EPILOGUE – OKAY TO CRY

This blog was put together as part of my fundraising effort for Winston’s Wish, the children’s bereavement charity. I was on a 16 week training programme in the build up to running Brighton Marathon. To raise awareness of the cause, 25 people, who were all bereaved in childhood, shared their stories of loss – and the aftermath. I am truly grateful to all those who contributed, knowing first hand how difficult it is to express such deep emotion. Thank you also to those who donated so generously. In total, the project raised over £6,300. This money will allow Winston’s Wish to provide bereavement care for two families for almost a year, including residential support camps. Together we have all brought light to dark times. An amazing achievement!

Team Winston before running 26 miles ...

Team Winston before running 26 miles …


And after, with my family

And after, with my family

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

CATRIN, 21 (age 5)

CATRIN – Student Film Maker and Winston’s Wish Young Ambassador
Catrin’s family was involved in a horrific car crash. Her dad was killed. Catrin was so traumatised that she took on the persona of a dog to distance herself from the pain.

P1070768-1

Christmas 1998. It was going to be the most amazing family holiday in Sir Lanka. We arrived very late into Columbo airport – my daddy, mother, two brothers (10 and 3) two sisters (9 and 7) and myself (5, pictured standing in front of my daddy). We all bundled into the big white van that was taking us our destination, Galle. My brothers and I were in the back seats, my mother and sisters in the middle, and my daddy in the front next to the driver. There were no rear seat belts, only in the front. I fell asleep as soon as I sat down.

When I woke, the van had stopped moving. There were voices. I looked up and saw our driver (who had got out of the car) talking to my dad through the window. I looked straight ahead and just saw this white light heading towards us. Then a BANG and black…..

When I wake it’s dark. I’m confused and I lift my head to find a strange man staring back at me. He lifts me up and takes me outside. There’s lots of noise. I see my family laid out on the ground. I’m placed on the ground next to them; it’s hard. I’m scared and I don’t know what’s going on. I want my mummy. I look straight up and see a group of women staring back at me. I have a bleeding nose.

Then I look over to the front of the van. There is another van on top of ours. My dad is in the front seat, but he’s not moving. He is at a slant with blood covering his face. There are men trying to get him out, but he’s trapped by the seat belt.

Blurriness takes over. In the ambulance on the way to hospital my older brother rolls onto my broken ankle and I remember groaning. I don’t recall much of what happened in the hospital, except being on a metal trolley watching nurse and doctors running around … blurriness … being wheeled to see my mummy who is on a hospital bed, shaking and crying. I feel a tap on my leg and it’s my little brother showing me his leg cast. Then a nurse comes and shoves a needle in my right arm. That still traumatises me to this day.

We stayed in Sri Lanka for a while. My uncle, grandparents and a few close friend flew over to help care for my older sister, my little brother and myself, while my mum stayed with my middle sister and older brother in hospital. Out of us five children, they were the most seriously injured, but both pulled through. I was the least injured, but mentally something changed …

Scan 1 33

To deal with the trauma of the crash I turned myself into a dog, but not just any dog – a dalmatian dog. I would bark at people, sniff everything, and wear a dalmatian outfit every day. I was like this for about two years. I struggled in school, both in work and socially. If I saw blood, or even a plastic skeleton, I would have flashbacks to the car crash. It’s taken a very long time for these to stop, or at least not affect me anymore.

My siblings and I went to Winston’s Wish about a year after the car crash. We went to one of the residential weekends. We had such fun. I was 6 at the time and I remember putting the memory box together which I still have to this day. My Winston’s Wish teddy bear is still on my bookshelf. I feel that Winston’s Wish helped us because it made us realise we weren’t alone; there were others like us. I have great memories of that weekend. It really helped us to take that next step. We light our teddy bear candle on my daddy’s birthday and the day of his death.

On Boxing day 2013 it was 15 years since my daddy’s death. I have become a young ambassador to help spread the word and help other children who have been bereaved too.

To donate to Winston’s Wish http://www.justgiving.com/Anna-Todd1

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TIM, 24 (age 16)

TIM, Site Manager and Winston’s Wish Young Ambassador – 24 (age 16)
Tim’s mother died within days of contracting a rare and deadly superbug called Panton-Valentine Leukocidin (PVL). In the months and years to come, Tim struggled with his grief, turning to alcohol to help him cope.

l1024654-2

I still remember it clearly – the fateful day my mum died of PVL. I didn’t know what was happening. My mum had been a little ill for about a week and was then admitted to hospital. My brother visited her, but I chose to go and see some friends. There was nothing to suggest this would be the last time I would see her in a conscious state. That night my dad was called in. In the morning my brother and I were driven in, not knowing the gravity of the situation. I remember seeing the sign for the ICU ward; I still get goose bumps thinking about it. Even after seeing my mum on life support I still didn’t get it, but as family from far and wide turned up it slowly sank in. I remember going for a walk and a stranger talking to me, trying to reassure me that everything would be ok. It wasn’t though, and hearing my mum later pronounced dead brought my world crashing down.

The death and funeral both took place during the Easter holidays. I returned to school and because my mum’s death was reported in the local news, there wasn’t a person in the school who didn’t know about it. Dealing with that and the lead up to my GCSE’s was really hard. The school’s support system was basically if you needed to get away you could go and sit in the first aid room. Looking back I’m surprised how little support there was for young people. That’s not to say the school didn’t help me, but they really didn’t know how; it wasn’t their expertise.

Shortly after I remember my dad having a doctor’s check up to ensure he was fit and well and wasn’t suicidal. I was left to my own devices. I struggled. I was arrested a few times. I went off the rails so to speak. Alcohol was my escape. Worst of all the relationship with my dad really fractured. With hindsight, I can see we were both struggling to adapt. The tipping point came 3 months later when I threw a punch at him. A counsellor was brought in, though this was to help rebuild the relationship. The counsellor really only skimmed over the elephant in the room – the bereavement. But she was the one who mentioned Winston’s Wish.

It’s been 8 years, but even now I struggle to talk about my mum’s death; it becomes too painful. For quite some time if anything came up about my mum from people who didn’t know she had died I would answer as if she was alive, so avoiding the need to talk about it. I still cry thinking about it all, but that’s fine; it’s part of the process of bereavement.

I just wish I had known about Winston’s Wish sooner. I hope more young people can be helped by this charity, so in the long run they can still live happy lives and look back on happier memories, rather than regret and sadness.

To donate to Winston’s Wish http://www.justgiving.com/Anna-Todd1

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

SUZIE, 38 (age 15)

SUZIE, Faith Presenter and Journalist
At the height of the AIDS awareness campaign in the 1980s, Suzie’s father contracted HIV following a blood transfusion. He died in 1990.

1395782548670

I was used to dad being ill. He was a haemophiliac, which meant that the kind of bruise you or I wouldn’t bat an eyelid at, could well require an injection of the clotting factor 8 to stop an internal bleed. Both he and my mum were very stoic about it, even though mum had had to learn to give her husband intravenous injections at home. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been. I used to help Dad with his injections when I was a little girl – strange, when you consider how squeamish I am now!

All my family were and are Christians. Our faith was to help us in ways we could never have imagined when, in the late 1980s, dad contracted HIV from the very blood products which were supposed to be helping him. It was two years before the hospital which was treating him told dad he was HIV positive. I must admit, as a 14 year old, that made me incredibly angry. My parents, whilst devastated, were genuinely not bitter, and that had an incredibly positive impact on me. In the autumn of 1989, dad became extremely ill at home as the AIDS took hold, and we thought we were going to lose him at Christmas. But throughout all that time, I remember going to school as normal – in fact, the normality helped. I had just started my GCSE’s, so there was plenty of work to keep me occupied.

Mind you, living with the fact that dad had AIDS was not easy. There was a huge stigma about it at the time, and I remember having to walk past a campaign poster in school bearing the phrase “I have AIDS … Please hug me!”. “I’M DOING THAT EVERY DAY!” I wanted to scream at the poster. My school was extremely supportive, especially to my parents. To be honest, I can’t remember whether or not I told my friends what was wrong with my father, but I suspect I didn’t. I believe my parents had asked the school to keep quiet about it, because they didn’t want me to suffer any bullying. They must have held true to their promise, because I met up with an old schoolpal just the other day (for the first time in 23 years) the first question she asked was “I don’t want to make you sad, but I’ve always wondered, what happened to your dad?” And that’s the interesting part. When dad did die, during the summer holidays of 1990 after 8 months in hospital, it was a relief to mum and I. It had been so awful to see him deteriorating. Plus, because of his unswerving faith in God and firm belief that he was on his way to heaven, we were able to talk to him about dying. I remember his face lighting up when he said that he was going to see his parents, who had died 10 years before, and even his twin brother, who had died when he was only a few days old.

When I went back to school in September, with this mixture of intense sadness and relief, my friends didn’t really talk to me about him, or about what had happened. There were quite a lot of awkward silences. I thought it was just because we were all growing older, and going our separate ways, but when mum (who got on very well with my mates) asked them why they weren’t speaking to me as much, they said “We don’t know what to say. Her dad’s died.” I think they were afraid that I might burst into tears.

And that fear of upsetting someone lives on. My own stepdaughter told me the other day that her new flatmate lost her dad a couple of years ago. “Oh no, what happened?” I asked my stepdaughter. “Oh, I don’t know, I didn’t dare ask her. I didn’t want to upset her”, she replied.

I don’t blame her. It is a bit nerve-wracking to bring up a potentially upsetting subject, especially if you think the person might dissolve in tears in front of you. But then again, maybe that’s okay. Maybe we could teach kids that it’s alright for someone to say “No” when you ask if they’re alright. And the fact they might say “No” should never stop you from asking. Or from staying with them, even if they do cry. Especially if they cry.

To donate to Winston’s Wish http://www.justgiving.com/Anna-Todd1

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

WINSTON’S WISH

PUDDLES OF GRIEF – A volunteer’s memoir of a Winston’s Wish residential camp in the Forest of Dean.
There are charities working to find cures for cancer, diabetes, heart conditions, MS, parkinson’s … There are those working to resolve conflict and terrorism. Well, Winston’s Wish works with families who have been been affected by all these. They work with the ones who are left behind.

The night before, we sit in an enormous dining room absorbing the information in our hands. The details of every child on the camp. It doesn’t matter how many you have “done”, the stories leave you speechless and wondering – how will we cope with so much sadness?

Tomorrow comes. The sun is shining and the River Severn glistens like a giant snake in the valley far below. The kids arrive. They are nervous, excited, bouncy. But as they lay their photos of loving, smiling, happy people on the “memory table”, the reality hits home.

I remember at my volunteer training the founder of Winston’s Wish describing the way a child experiences bereavement as “puddles of grief”. This rings true throughout the whole camp. One minute a little girl is weeping, inconsolable, barely comforted by a tender word or a shoulder to cry on; the next minute she is running about with her new friends, laughing and giggling. Puddles of grief.

Over the weekend, there are challenges and activities to build confidence and trust. A climbing wall; a game of rounders; a running race. There are night hikes and sing songs. But in the midst of the fun and the chaos, there is reflection and quiet and sorrow. The children are helped to speak about the person who has died. They learn new ways to remember them. They create memory boxes; they write letters; they draw and colour and role-play.

A specialist doctor, with the softness of a black labrador by his side, arrives to answer questions. There are many. What happens when you die? Does it hurt to be dead? What is cancer? Why does a heart stop beating? Why couldn’t the doctors save my mummy? Will I die?

Many youngsters speak easily about the person they have lost. They want to talk. They want to be heard. Others are awkward; some disruptive. There is tension and frustration and anger. One child had never spoken about his dad. His mum had removed all trace of him from the family home. Every photo, gone. The boy did not want to talk, at all. When his pencil lead broke, it was as if the world had ended. He threw the pencil across the room. He threw himself against the wall. He screamed and cried. His broken pencil reflected his broken heart. His sister was unfazed by the outburst. Her own sadness was manifested in an entirely different way.

The most poignant part of camp is the candlelight ceremony. Clutching our photos and a candle, we sit in a circle. The lights are turned out; the music turned on. And to the sounds of REM and Robbie Williams, the children – and adults – slowly release the hours, days, months, maybe years, of pent up emotion. Surrounded by the warmth, love and companionship of others who understand, the children know it is okay to cry. And they do. Some silently, others racked by sobs.

One by one the candles are blown out. The kids emerge from their grief in an uprising of energy and noise. They charge out into the chilly night for hot chocolate and a camp fire.

To donate to Winston’s Wish http://www.justgiving.com/Anna-Todd1

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

P, 55 (age 13)

P, 55 (age 13)
This story was sent to me by a man who read about my blog on Twitter. After all these years, he still struggles to come to terms with his mother’s death.

At the end of term I was sent to France for a week with my sister. When we got back my older sister took us home by taxi. This was an unheard of extravagance. That’s when she told us that mum was ill and for the rest of that school holiday I cycled daily to see her in her hospital bed. We all convinced ourselves she would get better from her diabetes. (Last thing at night I still cycle that route in my mind.) Each day my mum got worse and hope turned to devastation. Nonetheless, I had to go to my new boarding school, but on the second day of term I was called into the headmaster’s study and told she had died. I was allowed home for the funeral and my father asked us not to cry – so we didn’t.

Five years later my father died of a heart attack; a broken heart. I found him dead at the bottom of the stairs. Then I just carried on with living.

My advice is to cry as much as you can. I am 55 now and was 13 when my mum died. Amazingly, even at my age, I still feel rather too vulnerable to put a name and photo to this.

To donate to Winston’s Wish http://www.justgiving.com/Anna-Todd1

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

JULIE

JULIE, Mother of Four
Julie’s husband survived a horrific car crash in Autumn 2010. But the trauma had a lasting impact and just over a year later he committed suicide.

photo 4

Life changed forever for me and my family at 1.30pm on 27th November 2010. I received a phone call from a paramedic informing me that my husband had been involved in a car crash. At the hospital, staff told me that Pat’s survival was nothing short of miraculous. He had been stationary at a junction in our Classic Mini Cooper and had been hit from behind by a car which hadn’t even attempted to slow down. The impact forced his car onto a main road where it was hit by an oncoming van. Pat’s head went through the side window. Apart from the massive bang on the head, Pat had apparently escaped with cuts and bruises. That night I considered us to be the luckiest family in the world.

Over the next few months, my husband’s mental health began to suffer. When our marriage broke down, he continued to live locally and remained involved in the care of our four children. For two years, my children and I witnessed his suffering as, tragically, his mental health deteriorated.

On the evening of 8th January 2012, Pat left the home he shared with his girlfriend and he did not return. His body was found at first light the following morning in a children’s play area next to his home. He had hanged himself using the chain of a baby swing.

The children were at school when I was informed of their dad’s death. As I waited for my parents to bring them home to me, I was very aware that my words were about to change their world forever. I also knew that I wasn’t going to allow this tragedy to devastate their childhoods. As they sat on the sofa, I explained that Daddy had taken himself to heaven. Erin who was 10 years old at the time, and Sam who was seven, immediately burst into tears. Ben, four and Daniel, two, looked on bewildered. I told them without doubt that Daddy was happy and safe, having left behind the pain and suffering we had watched him bear for so long.

photo 1

Pat’s funeral was a celebration of a life which had been so much more than those cruel, final years. Erin and Sam were involved in the planning and guests were encouraged not to wear black. During the service we played ‘Billy Hunt’ by The Jam. Maybe not the most popular funeral song choice but it was one the children and their father had often danced to together. As the music played, Sam spontaneously leapt out of his seat in front of hundreds of mourners and danced in the aisle in his dad’s familiar style. At that moment I had never been so proud of my son.

In the weeks and months that followed, questions were asked by each of my children. I answered each one with honesty. I now understand that the truth is often far simpler than what a child’s imagination can create. When Erin asked me where her dad had died, I took her there. She later confided she was expecting the Tower of London and gallows, not a quiet park.

The children and I talk about their dad often and with ease. We laugh about the silly stuff and we talk about the things we miss. Erin, Sam, Ben and Daniel are dealing with their loss in a way us adults could learn from. When they achieve something, they’ll look skyward and ask ‘Did you see that dad?’. If they spot a rainbow, they take a moment to admire its beauty and thank daddy for sending it to them.

My children and I are not travelling our bereavement journey on our own. I had always been a fiercely private person but, by its nature, Pat’s death was a very public event and news spread fast through our village. In the following dark days, we were loved and comforted by family, friends, acquaintances and strangers. I cannot express how a simple, friendly smile from a fellow mum at the school gates helped me cope with my day. The children in the village supported mine in the perfect, innocent and no nonsense way that only children can. At school, I knew they were safe and happy. The head teacher and her staff handled it beautifully by quietly supporting my children without making them feel different.

We are lucky to be surrounded by a fantastic network of family and close friends who keep an eye on us and enrich our lives. From our best friends who we consider family, to my mum and dad who are the most important and loved grandparents in the world. My partner Dave has been by our side through the worst of times. He understands my boys better than I do and when he wraps his arms around Erin, kisses the top of her head and tells her he loves her, I feel so grateful that we have him. Every little girl deserves to be loved like that. Quite simply, Dave is my rock.

photo 3

As a family, we fundraise for Winston’s Wish, the charity for bereaved children. With the support of our amazing community, we have raised almost £2000 over the last two years. As yet, I haven’t used their services, but as my children grow, their grief will adjust and it is a comfort to know that expert help is only a phone call away should we need it.

Erin, Sam, Ben and Daniel inspire me every day with their happy smiles and love of life. They find joy in the simplest of things and their laughter reminds me that despite everything, we are a happy family. We have a sign on the wall in our home which reads: ‘Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain’. My children are the best dancers – and I am the proudest mum in the world.

To donate to Winston’s Wish http://www.justgiving.com/Anna-Todd1

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment