21 September 2017

Behind every book, a story…

Tracey Bell was just a little girl when her Daddy died suddenly, shattering the lives of her and her family. Now over two decades later, instead of allowing herself to remain gripped by grief, she has used her experience to help others, by writing a book. She tells ‘Rejoice Always’ about her journey.

Easter Tuesday, 28th March 1989 was the day that changed my life forever. That was the day my Daddy died. ‘Big Harry’ McClelland, as he was affectionately known, suffered a massive heart attack aged just 34 and died suddenly; leaving behind his wife Myrtle, aged 29 and his two young children. I was nine and my brother was six.

Our biggest hero was gone, and the feelings of shock, confusion, abandonment, devastation and grief that are so difficult for adults to cope with seemed to be magnified when resting on such young shoulders.

And that’s why, almost 23 years later, I have written a book that I hope will help other children today left in such a tragic position.

The book is entitled ‘Love Never Ends’ and has been beautifully illustrated by Joanne Diffin, my cousin. It tells the simple, yet poignant story of a little girl’s first experience of bereavement when her beloved pet cat dies in an accident. She is heartbroken and her questions, concerns and feelings are explored through the book from a Christian viewpoint. It is also a story of love and hope as the little girl begins the slow process of healing.

My personal experience has enabled me to add compassion and insight to the pages of the book. As a child, I just didn’t understand what Daddy’s death meant. I remember leaning over him in his cold, hard coffin and letting my tears drip onto his closed eyelids thinking that it would somehow magically wake Daddy up. I was so angry when he didn’t wake up and felt that he didn’t care enough about me to come back. I wondered how my big, strong Daddy could have died; sure I needed him!

Just a few months later, my devastation and sense of loss drove me to the One I believed could offer the comfort and protection my father always had – God.

I desperately turned to my Heavenly Father in prayer. I knew the Lord’s Prayer and the fact that we address God as Father. I remember lying on top of my bed one afternoon and just praying: “God, my Daddy’s gone; I need you to be in my life, to be my Daddy now.” Ever since that day, I have referred to Him as ‘Daddy God’.

What I found in Jesus has given me so much strength and guidance all through life’s journey – the good times and the bad times. But I have to admit, it has been a slow healing process and writing the book has helped me. With a background in public relations, and a natural passion for writing, the storyline came easily to me, but it also required a huge emotional effort.

After Daddy died, I stopped speaking. I heard so many people at Daddy’s wake talking about the weather or about football and I found it hard to contemplate how ‘life goes on’ when I felt that the whole world should just stop. I decided nothing was worth talking about anymore. I was referred to a child psychologist, but even when I did start speaking again, I could never talk about Daddy. But because of the book, I’ve had to delve into my emotions, think thoughts I’d chosen to block out for years and talk about Daddy – which has helped my healing almost 23 years after his death.

I have written the book because of my desire to help grieving children talk about their feelings, find comfort and start the healing process. It is often difficult to know how to comfort children who are sad, angry, scared and often unable to express their hurt. As is often said, when it comes to loss, we’re often at a loss for words. It is my prayer that this book will help.

It was during a low point in my life that I felt it upon my heart and came to the decision to write the children’s book. It was during a time of crisis when I was sick and lost my job. Not only was I battling physical illness, but I had to cope with losing my job and what that meant to me. I lost my financial security and also my sense of worth. I felt hopeless. But when you are at your lowest the only way to look is up, and I really drew close to God in that time, and just like when I was a child, I was reminded that God loves me and that He is my security.

Looking back on my journey I can see God’s hand in it all. If I had still been at work, I would never have had time to write the book. The thought might have been there, but I don’t know if it would have materialised. Also, having the book to focus on has given me a renewed purpose. What could be better than combining my passion for writing with my passion for God?

My book was launched on Daddy’s birthday at the FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children & Young People, Patricia Lewsley and it has been endorsed by Eamonn Holmes, one of the most recognised personalities in broadcasting.

One of my favourite Bible verses is Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you – plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I believe that life is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. Some of us may have all the pieces, others may have lost some and broken others, but only God has the cover of the box and knows what the masterpiece will turn out to be.

This really is God’s book and I’m excited to see what He’s going to do with it next.

Tracey Bell

Vi Dawson, one of ‘Rejoice Always’ regular contributors, spoke at the launch of the book and shared her own family’s experience of bereavement. She added, “As parents we understandably try to protect our children from pain, hurt and loss; but we cannot. Grief is very personal and the journey from grief to healing is therefore a deeply personal one for each individual. Tracey’s book sensitively draws alongside the child, gives them permission to cry, reminds them that ‘love never ends’ and for the Christian assures them that not only will they see that loved one again but affirms there is a God who loves and cares for them.”