From the day Claire was born there was no mistaking she was a little girl, her sparkling blue eyes and smile would bring warmth to everyone who met her, feminine to the ends of her eye lashes. As Claire grew up in to a young lady her personality was one of embracing the love of her family, considering others and enjoying life.
“Until you become a parent yourself you have no idea of the adoring love that develops for one’s own children” – they are truly the embodiment of one’s life.
In 2004 my wife Lorraine and I separated which caused considerable pain to the family – in particular Claire who at that time was at Bournemouth University studying a fashion degree. For the first three months of our separation Claire was inconsolable as family life meant so much to her. However, after much soul-searching she was able to come to terms with the situation of mum and dad being separated.
Over the next 8 months when Claire was home from university we would meet – either for a meal, to go to the pictures, or she would come over to my house to teach me the better ways of cooking for oneself. In February 2005, Claire and I went to see the film ‘Ray Charles’ as I have always enjoyed his music. A month later Claire produced a painting of Ray Charles and asked me to hang it in my office, which I confess took me a few hours to think about it as it meant changing the image and layout of the office. However, the picture went up on my office wall which brought a big smile to her face and today has pride of place.
On the 2nd July 2005 Claire graduated in Fashion and Design. The graduation was held at Wimborne Minster – a lovely location for a graduation and she looked beautiful with her beaming smile. After the graduation, the following day, Claire flew over to Spain for a holiday
with her friend Jackie to stay at my brother’s flat. My son Mark went out a few days later and when Jackie flew back I went over for a few days to spend with Mark and Claire to celebrate my birthday.
The weather was superb, both Mark and Claire looked radiant with their sun tans. The food and wine flowed, the restaurants came highly recommended from my brother Simon. In particular the restaurant Casa Fidel, Balamedena where we drank a toast to Mark and Claire’s futures.
On my return to England I said to one of my office staff that I’d had a great time. I could not have enjoyed myself more – both Mark and Claire, at their respective ages of 24 and 22, were two young people that were well adjusted, able to mix with all walks of life, happy and I felt were well prepared for the future. As a father what more could one ask for?
On the 15th August 2005, Claire phoned me, it was always “Hi Dad”. She asked me if we could go to the pictures in Basingstoke the following Friday, I suggested we should eat first. On the 19th August, Claire drove out to my house in Compton at 6.30pm, so that I could have a drink that evening, and picked me up and we drove to the Pizza Hut in Newbury. I must say we both ate very well and talked about everything under the sun. We decided not to go on to the pictures as Claire felt a little tired as she had been out late the night before.
We decided to drive back to my house and watch a movie, which happened to be ‘Meet The Fockers’. I started to fall asleep, Claire was also tired and decided to go back home. So I saw Claire to her car and kissed her goodnight. She said she would text me when she got home.
I got a text at 11.30pm to thank me for a lovely evening and that she would phone me on Sunday.
On Saturday the 20th August I arranged to play a game of golf at Newbury golf course. Just as I arrived at the course my phone rang and it was Lorraine. She appeared not know what to say to me – she asked our friend and neighbour June (who was with her) “Shall I tell him?”
Then she told me that Claire had died in her sleep. I immediately drove to the house with my mind churning over with the total disbelief of the situation. As I approached the house I was met by a young policeman who explained that Claire was in her bed, he took me through to the house and up the stairs to her bedroom. As I entered the bedroom Claire was laid back on her bed, her eyes wide open, looking up to the ceiling with her arms and hands stretched out as if someone was calling her, she looked so at peace.
The death of Claire was a happening that gave us no warning or preparation, just devastation and an indescribable pain that runs through my body each day of my life.
The days following Claire’s death were simply a matter of self preservation and protecting and caring for those loved ones around me. At that time there was no knowledge of why Claire had died she was a perfectly healthy young lady. We received many cards and letters of sympathy from family, family friends and people who knew Claire well. One in particular struck me, it was hand written, from a lady who had taught Claire Fashion and Design at Bournemouth. In it she said it was a joy to teach Claire as she came in each day with a big warm smile full of enthusiasm, the joys of spring. So not only did she endear herself to us – her family – but to everyone who met her!
Our doctor phoned me a few days after her death and said to me that her death was probably one of those things that was unavoidable.
The police who attended the house following Claire’s death – both young and old – were very caring and supportive and this was the case right up to the coroner’s report. The coroner’s report held on the 16th November 2005 gave the verdict of Claire’s death as Sudden Adult Death Syndrome.
A short time after the coroner’s report I spoke with my brother Simon who put me in the picture regarding a farmer friend who had lost his son of 13 years of age who had died on the school rugby pitch. He came back to me later to advise me that his farmer friend had said that I should speak with CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young) and in particular Alison Cox, the founder of CRY.
This I did, and found Alison very understanding and compassionate about my anxiety over Claire’s death. Alison explained the situation regarding the number of young people dying of cardiac related deaths and the fact that over past years this would have been put down to natural causes. However, with the work that CRY was putting in to the research in to cardiac related deaths in young people, explanations for the causes of these deaths were beginning to surface.
Following my conversation with Alison, arrangements were made for Claire’s heart to be sent to Dr Mary Sheppard at the Brompton hospital, in order for her to carry out a further autopsy.
Subsequently, through CRY, myself and my immediate family were referred to Professor McKenna at the London Heart Hospital in order for the family to receive cardiac screening tests and for myself a gene screening test. These tests are ongoing to prevent the possibility of another young member of our family dying of cardiac failure.
Without the involvement and support of CRY my family and I would have been in total limbo regarding Claire’s death. CRY is trying to bring about total awareness of the possible cardiac risks to young people.
Over the last 3 years since Claire’s death I have experienced many things. The important one is that there is nothing more important than life and love itself.
In 2006 I supported my son Mark with the ‘Team Buzz Tour de France’ – a charity cycle ride to raise money for the Claire Dee Shapland Memorial Fund, set up within CRY. Mark, Keith, Nick and Jonny (Team Buzz) cycled 900 miles from Cherbourg to Montpellier raising £6,000. I met them over in La Rochelle which was a great experience. Mark recorded each day of the journey with pictures and text, which he put on http://www.teambuzztourdefrance.blogspot.com
One day as Mark was cycling past a field of sunflowers they all decided to get off their bikes, take their cloths off and run through the sunflowers. Mark got the lads to put their caps on top of the sunflowers and photographed them. In my office today not only do I have a large picture of Ray Charles to remind me of Claire, but a 28″ x 20″ colour picture of 3 large sun flowers with caps and sunglasses on their heads, which brings a warm smile to my face each day I walk in to the office.
Nicholas Dee Shapland