David and Julie Kilpatrick were supported after their baby, Matthew, was stillborn in 2002. They have been the driving force behind the Snowdrop Walks run on behalf of Child Bereavement UK in Sedgefield, County Durham since 2008, giving bereaved families an important opportunity to plant snowdrops in memory of someone special who has died.
We hadn’t heard about Child Bereavement UK until Matthew was stillborn; when faced with a situation like that you don’t know what to do, you just want to take on anything that can help. It made such a difference to be around other people; we didn’t know anyone else who had lost a child and it was a massive help to have somebody to talk to who understood. Grief was a strange and unexpected situation. It helped us to know that we were both grieving, but grieving differently, and that you have to help each other through.
We saw Jenni Thomas (Founder) who explained the different circles in life you dip in and out of; a circle where you are grieving, sad and lonely and then the other circles where you need to be restorative and do nice things. We believe in having fresh flowers, nice wine and going out for coffee to restore ourselves and to get back to normal. Life has to get back to a level of normality otherwise you can’t function. We were very lucky to have friends around us and to meet special people like Jenni Thomas and Ann Chalmers (Chief Executive). Child Bereavement UK has helped us in a way we can’t ever repay and we thank God you are out there to help other people too.
Matthew was buried in a snowdrop garden in High Wycombe, a little garden of remembrance, a nice peaceful place. It was something offered by the local council. The charity’s Snowdrop Walks in West Wycombe, where people get together to plant snowdrops in memory of someone, hadn’t started long before that. When we moved to the North East we thought that going back to West Wycombe and volunteering at their Snowdrop Walk was one thing, but perhaps we could raise money for the charity by putting one on ourselves up here. We chose Hardwick Park because it’s where we first met 30 years ago – Hardwick Hall was a maternity hospital at the time – so the park has very fond memories for us. We thought that having a Snowdrop Walk in the North East would be a great way of giving something back to the charity after they’d helped us so much, and of making others aware of them. We decided to write to our then MP for Sedgefield, Tony Blair, to ask if we could run Snowdrop Walks from Hardwick Park; they were still carrying out a £5 million refurbishment at the time. We were over the moon when he wrote back to us – he’d been in touch with a local Councillor and said it was a great idea.
Two years later the work was completed and we ran our first Snowdrop Walk; we didn’t know if anyone would turn up, but we thought that if just one person comes along then at least we have helped somebody. Our Snowdrop Walks are now in their eighth year here. Friends, family and neighbours all come and help out; we invite family members to come and stay and we make an occasion of it.
The Snowdrop Walks are a quiet affair – the people who come are at all stages of the grieving process. A couple of ladies who come lost their children forty to fifty years ago and they tell us it provides somewhere for them to go to remember. Some people come year after year and we get to know them. We raise about £500-£600 for the charity but it’s not about the money, it’s about every single person who comes. All we need now is the charity’s patron Alan Titchmarsh – he would be more than welcome to attend!
We have been lucky enough to meet another of Child Bereavement UK’s patrons, Prince William, when we were invited to a dinner at Windsor Castle. We were introduced to him as ‘David and Julie who do the Snowdrop Walk.” William asked “How far is it?” We said “280 miles north of here!” He said ‘No, I didn’t mean that!!” He was fantastic – amazing – he was very personable. We also celebrated at the Queen’s Jubilee Concert – there have been lots of benefits of volunteering for Child Bereavement UK! These were all very special things we just didn’t expect.
Child Bereavement UK is so important because if it wasn’t there, there is nowhere for people to turn for emotional guidance at their time of need. For a typical bloke, you think you’ve got to sort it out and do what’s needed to be done as the man of the house, but I couldn’t speak for two days and couldn’t get the words out. It was a massive relief when the charity stepped in, but for those who didn’t get that help it must add tremendously to the trauma. People learn to live with their grief but you never get over it. The charity is absolutely superb – and there should be more support across the country.
Everyone’s grief is different – there’s a stiff upper lip and ‘get on with it’ attitude around bereavement but actually you can’t; you just get on with it, you have to take a step back. We’ve had so much sorrow; we went through fifteen years of IVF before Matthew was born and we lost him at the eleventh hour. So when things like pregnancies happen in the family it can be very emotional; people can be frightened to tell you the news. I found out that my neighbour in High Wycombe who was very supportive when Mathew died, had had twins more than 30 years earlier; one had died at birth. In those days they used to take the baby away and just dispose of it. She was still grieving for all that time; things can affect you in ways you just can’t expect and you never forget it, it’s always there, it never goes.
Nurses, doctors and police should all have it in their remit to have bereavement training; nobody knows what to say to a person who has suffered bereavement. Everyone is different but it’s so easy to say the wrong thing. In The Lancet ten years ago there was an article that said the father shouldn’t be consulted when a baby dies; I went ballistic! I wrote a strong letter – the statistics were not robust, it was a small sample and it didn’t stand up. Men don’t even ask for directions, but it’s crucial that they can get help! Numerous people have called and asked us for help; we always refer them to Child Bereavement UK and their website so we could put people in the hands of professionals. We were very privileged to be in the right place at the right time; if we hadn’t lived in High Wycombe when Matthew died we would have had nothing.
It’s wonderful to receive a Child Bereavement UK 21 Champions Award – as you would say in this neck of the woods ‘It’s champion like!’ When we come down we will visit Matthew’s grave. He would have been thirteen on 16 March. We have had such a lot of support – we didn’t expect to receive an award, we don’t do it for that. When we started out we did this because we wanted to give something back and it helped us too. Now it’s not about us – it’s not even about the charity – it’s about the people who come. You can see it in people’s reactions. We do it because we want to. It’s part of our life now.