Carl Shenton

The 28th of January is a significant date for us. It’s the date that we welcomed our first child into the world, Carl. A joyous day, yet 25 years later, it’s become the worst day of our lives. Instead of celebrating his birthday, we were sitting beside a bed in critical care, glued to the monitors on his life support machine.

Carl was a funny, sociable,caring son who was also the most annoying, untidy and at times frustrating son. In other words he was a normal lad who we loved unconditionally. The weeks prior to his death he had had tonsillitis but had slowly recovered from it. Other than that he had no major illnesses. The evening before his death he had been out with friends having a few drinks for his birthday. He didn’t stay out late as he had got to be up at 4am to meet a group of friends as they were off to Dublin to celebrate a friends stag.

As usual I got some him up as he was useless at waking up himself. I pottered about downstairs planning on going back to bed when he had gone. I could hear him going to the bathroom and getting ready, then I just heard a small sound from him. I thought he had banged his foot or something like that. I shouted up to him to ask if he was ok but there was just silence. I ran upstairs and found him collapsed on the floor. I knew instantly that it was serious, that he had gone. I was shouting his name to try to get some response and frantically trying to pull him up. My immediate thought was that he’d been electrocuted because he had straighteners in his hand. My husband rushed in and told me to ring emergency services who told us to get him on his back to do CPR but we couldn’t move him. I ran to a neighbours house and luckily their son was just going out to work. He managed to pull him onto his back and do CPR until the ambulance came.
In just a few seconds life as we knew it had gone forever. He was eventually taken to hospital and when we were allowed to see him before he was taken to critical care, none of the hospital staff would meet our eyes. I could mentally hear them feeling sorry for what was about to happen. This was only the start of the nightmare. I went into practical mode and began ringing people. The hardest person to tell being Carl’s sister Laura who was in London with work. Within a couple of hours word had spread and the hospital waiting room became full of his friends and people just to support us.

My mind struggled to take everything in. We were told that he had brain damage but that he’d been placed in a induced coma to let his body rest. They wouldn’t know much more until they tried to bring him out of the coma in a couple of days. We went home, well the place that was home. His shoes, clothes, birthday presents and cake all abandoned. I stayed on the sofa so I could keep ringing to see if there was any change.

That was life for the next couple of days until he didn’t respond to coming out of the coma – they found his brain damage was too severe for him to survive. We made the heartbreaking decision to donate his organs. I went through a whole range of emotions, disbelief, anger, why Carl? , utter despair and most of all frightened about what was to come. I told them I couldn’t make the decision to turn off his life support but because the donation process had begun they had to keep him breathing until the transplant team were ready. Unfortunately that was a whole 24 hours later. The hospital became full with people coming to say their goodbyes, until there was only myself and my wonderful friend left. Laura didn’t want to see him go so her dad took her home and I asked him to stay with her.

Carl was eventually taken to a room next to theatre and when everything was ready a doctor turned off his machine. It was a surreal situation. A doctor and 2 nurses standing in complete silence waiting for five minutes to make sure he had gone. One of the nurses said to me “this is the hardest thing that you will ever have to do in life. Nothing will ever be as bad as this”. She was right.
This all happened last year and not one day has passed without me going over it all again and again.

Exactly one week from when I was wrapping his birthday presents, I was arranging his funeral. Life is so cruel. There are no instructions that can tell you how to deal with the death of your child. Everything seems pointless and such hard work. I didn’t have the energy or desire to do anything. I cried constantly and found myself apologising because people didn’t know how to help me and I felt I was making them feel awkward. I didn’t want to be in the house because there are too many reminders, yet I didn’t fit in the real outside world where people are happy, chatting and just being normal. I don’t know what normal is anymore. I’ve been given life long membership to an exclusive club that no one chooses to join and one that you’ll never leave.

It’s been a year full of hurdles. Laura came home in May when we buried Carl’s ashes and went to a concert with a friend which had been arranged for months. That concert was in Manchester the night of the terrorist’s attack. The thought that I was so close to losing her to was just unbearable. Laura has struggled so much with anxiety. Losing her brother, becoming an only child and then be in a traumatic situation like a bomb explosion is just too much for a 22 year old to cope with.

There is also anniversaries and Christmas to deal with. How do you cope with those? Do I celebrate his birthday or do I pay my respects of the day he died? This I’m afraid will be a lifelong dilemma.

We’ve only just had Carl’s inquest, which concluded he died of complications due to a cardiac arrest, cause unknown. In other words natural causes, although anyone in this situation knows there is nothing natural about it. We have started the process of being tested to see if he inherited any defects from us. This we are pleased about, because hopefully it can be prevented from happening to Laura.

Because Carl was only 25 I can’t bear the thought of him being forgotten. Not by us, because that will never happen, but it’s only natural that people move on and so they should. Hopefully the four people who received his organs will remember him for a different reason. That is the only positive thing to come out of this, that hopefully there are four people enjoying happy and healthier lives.

No of us would have got through this if it wasn’t for the enormous support we got and still have. Carl’s friends have been amazing. He was so lucky he found such a close group of people who are the true definition of friends. I have also reconnected with friends I’d lost touch with. Met new people who have become friends and have realised how lucky I am with the friends and family I have. It’s at times of crisis that you learn the true value of friendship.

Sadly a few days after Carl’s inquest my mum passed away aged 95. She and Carl had such a close relationship. I worried how he would cope when she died but as it turned out it was my mum I was worried about. She was talking about him while she took her last breaths and the only comfort I now have is that they are together, along with his Grandad, and he won’t be alone. My mum kept telling me that she would look after him and I know she will until I can be with him.

I love and miss you Carl. I just want you back, I’m so heartbroken.

Pam Shenton