It was 12 January 2008 – the day our lives changed forever. Neil and our 14-year-old son, Luke, were in the car, when they skidded on black ice and a 4×4 collided with the passenger side. From what we’re told, Luke died instantly. Neil received critical injuries and was airlifted to hospital. He remained unconscious for almost three weeks and came round only two days before Luke’s funeral, so couldn’t be there.
Our precious son, our only child, had gone forever. The pain and heartache was unbearable. He was our world – we lived for him, spending our weekends watching him play football.
The first few weeks and months after the accident were painfully hard. While we were trying to come to terms with the enormity of losing the son we adored, we also had to contend with the seriousness of Neil’s injuries and helplessness.
We had a Memorial/Thanksgiving Service on Luke’s first anniversary – a mixture of sadness and joy. Neil had prepared a speech and after a couple of emotional pauses said everything he wanted to about our special boy – an important thing for him, having missed the funeral. The funeral had been videoed and Neil only felt able to watch it the week before – a poignant time. Luke was Chelsea mad, so our closing song was ‘Blue is the Colour’. It lightened the mood. People lit candles – it was a very special and moving service.
Friendship and support
Our advice to anyone facing such a tragedy is not to shut yourself off or hide away. You can be consumed with grief and bitterness and feel very alone. Grief is very personal – we have learnt that husbands and wives can deal with things very differently and neither way is wrong.
We’ve a wonderfully supportive family and network of friends who help however they can. Our local church has also been so caring and kind.
It’s not a weakness asking for help
We’re certainly not a perfect couple and the circumstances of the accident brought unique problems between us. When we needed support and strength from each other, we felt incapable of offering all that we should. Bereavement counselling allowed us to talk and understand each other’s emotions. It’s not a weakness asking for help.
We also gained strength and support from the two Bereaved Parent Support days we attended, run by Care for the Family. It really helps to talk to other bereaved parents.
We’ve tried to see what good can come from such tragedy. Luke was loving, kind, funny and popular, and he touched the hearts of so many people. We hope those who loved him can remember how cheerful and full of life he always was and think of him when times get hard.
Six and a half years after Luke’s death our grief remains with us – not so raw and severe as it was in the early days, but nevertheless a heavy burden to carry and still shocking sometimes. The memories also remain. Good ones are now easier to remember, but the bad ones are never far away too. However, we carry on, as we must. Luke would have been 21 now and the harsh reality of seeing his friends grow up into men, take their driving tests, go to university and start long-term relationships is hard to see. There is a bitter-sweet feeling about this – while we want to know what they are doing and how they are getting on, it is also heart-wrenching.
We continue to raise money for the Surrey Air Ambulance service which saved Neil’s life, and an annual Memorial Football match takes place between the two teams Luke played for. These give us purpose and a sense of helpfulness.
Recently we planted an oak tree near where we live – a fitting memorial to our gorgeous son who loved the outdoors and all wildlife.
We have met many couples who have lost a child and have comforted each other with our common bond. We feel that having friends who have experienced the same tragic loss is important. But it’s important too not to shut other people out. Not everyone knows the right thing to say – they may not have experienced such a loss, but they mean well and try to understand. Words are not always necessary – just a hug or a card can be a huge comfort.
Different approaches, but together
Neil and I have different styles with regard to how we ‘do’ life. Neil struggles to enjoy himself at social events. He lived and Luke didn’t and the pain of carrying that with him remains a constant battle. I, on the other hand, enjoy social events, finding them a release and a chance to take my mind off the sadness I feel in my heart. I find comfort in being part of a loving church family. I also volunteer for a charity supporting people with a terminal illness and enjoy being able to help someone at a traumatic time in their life.
Our lives may have changed forever, but we have to remind ourselves that Luke’s love of life was so great that we have to continue living, not only for ourselves, but also for him.