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Because family life matters

Meet Jane and Dave Park

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As they prepare to take over leading Bereaved Parent Support, Dave and Jane reflect on their bereavement journey and the support they’ve received.

As I sit here writing this and look out on our rather dishevelled garden, a few things catch my eye. There are spring flowers just beginning to bloom. Some are in the ground and others in pots, pushing their way past the winter pansies that have survived the winter.

One of the pots is broken – the winter frosts have broken a crack wide open and a whole chunk of terracotta has fallen off. Miraculously, the flowers are still growing within the broken pot, revealing the soil and tangle of roots within.

It strikes me that our lives so far are a little like that pot.

Dave and I met and married in Bristol, where our teaching careers and our three children were all born. We moved to Norfolk in 1995 when they were aged six, three and six weeks! It was a great move for us and a wonderful place to bring up the children.

We regularly spent our summers camping in France. In 2003 we planned to drive through the French Alps to the Italian lakes, a new area for us to investigate. It was, however, not to be, and we began a completely different journey that summer – one we would have preferred never to start.

On the first day of August, we took a day trip to Chamonix for a family walk in the mountains. It was on the way back, the two boys walking ahead of us, when Ben slipped and fell over a concealed cliff. We clambered down to be with him and I sat with him, but he died there on the mountainside about fifteen minutes later, soon after the medics arrived. Our lives were ripped open, like the broken plant pot.

We lived the next hours, days and weeks in a daze, each family member coping differently, but together.

Our church leader and his wife, with compassion and wisdom, found a group within Care for the Family called Bereaved Parent Support. I rang and was offered a befriender, someone to talk to who would just listen and be there for me. I can see myself even now, sitting and talking to Di that first time, telling her our story and hearing a little of hers. I remember asking her questions, hearing her tell me that my feelings and fears were not just my own, but others had felt them too – it was normal for this strange new world in which we found ourselves. I remember the relief found in shared emotions, shared confusions and yet in survival and even hope. A single phone call made such a difference. A few months later, Dave and I attended a support day in Sheffield where we spent the day with other bereaved parents. We talked, cried and yes, even laughed together, finding a strange sort of peace in being with others who really understood. I remember how hard it was to walk through those doors that morning, but how safe we felt while we were there.

We became befrienders on the team a few years later and have served alongside some incredible people, who we now consider our friends. They are an amazing group and we carry our pain together, but out of it are able to give to others walking this pathway. Like the broken pot, the roots are still alive and the flowers can still bloom. Hope can come out of hopelessness, beauty out of darkness.

In 2014 we began to feel that we would be leaving Norfolk and moving to Leicester. In lots of ways it didn’t make sense, but the feeling didn’t go away. So in 2018 we took early retirement from teaching, left our friends and church family and moved to Leicester, not really knowing what was in store. We started a tutoring business and I started training to be a counsellor. Last year Mike and Kath asked us to consider taking on their role in leading the team and, after prayer and consideration, we were excited and somewhat apprehensive to accept.

We have a hard act to follow! In the short term, our primary task will be to maintain the work we have been so privileged to be part of. This last year has brought new challenges and our online events have proved to be incredibly effective in providing support to those who most need it. We anticipate these becoming an on-going part of what we do, alongside face-to-face events resuming in due time. However, there are opportunities to expand our reach. We want to improve access to our services to the people who need us, when they need us. As bereaved parents ourselves, each of us seeing new growth out of our personal loss, the team are in a unique position to walk alongside those in pain, to empathise and bring some hope and a future. Care for the Family has been doing this for decades and it is an honour to be part of it.