WRITING: How it started for me

The first time I had a desire to share something publicly in written form happened following the worst night of my life.

The writing didn’t happen immediately. In fact I never dreamt I’d pen what I had seen and experienced on that night of nights. It seemed too personal. But in time I had a longing to explain how something so dreadful could exude such beauty.

In fact my first published piece of writing was in the professional nursing journal, the Nursing Standard. I wrote as a staff nurse who normally cared for adult patients, about something I had learnt from my experience in paediatrics.

Perhaps that’s a tad deceptive. I wasn’t working in paediatrics. I was a mother with a sick child.

And on the night in question our child died.

It was a night I will never forget. A night of indescribable pain, not least because we weren’t with Cheryl when she died.

When we returned to the hospital after the devastating phone call, the staff nurse showed us into the sideward. I thought I knew what I was going to see when she pushed the door open, as I had prepared many a body in my other life as a nurse in cardiology.

White shrouds and starched sheets tucked under the chin was the normal preparation before a visiting family came to say their goodbyes… or so we had been taught.

But not so on this night.

Cheryl was beautifully dressed in the pink and lemon dress I had bought for what was to be her last birthday – her tenth. The waves of her blonde hair bounced as she was placed into my arms. No stiff starchiness of death produced any distance between us.

And as I stretched out her fingers my mother exclaimed: “Someone’s cut her nails. I was going to do that tomorrow.”

“It was me,” the nurse replied, concerned she had done something wrong.

It wasn’t wrong, we reassured her. It was beautiful. That she should even think to trim her nails.

“I wanted her to be lovely for you. She is… was… such a beautiful child.”

“Is,” I corrected. “She is beautiful.”

In the days that followed I couldn’t help but think of how often we nurses had got it wrong. How we had prepared someone’s father or mother, or husband, or wife, after their death, and in our white-starched world we had unwittingly created a barrier between them and the people who wanted that last hug… that final caress.

We had done our best, but our best had created a “don’t-touch” look.

And so I wrote a nursing article for adult nurses – to encourage them to create as natural an atmosphere as possible for families when they come to say their final farewells. The biggest surprise came when the journal agreed to publish it!

I called the article: “Death of a Child.” It was published back in 1990, and has often been used with student nurses in N. Ireland to help them discuss issues around care of the dying.

It was a ‘writing’ first for me.

Often what we like to read comes from an author’s everyday experiences of both joy and sorrow.

In my case writing began as the product of sorrow, but I discovered that even that can produce something beautiful.

What awful thing has produced something beautiful in your life?

By |2018-08-14T11:52:36+00:00September 12th, 2015|Categories: Writing|Tags: , , |7 Comments


  1. Pat Mcknight September 12, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    Still brings tears to my eyes Catherine. You gave truly been a blessing to many, may you continue to write for a very long time. Thank you.x

    • Catherine September 12, 2015 at 8:17 pm

      Thanks Pat. Nice to have folk look in who can remember the girls 🙂

  2. Ruth Beasant September 12, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    In all the years of our friendship I never knew that that was your first article…..how precious for you. I still remember Cheryl’s beautiful blond hair and I remember you telling me about the nurse cutting her nails. Very special memories. I just know your blog will bless everyone who reads it Catherine…..you are indeed a pen in the hand of the mighty writer:) Blessings x x x

    • Catherine September 13, 2015 at 9:36 am

      Thanks dear friend. Looking forward to seeing you soon x

  3. Fran September 12, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    I’ve written a lot about my childhood which was full of trauma, but haven’t published those specific pieces of writing. In fact, mostly I write comedy. But I think every experience we have becomes part of anything we want. It’s that particular perspective on life. How comforting, though, to know that someone you wrote which had so much truth in it, being real and not just theoretical, has helped people to be better nurses. That can’t be valued.

    • Catherine September 13, 2015 at 9:42 am

      Thanks for the useful comments. I do try to lighten what I write with humour but what a gift to be able to make people laugh! The Bible says laughter is good for the soul. And I love to laugh.

  4. Fran September 12, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    Correction – I mean anything we WRITE, not anything we want.

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