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Because family life matters

A difficult story to tell

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Steve and Sarah describe how they continue to cope with a very traumatic loss.

The death of a child can be extremely overwhelming. Some bereavements have more complex issues than others, but all are equally devastating. Our goal is that fellow bereaved parents reading this might feel a little less alone and isolated.

Our particular story began in September 2001, two days after 9/11. After returning from a weekend break, a friend arrived at the house to borrow Steve’s large van which was parked on our short driveway. Steve got into the van with our friend, helping her to get comfortable with the controls; and proceeded to drive it onto the road. Unbeknown to him, our 2-year-old daughter had left the house through the front door (left open by our friend), fell straight into the pathway of the moving vehicle and was consequently run over. Sarah was upstairs at the time unpacking from the holiday.

Our lives were changed forever

We began our journey of grief and hardship, our lives now changed forever. We knew forgiveness was not easy, but we made a conscious decision not to blame our friend and each other (forgiving ourselves is another story).

There was initial support and attention from family and friends in the early days and weeks. But as we moved into months, still in a numbed and shocked state, the support backed off significantly. It was an extremely difficult time and we think many people didn’t have the capacity to handle the situation and probably felt too uncomfortable around us. On the whole, it was safer for people in our church to offer pledges of prayer rather than any practical support.

Difficulties we faced

It was difficult to know what help we needed, and talking about the accident was too traumatic. When our daughter died, Sarah was three months pregnant. The day after the accident we heard our son’s heartbeat for the first time. This was a stark reality that our first child was dead, but another life was being formed. Keeping going each day was a no-brainer; we had to try to look after ourselves for our son’s sake and not give up on living.

Another issue was trying to keep our business going, with scarce resources at our disposal, both practically and mentally. Unfortunately, the task became overwhelming for the pair of us and this resulted in losing the business and our home some four years later.

Our third child, our second daughter, was born in 2005. There were complications throughout the pregnancy, resulting in her being born just over five weeks early and spending ten days in hospital. Life was still extremely isolating and support limited.

Because of the way the death occurred, there have been many issues of guilt to comprehend. Because Steve was the driver and experienced the nightmare of having run his daughter over himself, there are haunting images which are never far from his thoughts.

Some of the ways we coped with our grief

We have found it particularly hard to find the right professional help. Because the death was so traumatic, there are particular mental and psychological issues to continually deal with.

Through watching TV documentaries, Steve has found an affinity with army personnel returning from war zones who share their harrowing experiences of seeing their fellow comrades killed beside them and how it has affected them years afterwards, many showing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The first time we felt at all understood was two years after the accident, meeting fellow bereaved parents who were befrienders as part of Care for the Family’s Bereaved Parent Support. The couple who befriended us provided a safe haven where we felt understood and started to glimpse some desperately-needed hope that we could actually survive. We also went on a support weekend for bereaved parents, which helped us to feel vaguely normal about our loss.

Things that have made our journey harder

We have come to recognise that the trauma and complex issues surrounding the accident have been a blockage to our grieving in many ways. It has been easier to punish ourselves by not remembering life with our daughter before September 2001. Because of our individual parts played in her death, despite it all being accidental, we both still feel somewhat responsible and this has been a bitter pill to swallow.

Another challenge faced has been relaying information to our younger children about their sister. This has taken time but we have gradually drip-fed appropriate details. Nowadays, we welcome the discussions with our children, and find it therapeutic as they are intrinsically linked to their sister and have the right to get answers to their questions. It helps us to know that they accept us and are not afraid to talk about her.

Meeting other bereaved parents does help; there is a unique bond which is formed when you talk about your loss.

For us, the aspect of trauma cannot be underestimated in our grieving process. We are damaged goods, walking a continuous path incorporating our loss into our everyday lives with a measure of hope.