Eamon’s wife Sasha died from breast cancer when their daughters Ella and Jenna were eight and five years old. Here Eamon and Jenna talk about the impact of Sasha’s death on the family and how they’ve been supported by Child Bereavement UK.

Eamon

 Coming to Child Bereavement UK was the foundation for moving forward and moving on to the new life we have now. Life is normal again and we’re happy.  We wouldn’t be where we are today without Child Bereavement UK – full stop.

Sasha died 8 years ago, she had breast cancer. She was ill for about 18 months, and then eventually, unfortunately, she passed away.  Jenna was only five years old and her sister Ella was only eight.  So obviously, there was a huge gap left in our life.

The children were the most important thing in Sasha’s life. She worked for a media company, but she stopped working after Jenna was born.  She stayed at home to look after the girls and enjoyed doing that. We moved out of London and into the country when Sasha was pregnant with Ella.  Sasha was really dedicated to the children, to looking after them – that became her life and she really enjoyed it.

There were lots of pieces to pick up in the immediate aftermath of Sasha dying.  Even though we knew it was coming, it was still very, very difficult to deal with.

The shock of telling the girls mummy wasn’t coming home was clearly devastating for them.  Jenna was only five years old, so it was difficult to know what was going on in her mind.  It was worse for Jenna because, at the age of five, I don’t think she was able to grasp the ultimate nature of death, that her mummy was gone and wasn’t coming back.

The shock of what happened blocked everything out for quite a long time.  Being left with young children, obviously, the priority was to keep going, to make sure they got to school and that they were fed and clothed.   It was all a bit of a blur really in the first couple of weeks and months because I was just trying to keep things on an even keel.  It’s very difficult and you don’t want the children to be further damaged by seeing you not being able to cope.

Everything seemed quite difficult, just holding down a job and looking after the children seemed monumental. Lots of people are single parents and hold down jobs but in the immediate aftermath, it seemed like it was too big to do.   But obviously you continue and, eventually, you come out the other side.

I wasn’t able to share my feelings with other people initially - I would say, not until six or eight weeks after Sasha died.   That’s when it really hit me, that she was gone, and she wasn’t coming back. It takes you a while before you realise the finality of it all, although it sounds obvious;  it takes a while before you realise that this is absolute and ultimate, there is no way round this now.   Initially, I didn’t really speak to anyone because just carrying on with normal life was too much.   But our immediate family were all very supportive.

Dealing with the children’s grief was far more important than dealing with my own grief because obviously they were upset and didn’t understand. I didn’t want them to bottle up their feelings. We talked a lot about mummy, and about her not being there.  But there were lots of sleepless nights, and lots of tears, which had to be dealt with. When that happens, it doesn’t matter what you are doing, you have to stop and give it your full attention.  It’s not the kind of thing where you can continue cooking dinner and pay lip service to it – you must stop and deal with it.

There were occasions where one might be upset and the other might not be, or they both might be, so it was quite intense for quite a long period time, and very tiring. And then, once you have dealt with the immediate grief, you are left to reflect on it which stirs a lot of things up for you as well, which is double trouble for you really.

I was very fortunate that an aunt of mine had read an article in the Sunday Times Magazine about someone of a similar age to me in a similar situation, which mentioned Child Bereavement UK. I thought it would be a good idea to contact the charity to get support for the children.  It was something totally out of my comfort zone and which I knew nothing about.  However, from the moment I engaged with the charity, they supported the three of us through everything.  I was lucky that someone pointed out Child Bereavement UK to me.

The initial support we received was through a family group.  They did exercises where the girls mixed with other children who had suffered similar tragedies.   The games and exercises helped to extract some of the grief the girls were feeling but were not able to articulate.

The family sessions ran for six weeks and were quite intensive. After that, Child Bereavement UK provided some one-to-one support for the girls.  The counsellor would put together a session based on information I supplied and information from previous sessions with the girls. Talking and talking about the situation seemed to help take the sting out of the situation for Jenna and Ella.

Child Bereavement UK supported Jenna and Ella in the immediate aftermath of their mum dying and up until a year to a year and a half ago we were still accessing the service.  From the start, Child Bereavement UK said that we could come back as many time as we wanted. As the girls faced different challenges in their day-to-day lives - like changing schools - they would come to me and ask if we could make an appointment to see Child Bereavement UK.  Whenever we engaged with the charity, they were more than welcoming and agreed to see the girls almost immediately.  

The help the girls got helped them deal with their own situation and they became better at articulating how they felt. Our relationship got stronger and better as we could communicate better as a family because of the help Child Bereavement UK had given us.

It had a real knock-on affect in that it helped every aspect of home life, school life and work life. The more adjusted the children became, the better our relationship became and the happier they became.  And when the children are happier, you feel as a parent you are making some progress.   It was the foundation for moving forward and moving on to the new life we have now.

Life is normal again and we’re happy.  We wouldn’t be where we are today without Child Bereavement UK – full stop.”

Jenna

 It was a really dark time but now it seems so bright because Child Bereavement UK has helped me to be a bright person and to be happy.

I don’t remember much about my mum, which makes me upset quite a lot of the time. My older sister remembers a lot more than me.  I wish I had some of those memories, but I think I tried to block out the memories I did have as it was a bad thing that she died.  I didn’t really know what to do.

I can imagine that she loved us lots. In all my memories from being a kid, she wasn’t there. We have photographs which are the only kind of memories I have of her.

I think I remember the first day I came back to school after my mum died. Obviously, my class had been told and were all being really nice to me, but I don’t remember much.   I didn’t really feel any different at that point, so I didn’t really know what was happening. I didn’t really understand why everyone was being nice to me and I just thought it was a normal day at school.

At my primary school, if I was upset I could tell them and they would take me out and talk to me about how I felt and why I thought it was bothering me. At first, I didn’t know if they’d understand and I kept it bottled in.  But the teachers started to realise that I was getting more upset. They’d say: ‘Come to me if you ever need to talk,’ and I started going to them and saying ‘I’m upset’. They really helped me get the tears out of me.

I finally started to realise that she was not going to come back and that she was gone forever. I didn’t really know what to do because I hadn’t really thought about it much when it happened. I realised that it was quite difficult to not have a mum.  I used to say a lot ‘Why did it have to happen to us?’.  I didn’t know what to do but I understood that she really had gone, and I was trying to get used to it.

When we started going to the one-to-one sessions with Child Bereavement UK, it really helped me.  I got to know the counsellors and I trusted them.  I felt the counsellors really knew what I was feeling and anything I said to them they’d understand. They’d ask me questions to get me to open-up about how I felt about mummy dying. If I didn’t say my feelings to someone, I wouldn’t be able to get things out for ages. If I didn’t talk for a while it would build up and, then later, I’d be in tears for ages because I just hadn’t spoken to anyone about it for so long and it was all coming out at once.

It was hard to be at secondary school as no one from my primary school came with me. When people said ‘Is your mum picking you up?’ or something like that, at the early stages I used to just panic. I didn’t know what to do because obviously they didn’t know. I didn’t know if I should just say it and I didn’t tell many people for a while because I found it hard to bring it into conversation.

Child Bereavement UK helped make telling people become more of a normal thing. They’d say that I didn’t have to feel scared to tell people because people would understand. It gradually helped me to become more able to talk about mum freely.  Now at school I can just tell people about my mum easily but at the start of secondary school it was hard. If people ask questions, I can now answer them without panicking or being scared that they’ll think I’m different.

When I attended the Young People’s Advisory Group, I felt the other children knew what I was going through. I found it easier to talk to them than to people I talk to everyday. They weren’t necessarily friends, but I could say more to them about my mum that to some of my closest friends at the time, which I didn’t ever think would happen.

When someone really knows where you’re coming from, it’s helpful.  I thought I was the only one in the world that had this problem, and no one understood what I was going through. Then I started to realise more children were like me and they knew what I was going through.

Life is now more normal. Child Bereavement UK has helped me trust people a lot more. I’ve become happier and being happy is so much better than being sad. It was a really dark time but now it seems so bright because Child Bereavement UK has helped me to become a bright person and be happy around others.