Being a child and losing a parent

I wanted to write this post for anyone going through this right now, in the hope that it might be some little help. Losing a parent can have a life altering impact on a small child and it is so hard to know how to make things better for them. I want to share my own experience, from my perspective as a child, to give a tiny insight into how children feel when their lives are turned upside down by losing one of the most important people in their lives.

When I was six years old, my father went to work and never came home. He was killed in a motorcycle accident. There were no other vehicles involved and it was a straight road on a dry day, no one really knows what happened. He passed away on the same night and I was woken up in the morning by my mother sitting on my bed. She told me that Daddy had been in an accident and he wasn’t coming back and did I know what that meant. I knew what that meant. I knew Daddy had gone and I would never see him again, I cried and cried. This is such a vivid memory, I can still feel the atmosphere and it makes my heart pump fast when I recall it. My Grandmother was there too, my father’s mother, and I had never seen her cry before. She didn’t hug me or anything, she just seemed dazed and distant. I didn’t like it.

The days that followed were filled with people coming to our house and crying. People I hardly knew just picking me up and holding me tight with tears in their eyes. I remember this feeling of being so small and looking up at all of these sad giants and wondering if things could ever be normal again. A young vicar came by and sat and talked with us for while. My brother was only four years old and I don’t really think he knew much of what was happening. I remember the vicar telling me that my Daddy’s body was just a shell and that it wasn’t really him any more. In my childish mind I literally imagined my fathers body like a fragile egg shell with nothing inside. He told me that my Daddy had gone to live somewhere else and that he didn’t need his body any more. It was all just so much for me to take in, I couldn’t accept that he was gone. How could he just go to work and just disappear?

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Me and my little bro

I didn’t go to the funeral, which I was angry about for a long time. I wished I had been able to go and say goodbye and get some kind of end to the story. For a long time into adulthood I held on to being upset about this, but then I had children of my own and I understood. I know that it was best for me not to go, it would have been too traumatising for me and for the adults around me. I also went back to school very quickly after it happened, which I do also understand with hind sight. I needed some normality and school gave me that. There was one instance of a little girl saying to me in a little girl kind of a way ‘did your dad die?’ I didn’t really know how to respond. I didn’t cry or anything, I just distinctly felt like I didn’t want to talk to her about it. An older girl who overheard swept me away and told the quizzer not to say things like that.

I didn’t really think that life could go on, but it did. I was sad on and off but not every minute. I got sad when I sat on my Daddy’s bed, gazing into his wardrobe and realising that he wouldn’t be wearing any of his clothes any more. Apparently I used to cry out for him in my sleep, but thankfully I have no memory of this. I couldn’t bear it when another man moved in and tried to take his place. So many things that made me upset or angry but that were utterly out of my control.

It wasn’t until I started getting older, probably into my mid teens, that I properly grieved for my Dad. I began to talk about it and face up to this anger and deep sadness inside me. I was angry at my Dad for leaving me, as irrational as that sounds. I was sad because I was realising that he would miss my wedding and my kids and all of those mile stones where you need your parents. It’s still hard now, so hard. I miss him and I think about him and I talk to him, I don’t think that will ever change.

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My wedding day

It is so difficult as an adult to imagine what it feels like for a child to go through such a traumatic experience. I look at families who lose a parent and my heart aches for the children. I know how they feel and how they are going to feel. I know that they don’t fully understand, but at the same time they soak up everything and their hearts hurt.I have a few insights into how to best help a child who goes through loss.

  • Adults need to just love children during these times. Just love them and hold them and make sure they know they are safe.
  • Talk to them about the person they’ve lost, children need to keep them alive. This can be especially true if the death is sudden, as it was for me. I needed to know that he was a real person and that he did actually exist, otherwise it all becomes like a dream.
  • Keep photographs around the house of the person that has died. This was something that didn’t happen for me and it almost drove into me even more the idea that he never really existed at all.
  • Give the child a keepsake belonging to the person they’ve lost. I had a handkerchief belonging to my Dad and it just meant the world to me. To hold something in my hands that he had touched just meant everything to me. It made me feel close to him and like I had a little piece of him that I could keep with me. I also have his wedding ring and I love, even now, putting it on my finger and imagining it on his.
  • Don’t tell children not to cry. I remember this happening to me and it made me feel so confused. I wanted to cry, I was sad. Things really are as simplistic as that to a child, don’t try and tell them to hide how they feel. It is so much healthier for them to express themselves and they should be encouraged to do that.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell children details if they ask for them. I wanted to know what injuries my Dad had and precisely how he died. I wanted to know if he was on a life support machine and if he was ever conscious after the accident. Children want to understand why something has happened and the events that lead up to it.
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Little ginger me

As an adult, all of these things are difficult to do. I cannot even begin to imagine what it was like for my mother to go through what she went through. Now that I have two small children and I am roughly the same age my parents where when this happened, it is all the more horrifying for me to imagine what it was like. Having said that, as the adult you sometimes need to put to own grief to one side for the sake of your kids. If they want to talk about it but you don’t, talk about it anyway. If they are upset and you feel like you just need to shut yourself away, please don’t. These experiences can dramatically alter how children cope with loss as a child and throughout their entire adult lives.

My heart truly does ache for anyone who has lost someone, whether it was years ago or last week. It is one of the hardest things we have to deal with in life, losing someone we love so incredibly. It is hard to imagine how we can carry on and live but we can and we do. My experiences have made me strong, still sad, but strong.

Gemma

Why did I have children?

I have just waived goodbye to my four year old, George, for a whole week. He is going to stay with his grandparents in York with his two other little boy cousins. He is going to have the best time ever, but I am already missing him and feeling sad without him being here. It’s incredible how emotionally attached I feel to my children, it’s like no other feeling in the world. I worry about them all of the time, and I don’t think that will ever change.

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I have been reflecting lately on why I had children, why I always wanted to have them. This thought has particularly struck me twice this past week through a couple of observations I’ve made. Firstly, I saw a lovely lady walking along with her screaming toddler and her teeny tiny baby attached to her in a sling. She was also carrying bags and it was evening time so she was probably tired out too. She was calm and totally had it all under control, but I knew how she felt inside. I knew she felt anxious to get home. I knew she wanted her toddler to stop crying and hold her hand nicely. I knew she would be calculating her baby’s next feed time in her head. It just made me stop and think ‘why.?’ Why do we do these hard, hard things?

Another pensive moment I had (I don’t usually have many) was when I was walking past a cafe the other afternoon. I was with my two scooting children who were refusing to scoot and we were trying to make our way home before it was too late to cook and the inevitable cereal dinner would make an appearance. The sun was shining, and the cafe had outdoor tables filled with people idly sipping their smoothies and reading books. I gazed so longingly at these people that I almost tripped over my non scooting children. I was wishing it was me sitting there enjoying some peace by myself. I was wishing I could eat cake and do what the heck I wanted for a few hours. Then I asked myself, why do I feel like this? Why am I so often wishing that I could have some ‘me’ time and that I wasn’t looking after my children? Why do I want to be somewhere else? Why do I clock watch until bed time some days? I know all parents do this sometimes and that it’s normal, but I want to do less of it.

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These feelings don’t mean we are bad parents, I know that, it has just made me reflect on why I am a mother. I have been spending way too much energy on these thoughts recently and I need to shift my focus. When I really look at my children, I see these incredible little people. They have feelings, they hurt, they rejoice, just like I do. They are intelligent and curious and innocent, they are beautiful. They deserve my time, my whole heart and soul. I have also been thinking about the kinds of childhood memories they are forming already. What will they say when people ask them about their upbringing and what their parents were like? Will they say ‘my mum was really grumpy and not much fun?’ ‘My mum took care of me but she didn’t seem to enjoy it.’ ‘My mum always seemed like she would rather be somewhere else.’ Doesn’t it just hit you when you consider it like that? I am impacting their little minds so massively with experiences that will stay with them forever. Pretty full on, huh.

I see so many people having a hard time with their kids, just like the lady I saw making her way home. Some days are so incredibly hard, but we do it anyway, and we have more children! Aren’t there those moments, though, when you just feel so much happiness you might burst? When my children tell me they love me and they hug me and kiss me, I feel so much joy. Pure joy.

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Yesterday, I was particularly snappy and wishing the day away. I really wan’t a nice mummy and I felt it. Once the kids were asleep, I went and laid next to George and just held onto him for a while as he slept. I told him how special he is and how much I love him and just cuddled him for ages, tears streaming down my face. These moments really do make everything else melt away, as cliche as that sounds. My children are a part of me, they grew in my body and I see my face in theirs. I want to be better for them and for us all to be happy and enjoy this incredible gift of family life we have been given.

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Gemma

Countdown to school

George, my eldest, is starting school in September. I am not the first mum to go through this, neither will I be the last, but it is the first time for me and I’m struggling. I know all of the cliche stuff; he will thrive, it’ll be nice to have a bit more time to myself, it’ll be good for all of us, bla bla bla. I don’t want my baby to start school! I don’t want to hand him over to someone else to teach him things that I have no control over. I don’t want him to be influenced in a negative way by other children, or for him to be treated in a way that I wouldn’t agree with. That’s life though, right? It’s the first stage of him starting to grow up and learn about the world through his own experiences.

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I am realising how much I need to be in control of what my children are exposed to and how difficult it is to trust someone else to do things the same way I would. I’m making this all about me aren’t I? It shouldn’t be about me, it should be about my precious boy and focusing on what is best for him. George is incredibly academic for a four year old and I know that he needs school and that he will love it. He loves to read and learn and interact with other children his own age. He is sociable and energetic and I have seen him get bored lately and need more structure and stimulation in his days. Whenever we talk about school I am super enthusiastic and excited because that’s how I want him to feel. I don’t want to make school negative in any way because I want him to love it and look forward to it. I just can’t shake this uneasy feeling of what it will be like to have a child at full time school.

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Maybe I just can’t handle the fact that I have to be more responsible and mature. I have to get him to school on time, making sure he has everything he needs and that he looks smart. I have been thinking about the changes I need to make in order to be a better mum generally, as well as in relation to busy school days.

  • I want to get up and ready before the children get up. More often than not, it’s the kids coming in to wake me up in the mornings but I want it to be the other way around.
  • I need to be better at preparing a healthy breakfast, rather than just a quick bowl of cereal. It will be important for George to have a good start to the day so that he doesn’t get hungry and that he can concentrate on the things he needs to do. I am not thinking anything extravagant just toast and avacados and eggs, stuff like that.
  • I must not be late. I must not be late. I am late pretty much everywhere I go, which I hate and I’m working on it. I cannot have George being the kid that’s always late for school so I need to step up and manage my time so much better.
  • No TV in the mornings before school. It’s been a bit of a theme during the holidays for the kids to get the ipad if they wake up early in the morning (I’m ashamed to admit that but it’s true). So I am already phasing that out because I definitely don’t want his school days to start with Octonauts.

I know it is an exciting time, I just don’t really like change. It’s about George though, not me, and I know he is going to love school and I am going to be there cheering him all the way.

Gemma

Thinking about going back to work..?

I have so many wonderful mummy friends since having children. We hang out all the time and support each other so much in our daily ups and downs with our little ones. I must confess, that we hardly ever talk about our lives before kids and I really don’t know much about what people did before. We are all accomplished women and we had careers but that isn’t really the focus of our conversations any more, it’s all about the kids. Don’t get me wrong, I am so happy and grateful that I get to be a stay at home mum and I love it. I’ve just been thinking a bit more lately about whether or not I will ever go back to work and what it would be like.

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I am a qualified dental hygienist and dental therapist. I guess most people know what a hygienist is but no one seems to know what I mean when I say therapist. It means that I am also qualified to extract children’s teeth and perform various types of fillings in adults and children. I studied for two and a half years and was one of only twelve people (out of over two hundred that applied) to be offered a place on my course at the time. I actually got married ten days after my final exams so it was a pretty intense time all round.

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I worked for almost two years once I’d qualified, right up until I had my first baby, and I haven’t worked since. It’s been almost five years now and I feel a bit out of touch with it all. If I had to go back to work tomorrow I think I’d be terrified because I’ve lost my nerve and things have changed a lot in that time. I do wonder about what it would be like to have a job again though. I can’t say that I adore my career which I guess is good in some ways as it wasn’t hard for me to give it up for my kids. However, I do miss that feeling of achievement at the end of the day. After a crazy day of back to back patients, challenging myself to never run late, giving people the best treatment I possibly could, I felt so good. I was exhausted but I’d done it and it was such a satisfying feeling. As a stay at home mum, it’s harder for me to distinguish when my work is ‘done’ because it never really is. I constantly beat myself up about everything I’m doing wrong and all the things I should be doing once the children are in bed. I can’t just pack up and go home and relax like I could when I was working. Even if I went back now I guess it would never be like that again because I’d come home to busy family life!

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I feel very lucky to have a husband who is able to provide for us, I know it isn’t like that for everyone. It is an absolute joy to be with my children every day and to teach them and influence them in my own way, as their mother. Financially, it would make so much sense for me to work and give us a double income. It’s not easy by any means but we make it work because we feel like it’s important. If I worked we could do a lot more and potentially even live somewhere bigger, but is that what I want? What is more important to my family? I actually don’t know right now, I really don’t. Our home is lovely, but it’s teeny tiny. We don’t go without, but we have to watch our spending  I would need to find childcare but I guess people do it, don’t they? I don’t want to work and leave my kids but if I had to, then I would. Am I doing what’s best for them by being with them and not working? I feel lucky that I have a career that you can just dip in and out of and there are lots of jobs around. It’s also flexible with hours so I know I could make it work with family life if I tried hard enough. Do I want to though? Do I want to go out and earn money for my family? Of course I do! Do I want to leave my family in the hands of someone else while I do that? Not so sure about that one…

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Gemma

Epic day at the seaside making memories and trying to be a ‘yes mum’

It’s 6.10am. I’ve been awake since 5.30am even though I am utterly exhausted. No covers, open windows and a fan literally blowing in my face all night just isn’t enough to combat the heat. It doesn’t help that my back is sun burnt to oblivion so every time I turn over its pretty much agony. 

Yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far and I did something all the Brits out there will understand as a little bit crazy, I went to Brighton. A few of my mum friends had planned a trip and I had said yes, then no, then yes again. I just knew it would be so hot and difficult with the kids to get there and be out all day. I was battling in my head between taking the easy option of the splash pad by our house or stepping out of my comfort zone and taking the kids on a real adventure. I was thinking about how the children would love the beach and I knew they would have so much fun being with their friends all day. I still think of my kids as being tiny and that they just won’t remember any of this when they’re older. I was talking to my friend about that the other day and we were kind of realising that we have memories from the age that our kids are now. It hit me that I need to make more of an effort to make sure they have some wonderful experiences locked away in their little heads. So, at the last minute, Brighton here we come.

We’d all organised to meet at the designated train station and had planned our route. Six adults and ten kids is a pretty big procession to get on and off trains but we were going to make it work. We all had this ‘I know it’s going to be a tough day but I’m going to enjoy it’ determination and it really spurred me on. 

Let’s just say our train journey to the beach was nothing short of HELLISH. Loads of trains were cancelled so when we finally made it on, it was utterly packed. We split up into different carriages and it was just me and my mummy of three friend together with our double pushchairs. Our oldest boys had managed to get a seat together in a corner next to a less than impressed old lady. They weren’t being bad, they were just super excited and loud which doesn’t go down well on a sweaty train full of grumpy people late for work. The train filled up so much and I got totally wedged into a corner. I couldn’t even see my boy and had to just shout to him every few minutes to check he was ok! At one point, my friend was sitting in one side of her pushchair breast feeding her baby while her other child sat next to her screaming his head off. She’s pretty inspiring. People shocked me at how selfish and thoughtless they can be about piling into the train. I know they all want to get on but literally my friend had to push someone off of her baby’s head at one point. Come one people have some sense and courtesy for the little ones, just because they’re small doesn’t mean you can just squish them.


As I was standing on the train, I thought to myself if I’ve known this would happen would I still have come. I was happy that I actually felt like I would because I was being empowered by just having to suck it up and get on with things. We wouldn’t be on the train forever, although it did feel that way at some points in the journey.

When we finally made it to Brighton I think we all felt shattered already but happy to make the twenty minute walk to the beach. If you’ve ever been to Brighton then you’ll know that it’s a beach of stones and pebbles, not sand. Part of me rejoices in the fact that I won’t be finding sand in every orifice of my kids bodies and part of me wished we had worn waterproof shoes so that the journey to the sea wasn’t so agonising on our feet. You live and learn.


We set up camp and got the kids into their swimmers, as well as sun creaming them to within an inch of their lives. The water was so blue and beautiful, if I squinted my eyes just a little I could imagine I was in Italy or somewhere rather more exotic than where we actually were. We spent the entire day at the beach just playing and eating our picnics and watching each other’s kids, it was really lovely. The children (most of them) loved the water and it was such a joy to see their happy little faces. Sandcastles were out due to the lack of sand but they made their own fun with pebble collecting and wave dodging. I love seeing my children amuse themselves and find things that interest them without me having to always push them to do it. Seeing them happily fill a bucket with stones over and over again is really a joyful thing to watch.


Before we knew it, it was time to head home. After a loooooooong packing up session we were heading back to the station. A twenty minute up hill climb with two kids in a double pushchair as well as every beach supply you can imagine in thirty degree heat is pretty epic. We literally congratulated each other at the top and my body felt like I’d done a full on workout. At least the train journey home wouldn’t be as bad as it had been in the morning. Oh wait, YES IT WOULD.

Trains cancelled and delayed all over the place meant that the station was heaving with people and we had to change our route home entirely. Another long, busy, sweat inducing journey and we finally made it home to our cool showers and iced water.


I had a really lovely day, even through all of the stressful moments. I think you get extra strength to keep it together when you know you have kids that are relying on you. I needed to keep them hydrated and entertained and so that’s what I did, putting aside the sweat pouring down my body and the aches in my legs. 

The children really had a wonderful day.I hope that somewhere they’ll store these moments up and feel that fuzzy feeling when they look back one day and feel like they are on the beach again without a care in world enjoying everything life has to offer them.

Gemma

Children that won’t go to bed

It’s 10pm and my two little cherubs are still crashing around in their bedroom. Due to lack of space they share a room, which I generally am really happy about. They adore being together and it’s lovely to see how close their relationship is becoming. For the past few months, though, bedtime has been a total and utter nightmare. 

They go bed around 7pm and they are both deffo ready for it. Sophie, my two and a half year old, dropped her day time naps around a year ago which was way too early. She just didn’t want to miss out on whatever her big bro was doing and simply refused to sleep. This means that she is extra ready for bed by 7pm as she is already having less sleep than other kids her age. 


We do our little bed time routine, shut the door and wait for the carnage. They get out of bed almost immediately and start coming out of their bedroom. Here are just a few of my favourite (not) reasons they have given lately for getting up;

  • I’m thirsty
  • I need a poo
  • Sophie pinched me
  • Georgie won’t let me sleep in his bed
  • I hurt my knee climbing out of Sophie’s cot
  • George keeps waking up my bubba (doll)
  • I just need to do the code on your phone

Seriously? I don’t know what to do! Help me! I have tried soooooo many things. Putting them back to bed without speaking, taking away a privilege, bribing them with a treat (don’t judge me), audio books. Nothing works. I get so tried of it because the evenings are so precious after a busy day of being a mummy. I need to get stuff done or just sit in a heap or watch a rubbish tv show. I’m so frazzled by the time they finally fall asleep and there isn’t much of an evening left to do anything. It makes things tense because we are all so tired all the time. Occasionally they go to bed perfectly and I think we’ve cracked it, but they are just lulling me into a false sense of security and are back up to their old tricks the next night. 


They are such good children and I know this won’t last forever. I know it’s just ‘one of those stages’ and that it will pass. I know I’ll look back when they’ve left home and wish they were still keeping me up at night. I know all of this and I know it will be ok but it’s hard to see through it when you’re in it.

I need to be a bit more relaxed about it I think because it doesn’t help when I get worked up. If they are staying in their room but still being noisy then I’m trying to leave them to it and carry on with the evening. I’ve done a lot of reading about it all and I came across some wise words in someone’s blog that really helped me. The mother was saying that she puts her kids to bed and let’s them get on with it. As long as they aren’t hurting each other and they stay on their room then she doesn’t worry about it. “I know they’ll go to sleep eventually, how they get to that point is up to them!”


Any advice would be greatly appreciated. They’ve gone quiet now…but I’ve been stung before so I’m keeping a safe distance for at least another half hour.

Gemma 

No internet + girls holiday

Helloooooooooooooo out there!

BT sent us an email about a month ago saying ‘goodbye and thank you for your custom.’ Er, what the? We phoned them immediately and I won’t bore you with the VERY boring details but it took three weeks and around ten hours of phone calls by my poor husband to get back online. Un.Be.Leivable. I felt really cut off and unable to do so many things that I usually do, like blogging. I used up my phone data allowance so fast because I was having to use it all the time and it was just a real pain. Anyway, it’s not the end of the world and things are back to normal now so here I am.

More interesting news is that I went on a girls holiday and it was amazing. Myself and four friends have been saying for ages about going away somewhere but not really seriously. I decided to look up some flights and found out that a return to Copenhagen was £31!!! So, we found a date that worked and booked to go for two nights, woo hoo. The Dad’s were left in charge of the kiddos and off we went. I was so excited, even for the plane journey as it meant time to sit and read (or nap) which is rare these days.

We booked a lovely air bnb right in the city centre, such a perfect location. It was on the fourth floor (with no lift, sheesh) and so it had stunning views and felt really peaceful. We dumped our luggage and went straight out to explore. None of us had ever been to Copenhagen before and we were keen to see as much as we could in the relatively short time we had. We decided that a boat trip would be a good start so that we could get a feel for where things were and have a good look around. It was really fun and so relaxing to just sit and look at pretty things and take photos. I love being on the water, I find it so calming, so this was the perfect start to the weekend.

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We had made a dinner reservation that evening for Host after reading lots of great reviews. It looked cosy and very Danish, which is what we wanted. They have a set menu so we pretty much all went for that, but got way more than we bargained for…They started bringing out dishes that weren’t on the menu saying that they just like to surprise their customers! It was food that I had never eaten before and it was really fun to try new things. Some were yummy (powdered chicken skin), and some not so much (a big mouthful of salt that I thought was powdered chicken skin but was just part of the plate decoration), but all a great experience. Eight courses (yep, eight) and three hours later, we were ready to head ‘home.’

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Late night girly chat and giggles led us into the wee hours and then off to bed knowing we could sleep in, woop. I realised how much I love girl time, it makes me feel young.

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The next day we spent ages getting ready…

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…and then headed to Frederiksborg Castle and it was so pretty. We had a guided tour, which I’m not usually into but I’m so glad we did. It was so interesting and I loved looking at all of the beautiful art work and architecture.

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In the evening we visited Tivoli Gardens which, for me, was the highlight of the trip. It is a really old amusement park and is said to be where Walt Disney got some of his inspiration for the Disney theme parks. It was SO MUCH FUN. It rained a lot but we didn’t let that stop us. We went on roller coasters and bumper cars and just wet ourselves laughing half the night. There was also a big music concert happening in the grounds so we were dancing and laughing until the early hours.

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We had to check out by 11am the next morning so had planned to go out early but that didn’t quite happen for all of us after such a late night. One of the girls got up super early and went exploring by herself. Two of the girls woke up at the same time and literally got out of bed and left the house to walk around for an hour before check out. Me and my roomie were the last to leave and we headed to a breakfast cafe called Atelier September that we had read about, even though we didn’t really have enough time…We had some amazing avacado toast and eggs with this delicious Danish cheese, so yum. We rushed back to pack and vacate our pad and then did some shopping, last minute sight seeing (we went in the church that had the original Christus which was pretty special) and then lunch before heading to the airport.

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I had such a lovely time with these girls, it was medicine for my soul. I missed my family and was excited to see them. I felt really refreshed, it was just the break we all needed I think. Copenhagen was magical and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a beautiful city holiday.

Girls trips rule.

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Gemma