My husband John and I have always treasured our family holidays, especially now as our three daughters grow older and the time we all spend together becomes less and less.
But little did I know how much we would appreciate our family holiday in the Dordogne in May 2002.
It was the first time we had been away with all our daughters and their partners and there was soon to be another addition. Emma (our eldest) came with her husband Andrew and, in the form of a big bump, our first grandchild who was due that Autumn. We spent a week exploring the region, playing tennis, canoeing, eating sumptuous French food, and talking late over bottles of wine.
It was lovely to have all the family together once again. Sadly, it was the last time we would be able to do so.
Andrew died just over a week later. He had turned 30 only a month before. He was a successful accountant; a sporty and attractive man; funny and reliable friend; devoted husband; and a soon to be father. In keeping with his normal routine, he had gone to the gym before work and was running on the treadmill when he collapsed.
Paramedics were called but could do little and by the time Emma arrived at the hospital, Andrew was already dead. There was no opportunity for her to say goodbye and in one morning her life had been changed forever. Gone were the dreams that Andrew and she had built up together over the last ten years; gone were the plans for their large family that they would watch grow up together.
In the days, weeks and months that followed Andrew’s death, John and I did all we could to support my daughter. On a practical level this wasn’t difficult – we helped with the constant paperwork; accompanied her to ante-natal classes; cooked for her; helped plan for the arrival of her baby. But on an emotional front, we were at a loss as to what to do. Even my background as a nurse didn’t help me much. We tried to be there to listen and to talk should Emma want to, but it was hard to comprehend what she was going through and harder still to get her to open up. And it wasn’t just Emma that was affected, Andrew had been an integral part of our family and hence John, myself and our other daughters, Clare and Helen, all struggled with the situation.
Soon after Andrew’s death, we had done some internet research into sudden death and come across CRY. Not only had we found it helpful to read about some of the facts relating to sudden death, but in a strange way it was also comforting to read the stories of others who had been through a similar experience to ours and had found a way to continue. As time passed and I found my own way to deal with Andrew’s death and to help my family, I decided I wanted to do something to help others affected by sudden death. Clare and Helen ran the marathon to raise money for CRY but I didn’t fancy churning up London’s streets for several hours! So instead, I decided to train as a counsellor with CRY.
Losing someone close to you at such a young age and so suddenly is a devastating loss. Sometimes, talking about it with those closest and nearest to you is the hardest especially if you feel that they don’t understand because they haven’t been through it themselves. I hope that the skills I’ve learnt from the CRY counselling course and my own experience of helping my family and myself through Andrew’s death will help you or your family too.
As a Representative, raising the profile of sudden death, its causes and how it can be prevented, is also important to me. Our grandson Thomas has already been checked for symptoms and we will ensure that this continues as he grows up. But we have to reach wider than that. If we only monitor those related to someone who dies suddenly then there will be many more futile deaths. Helen studied in Italy for a while and was forced to take a full medical before she could do any sport – it took just thirty minutes of her life and yet in so many cases that half hour could mean so many more years of life.
Almost five years on from Andrew’s death, John and I still both believe that hardly a day goes by that we don’t think of him. But as time has passed, we have found a way to remember more of the happy times and focus on the positives – like our grandson Thomas, the son Andrew never got to see. And whenever we get together as a family for special occasions we raise a toast to Andrew. At those times, it’s Thomas’ love of champagne and bubbles that normally turns a poignant moment into a laughing one.
Every family copes with a sudden death differently. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way. All I want to do is to be there for people who need to talk about it with someone who has been through something similar in the hope that I can help.
If you would like to contact one of our Representatives or a Bereavement Supporter please call the CRY office at 01737 363222 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and we will put you in touch with someone who may be able to help you.