A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
My mind is racing this morning as it has been all through the night. My head is so full of thoughts that I can barely decide how to commit them to the keyboard I’m typing on.
Last night I attended an event that I’m positive I’ll never forget. Four friends joined me at a comedy night organised by Grief Encounter, an incredible charity that helps bereaved children through the confusion and pain of grief. I imagine there are those who might feel that there’s a tension in such an organisation trying to make people laugh. But not me. I understood just how powerful a proposition it was as soon as I took to the stage.
Naturally I wasn’t there to tell jokes. I was invited there to introduce a film that I made with the wonderful and inspiring people behind the charity. The film would briefly interrupt the humour to challenge the audience to think about how grief can affect any child who has lost (or one day may lose) a parent or sibling. And the result was palpable. The room, so full of laughter all evening, fell absolutely silent. The contrast of light and shade made the message feel stronger and more powerful than it might if the whole night had been serious. The laughter turned to tears and the tears turned into a colossal sum of money raised to support kids through what is likely to be the most difficult time of their lives.
But the reason my mind is racing is because in amongst the acts, I met a family whose life has been turned upside down over and over again by a cruel tragedy that befell them some ten years ago. I was sitting next to the parents and brother of the murdered Soham school girl, Holly Wells. Her father Kevin and I chatted and we found common ground in our approach to accepting that our grief will be with us for life, but still trying to plan a positive future for ourselves and our families.
As he put it so eloquently earlier this year, “Time doesn’t heal, someone got that wrong. It anaesthetises. Grief does not diminish, but you can manage the intensity and learn to live with it. Murder has the capacity to destroy more lives than the one taken. I recognised that from the start, so I tried to take control, to make plans and to exert positive thought.”
A rather inspiring attitude from a man who could so easily have gone under facing the gravity of the situation that struck his family.
Yet it wasn’t until later this morning that I could finally put my finger on what exactly was racing around my head. I realised that I was thinking about Holly’s brother, Oliver. Now 22, he was just 12 when his ten-year-old sister and her friend Jessica Chapman were murdered by their school care taker.
How does a 12-year-old boy get his head around that?
Isn’t a part of him destroyed too as his childhood is taken in the blink of an eye?
How does he learn to trust such an apparently devastatingly cruel world once more?
And that’s why I was there last night. To help make people think about how grief affects our children. To encourage people not to take the ‘they’ll be fine’ or the ‘they’re too young to understand’ approach. And to explain that there are services out there that can support bereaved children and help them to alleviate the pain caused by the death of someone close.
As I entered the building I was already convinced. I think the audience left convinced too. And when I walked out the building late last night I was more convinced than ever.
Bereaved children need to be shown compassion and offered support. Please take the time to watch this film and perhaps even contribute to the charity if you can. This wasn’t an easy film to make, it may not be an easy film to watch, but the message is so important. Thanks for taking the time.