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Because family life matters

Facing the ‘should-have-beens’

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Bereaved parents share some of their on-going challenges

No matter how old your child was when they died, there will be milestones to pass through as the months and then the years go by. Many times they will catch you unawares. Mary, Jumoke, Nigel and Catherine, Rachel, Liz and Sarah talk about some of the different challenges they’ve faced as bereaved parents, and the things that helped them not only get through – but become even stronger afterwards.


“When I see a mother and daughter in a close adult relationship, the tears well up, I get a lump in my throat, and nausea can follow. Our daughter had just had her nineteenth birthday when she died, and we had the beginnings of a really close relationship.

What I have found really helpful in dealing with this is to try to concentrate on that mum and daughter and think how good it is for them. If they are people I know, I can chat to them and try to become involved in their interests. (I wish I was always as positive as this!)

Once I was asked what I would like to eat, and found a plate of fruit tarts in front of me that were Katie’s favourite. I had to disappear to the ‘Ladies’ for a good cry! My advice at times like these is to be gentle with yourself. You are not going mad. Don’t be afraid of tears even if the death was a long time ago.

The hardest one was the graduation day. My daughter-in-law graduated on the day that Katie should have done. It was an effort of will to share in the joy of that event. I had to wait until I got home to release my tears. And then there was yet more emotion on finding that two of Katie’s friends had done an entry in the College Yearbook giving her achievements in her two terms at university. When I’d finished crying I was so proud of her, and so grateful to the two girls.”

Katie died in a car crash in 1996.


“Tomee would have started school last September. Looking for schools and securing a suitable placement can sometimes be a bit of a hassle, but it is not one that we would have chosen to be without. It is always followed by the excitement of the first day at school and all the mixed emotions that brings with it.”

Tomee was stillborn in 2003.

Nigel and Catherine

“We have just had Alistair’s 16th birthday this week. It was really strange that it was a notable day for us, but no-one else really knew. We carried on as normal all day (despite really wanting to tell everyone!), but then Catherine bumped into a friend. Catherine hadn’t seen her for a while, but this friend had been really supportive when Alistair died, so she blurted it out to her (and, of course, burst into tears!). It was a great relief. We decided to have a ‘party’ for Alistair so went to see a Harry Potter film and then for a meal – it was a good way to mark the day.”

Alistair died from a brain tumour in 1999.


“When Stephen died, we already had a wedding invitation outstanding. The bride was a few weeks older than he was, and they had known each other since they were babies. When the children were small we used to holiday together. The children were very close.

I really didn’t think I could face the wedding, which was not quite three months after he died, but we knew it would mean a lot for us to be there. It was incredibly painful, and everyone’s happiness somehow emphasised our loss, but I am so glad that we went because the memory of the day, and the family’s tender love for us and evident pleasure that we were there to share the day with them, is more vivid now than the pain.

Be prepared … For me, it wasn’t just knowing that we would never celebrate his wedding, although that is so hard. What became very real to me was the prospect of being so close to the centre of attention at one of his brothers’ weddings in the future … and their ‘big brother’ not being there to share in it.”

Stephen died following a fall in 2006.


“The September Bethany was due to start high school was a painful ‘should-have-been’. Bethany’s class at primary school all knew her; a framed photo had followed them through their different classes; she still felt part of the class.

Then one bright summer day, shopping with my younger children, I met one of Bethany’s friends and her mum buying high school uniforms and, from nowhere, came that deep sadness bereaved parents know so well – the knowledge that I should be shopping with Bethany for new uniforms as she excitedly waits to begin a new stage of life. In that moment I realised that her class friends had all moved on and she will always remain 7.”

Bethany died following an asthma attack in 2002.


“Our daughter Sophie is getting ready to leave home for university in a few months’ time. We will miss her toasted cheese sandwiches, her laughter, her key in the door and her late night hugs. Joshua was fifteen months younger and died eight years ago, and we have no other children. The home will feel even bigger and quieter, and another bedroom door will be permanently shut to stop the cat sleeping on the beds.

I’ve had time to come to terms with living without a beloved child because of Joshua’s death. When Sophie leaves home it might not be so raw as I have learned to live with his loss. I know I will miss Sophie so much and, in that missing, I will miss Joshua afresh. I know I need to think ahead and plan – maybe get a job, do that album, learn a new skill, visit that friend, read a book, learn to relax.

I will probably need to lean on friends again on days when I feel really low and my thoughts turn to all that should have been for Josh. I remember the fifteen months we had together before he started primary school: special trips to the library and the park, and going to meet Sophie at her school gate – so excited to see his big sister. I should be enjoying these next fifteen months before he would be going off to university himself. But I will take these days one at a time and trust that this new season will help us grow a little bit more.”

Joshua died from a brain tumour in 2001.