22 January 2018

Memories of a special baby girl inspired Sophie Wood to set herself a 520-mile challenge, which ended with an amazing twist of fate.

Sophie’s tiny niece Mia will always be a big part of her family’s world.

“Many people say things like ‘you would have had a niece or granddaughter,’ but the truth is, we have a niece or granddaughter and she will always be remembered and loved,” she says.

Sophie WoodSophie was overjoyed when she found out her sister was expecting

When Sophie first found out her sister was pregnant, she and her family could not contain their excitement.

The 21-year old junior account executive from Croydon loved the idea of welcoming her niece into the world.

For Sophie’s parents, Mia would be their first grandchild. Their home would be filled with playdates and birthday parties, glitter and laughter.

With each trimester, the excitement grew as her sister Rebecca’s bump became bigger and bigger. But sadly, on August 28, 2016, Mia was born sleeping.

She looked like the most perfect little sleeping baby

“Losing Mia was just heartbreaking because she was taken from us before we ever got to know her.

“Although we weren’t able to hear her cry or see her smile, we did get to hold her, and she looked like the most perfect little sleeping baby.”

A remembrance table for baby MiaThe family’s remembrance table for baby Mia

Determined to keep her beautiful little niece’s memory alive, Sophie decided to take on a personal challenge in Mia’s name and to raise money for charity.

“The challenge was to do a 10-mile walk, every week, for a year,” says Sophie, who completed her final walk on October 8, 2017.

“Although most of the walks I did were not far from home, by the end of the year I’d walked 520 miles, which is further than walking from Portsmouth to Edinburgh.”

##Time for memories

Walking for Mia gave Sophie lots of time to think. “It was a good opportunity to spend two or three hours a week thinking, clearing my head and just giving myself that time to think about Mia,” she says.

“I kept reminding myself that everything happens for a reason. And I believe that reason was she was too perfect for this world.”

During some of her walks, Sophie was joined by other people who had precious memories of a special baby of their own. Walking in Mia’s memory also motivated Sophie to raise more than £1,000 for Sands, a charity which supports families after baby loss and is also working to save precious lives.

Sophie returning home after a walkSophie completed a 10-mile walk every week for a year

Sophie and her family decided to do something extra-special, to mark Mia’s first angelversary in August 2017. They released a balloon at Boxhill in Surrey with handwritten messages for their precious girl. Sophie added details of how anyone who found the balloon, could get in touch.

Just weeks after completing her walk for Mia challenge, Sophie received a letter from an address in Germany. Amazingly, Mia’s balloon had floated to where they lived, exactly 520 miles away.

a red heart shaped balloon floating in the sky

“It meant the world to me,” she says Sophie. “My challenge had been to walk 520 miles in the year. It felt like fate to me.”

To keep Mia’s memory alive, the Woods have also planted a remembrance rose in their garden called Loving Memory. The red roses that bloom every summer will be another special reminder of their beautiful girl.

The family has also created a memorial table in their house for Mia.

“It has little angels statues, a photo of her, and a love heart urn with her ashes in,” smiles Sophie, who believes in reincarnation and hopes that Mia’s spirit is now as free as a bird or butterfly.

We felt like they were both there with us

She explains how she takes comfort from a little robin, who regularly visits the garden.

“It may seem strange but when you see the same robin return every day, even in the summer, it starts to mean so much more.

“On Christmas Day we had two robins land on our fence, which we believed to be Mia, my niece, and my Grandad, who we lost recently.

a robin on a fence

“It's something so simple, but put a smile on all of our faces because we felt like they were both there with us.”

##Keeping memories alive – Sophie suggests

  • Set up a charity event in their name

“It really helped me to heal and also gave me a sense of achievement, of turning a bad situation into a good one.”

  • Have a special place to remember them

“Whether or not it’s somewhere that you went together, make it your own place to remember that person. Plant a seed, release a balloon or just go for a drink and raise a toast in their memory.”

  • Remember the good times

“Because I am sure your loved one never wanted you to be upset.”