, enjoy every minute of it and thanks for again for your love and support!”

Reading this again produced a catalyst of positivity as I fondly remembered everything that everyone had done before, during and after that night as Team Amazing Archie. So much has been achieved in his name! Archie has inspired people to physically and mentally to undertake challenges they never would have done and to  change their perception of life to improve their own and others around them.

And it still continues; we had 5 separate ‘Team Amazing Archie’s’ in last Sundays 52 mile cycle ride for the charity Ty Hafan!

So next time I’m down, I’ll think again of our Team and all that we have achieved and will continue to do so, to collectively make good from bad.

Thank you Team Members!

 

Half Empty

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Generally I like to portray my glass as being half full.

But sometimes, my glass does become half empty, seldom seen away from my immediate family, but enough to take it’s toll on the soul.

The last few weeks have been difficult in respect of work. Things haven’t panned out with a latest venture and I’m now self employed, with no savings or supportive partners wage to keep us financially comfortable until work picks up. I do have a great opportunity to make money, but the cash I need to keep the family and house afloat in the meantime until it rolls in is non existent and the strain is evident. When usually confronted with tough situations, my turbo kicks in and my ‘curtains wide open’, positive gung-ho attitude and previous experiences usually helps me rise above in these situations and succeed, but today, I’m struggling to even turn the tap on to fill the glass at all.

Tough situations are often challenging anyway to anyone, but all the more harder when grief forms the underlay to the surface of the obstacles you’re trying to overcome. Like trying to run in the hurdles on a track of quicksand.

And grief to the soul is often like weather to the sea; sometimes calm, sometimes choppy, sometimes rough. When captaining the ship, no matter how bad the waves are, as long as you’re in control you can with determination, navigate away from the turbulence that hinders your journey.

However, At this moment I find myself rudderless and without compass.

But, I’ve been here before. I’ve experienced worse. It’s on those occasions where my glass becomes half empty that I look to Archie, and the promises I made to him as my motivation to pull myself together to maintain the course of our vessel with my wee lad, in the sky, perhaps blowing into the sails to aid the journey.

So, despite it being tougher than usual, I’ll try and turn the tap as hard as I can and get that glass half full again.

Normal service will resume shortly….

Archie’s Tay Sachs Timeline

 

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Archie was born in September 2010, healthy and what I naturally perceived at the time, ready for an amazing and full life ahead.

As I held him for the first time, I gazed proudly, through tears, into those eyes of his. It’s an amazing feeling as a parent to share your new-born’s first experience of life and the beginning of their time here on this earth.

I can’t think of anything better than that first moment you spend with your child, where they experience sight, sound, taste, touch, movement and most importantly love almost immediately upon their arrival. Probably the most important welcome all of us will receive in our lives.

Lauren and I had our first son. Jack had a new brother. At this very point on Archie’s timeline everything was perfect.

However, behind the scenes and unbeknown to us, Archie’s timeline and life adventure was already genetically destined to end tragically and prematurely.

Archie’s first 9 months were going well. He was little behind in some things but not enough to give us, the health visitor or anyone concern to worry. He was a boy, ‘boys are lazy’, and he’ll catch up.

Then I received the awful phone call whilst in work. Archie was being rushed to hospital by ambulance following a seizure whilst out shopping with his Nana.  Lauren and I quickly  arrived at the hospital to find Archie surrounded by doctors, nurses, machines and covered in cables in the emergency assessment room. He was constantly fitting and the doctors had to stabilise him with drugs which resulted in him being transferred to PICU for care.

Over the next week or so Archie recovered enough to be sent home. There was no firm answer as to why he had this seizure but doctors put it down to either a temperature spike or the possibility of epilepsy.

Ok, epilepsy is manageable and we’ll be fine. The little man has taken a knock but this could be his only fit in life.

Then a month later, as I bathed him, and performed my usual silly daddy bath time routine, his little laughter and giggles morphed into a strange wail and it was apparent he was having another seizure. Paramedics, ambulance, hospital.

The seizures, became more frequent and his milestones were not being achieved.  A few months later Tay Sachs was diagnosed. Our world collapsed and Archie’s timeline was to take a more serious dive. And emotionally so were we.

Nowadays, I don’t have to explain as much as I used to do so in respect of ‘what is Tay Sachs’. When Archie was alive we often had to go into detail about what this disease was. Which, was difficult to do. You’re dealing with the terrible effects of this disease and constantly being reminded whilst sharing the information with others.

We didn’t know much ourselves upon diagnosis apart from that it was genetic, extremely rare and life limiting. In Archie’s case it would be unlikely he’d live past three years. We searched the internet for help and came across a charity called The CATS Foundation. Here is our original email from the 15th December 2011 we sent to them;

‘Our lovely 15 month old son Archie was diagnosed with Tay Sachs two days ago following months of seizures, development issues and continuous testing to determine this diagnosis.

My wife and I are shocked at the news that Archie will have a very short lifespan and are trying to get our heads around this with difficulty.

We live in Caerphilly, South Wales and we are aware due to the rarity of this disease that there may not be many sufferers and was wondering if you could put us in touch with families near or far that we may draw support from.

We hope you can assist.

Kindest regards,

Bradley & Lauren Watson’

An hour or so later we received our reply from Dan & Patricia Lewi offering their support but also explaining that they had started the charity as they were Tay Sachs parents too – something we were in awe of! We were not alone! There were other families (although few) and it didn’t take long for us to reach out and connect via the web to families here and across the world. Almost a bitter sweet discovery for us.

We learned what we could from CATS and our new network of families but realised that although a cure is not too far away it was not within Archie’s grasp and the inevitable was going to happen. However if it wasn’t for the assistance we received then we’d be lost, alone and would’ve have been detrimental to the time we had left with Archie.

To better explain Archie’s timeline; imagine a graph. Archie’s age on the base (from birth to Two and a half) against his development along the vertical, would look almost like a baseless pyramid. Everything he naturally learned up until the period of seizures was  unnaturally taken away from him including a gradual removal or reduction of those first senses that we shared upon his birth. All of them apart from love. That stayed with him right until the end and thereafter. Amongst others, Tay Sachs took away his sight, speech, ability to eat, motor skills and ultimately his life and our son.

But it didn’t take away our love.

I’ve probably given you an idea or enough for you to formulate your own thoughts of what Tay Sachs ‘isn’t’ in respect of life, but to find out more about what Tay Sachs ‘is’ , the wonderful work they do and to understand more about and the fight for a cure please visit The CATS Foundation website; http://www.catsfoundation.org

Blue Skies

 

 

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“Blue Skies”!!!!!

I was never there for the original event but this became a well known saying within our ‘Platoon’; a group of up to 20 wannabe ‘Nam soldiers inspired by the movie of the same name, who would head up to Castell Coch woods every weekend for an evening’s camp during my early to mid-teens, 20 or so years ago.

I recall that the story was often fondly repeated on our hikes, or for a quick chuckle around the campfire and particularly when the weather conditions were looking good. These famous words were first broadcast by my brother Bruce as he came over the crest of a hill, rucksack on back, with his finger raised to the sky and hailed “blue skies”! Within minutes the sky clouded over, thunder erupted, lightning flashed and the downpour ensued. Bruce became our camp albatross for the weather!

It’s funny, I still say “Blue Skies” when I’m driving in relation to the weather, in the ironic context it was used in the past, always said in a jokey fear of doom mongering. I suppose it’s a way of subconsciously remembering Bruce.

He would have been 37 tomorrow.

After hitting the nightlife in Cardiff to celebrate his 22nd birthday back in July 1999, Bruce failed to come home. Our family knew there was something immediately wrong as Bruce worked for the local paper shop and was always there at 5am come rain or shine (or blue skies). A few days passed and I suspected the worse had happened and then came the moment after walking the dog, I returned to Police family liaison officers who broke the devastating news that my brother’s body had been found.

I really can’t put myself back to that day to really tell you how I felt, it’s all a blur including the months that followed. The church at his funeral was packed to the rafters, and shop keepers down Caerphilly high street and their customers who all knew Bruce well, stopped what they were doing and paid their respects along the road as our hearse convoy travelled to the cemetery. I remember those moments as clear as day (blue skies).

 Bruce unfortunately slipped and fell into a waterway. The mixture of alcohol from his birthday celebrations and his inability to swim due to a lifelong fear of water caused him to drown. He was scared of water. This made the pain of loss more searing and I don’t want to believe that his fear was the last thing he experienced before he passed.

It took me years to manage the pain of this loss. With Archie’s recent passing, I was already accustomed to bottling things up and dealing with things in my own way, that is before I decided to change my mindset earlier this year to help me cope. To deal with two heart piercing levels of grief induced pain is just too much sometimes.

Not many people knew, but for along time I held myself partly to blame for Bruce’s passing. I had let him borrow my swish new pair of Patrick Cox gentleman shoes which I planned to use for my door to door sales job at the time. Not so much now, but certainly during the last 15 years I often wondered if had he not been wearing my shoes, which had a smooth outer sole, would he have not slipped or fallen? At times this was a terrible weight on my shoulders.

That weight has been lifted, nearly to its entirety. Like the ‘good from bad’ positive attitude I have following Archie’s passing, with both of them being so dear to me, it would be an injustice, particularly on this anniversary, to not apply the same mentality.

And I know that Archie is in good care up there! Who else in my place can better tell him of our stories and hijinks  we had within our Platoon , about how crazy the Pantera and Machine Head gigs were at Newport centre in the mid 90’s, the great Friday nights me and him had down the Kings, the Thrash Metal vs Grunge debates and many more.

I’ve just checked the forecast for his birthday tomorrow. Its proper blue skies. Happy birthday Budd.

 

Amazing Archie’s Super Siblings

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It’s been over a month since my last blog! Over the last few weeks I’ve planned to put fingers to keyboard during the evenings but the World Cup has somewhat distracted me!

Anyway, the wife is happy that normal service will resume tomorrow and the Kardashians will be a major part of our viewing lives again (involuntarily from me)!

I felt compelled to write this morning after taking the picture that accompanies this blog whilst on a family ‘bigfoot’ hunt in the forest yesterday with Lauren, Jack & Matilda. The picnic was packed, the wooded destination chosen, the bigfoot stories were prepared and off we went.

I love spending time with the family when we’re out on our walks – like when I’m hiking, there’s nothing like being out in the open to fully appreciate what we have around us and how nature can be a soothing influence on the soul.

We had a great time! Jack went exploring, Matilda switched her usual auto pilot mode on and waddled and toddled anywhere her legs could take her; through mud, over bracken, around trees. She has no fear that girl!

When we returned I uploaded my photos to Facebook and this particular one had a profound effect on me. The gradient of height between Jack and Matilda is too steep. Someone was obviously missing.

However, upon reflection and thought, Archie was only physically missing from this photo as he was there with us; all in spirit and in our hearts. I believe that he is in this picture, invisible to the lens and our eyes, but walking between Jack & Matilda, an arm around each of them, his energy instilled and being carried through them. Archie hanging out in the woods with his brother and sister on an adventure together. Looking out for them Bigfoots!

As any parent, you hope for your kids to be happy in what ever they do and I’m sure Jack, Matilda and ‘yet to be named and soon to be delivered’ will be that, in everything they do because of Archie’s flame being kept alight through them and the wee man being there in spirit like in the photo above.

I’m in awe of Jack’s strength since Archie’s diagnosis through to today. He continues to be a beacon of light and memory for his little brother. And I’m sure he will carry this through his life and continue the Watson ethos of producing ‘Good from Bad’.

Matilda, yet so young, who doesn’t really know about Archie at this stage of her life provides so much joy to our family. Her energy is double that of what we expected and we’re certain her way of carrying Archie’s flame is by doing the job plus his (and perhaps a half more!).

She will learn about her older brother in time and if she has Jack as her peer in this respect then the positivity and strength will be passed down. Between them they can then teach their new younger brother (currently in the post, delivery expected November) how he can keep the flame burning too.

Hats’ off to Archie’s super siblings. Hats’ off to any siblings who’s brother or sister is poorly, disabled or life limited. Much respect to you all.