Looking Back at 25: CRY at Christmas

Here, at CRY, we know that Christmas can be a very, very difficult time for families – and friends – affected by the tragedy of young sudden cardiac death. As such, over the past 25 years, our team have always been incredibly conscious of the sensitivities around the so-called ‘season of goodwill’, mindful of the mixed emotions our families may be experiencing and ensuring it is always acknowledged appropriately but without too much fanfare.

In response to this ever-present concern about the wellbeing of ‘CRY families at Christmas’, in 2015 Alison Cox MBE (CRY’s Founder and an experienced bereavement counsellor) felt compelled to edit and launch a new booklet (as part of CRY’s ‘Grief series’) to address the issues faced by so many families who were struggling with the prospect of Christmas.

Many of you will already be aware that around this time, every year, we regularly share details and timely reminders about this booklet which was simply titled ‘Christmas following a young sudden cardiac death’.

Similar to the other booklets in CRY’s Grief Series, Alison compiled 14 short chapters (written as a series of quotes) from people close to CRY, talking through their personal experience of facing the “festive season” when all they really wanted to do was ignore the fun and frivolities and to treat it is as any other day.

Speaking at the time of the booklet’s launch, Alison said; “Preparing for…Christmas is a prospect that haunts every family having to cope with the tragedy of a sudden cardiac death of a fit and healthy young person. Finding ways to confront and deal with this massive public event requires enormous courage. Finding the motivation to survive it is a huge challenge for most of our bereaved families. Whether father, mother, sibling, partner or loving friend, it produces a maelstrom of emotions that can dominate the last quarter of every year – and for the rest of their lives.”

Unsurprisingly, the booklet was very well received and to date, more than 9,500 copies have been ordered and distributed – plus 100s of downloads of the online version too.

Whilst Christmas can present big challenges for those who are grieving, over the years we noticed that many of our families still wanted to continue with their fundraising efforts in some way, during the often tricky and emotional festive period, as well as raising awareness of CRY amongst friends, colleagues and neighbours. So, in 2001, CRY decided to launch its first ever branded Christmas cards.

From the outset, they were a huge success, with a wide and varied range of designs really appealing to our supporters as well as their friends and local communities. Before long, we were regularly selling anything from 3,500 to 5,000 packs a year and, in just the past 8 years alone, sales from Christmas cards have raised almost £150,000 for CRY!

For many years, “The Christmas Card packing committee’ was managed by volunteers. Two bereaved mums, Rosemary Attridge and Katy Turberville took the helm, meeting with Christmas card suppliers in January carefully selecting designs, asking the opinion of family and friends before meeting again in May to make the final decision. There’s no doubt that Rosemary and Katy both brought so much valuable experience when it came to selecting the cards. Over the years, they instinctively knew which designs were most suitable for CRY’s supporters – they were incredibly sensitive towards each design, avoiding any “cliches” or scenes that might have caused upset to many bereaved supporters. They had gained so much knowledge about which designs worked well and those that didn’t.  Between the pair of them, they also managed stock levels, re-ordering – plus helping to sell 100s of additional packs through Rosemary’s local Rotary Club. 

Other volunteers joined the team too but for the past 2 years, we’ve taken on this big job ‘in-house’ (although our team of staff continue to be helped out by our wonderful office volunteer, Wendy, who’s given CRY the gift of her time and unstinting efforts since 2012, reminding us that a good, loyal volunteer is not just for Christmas!)

Looking back, Christmas-time has also provided CRY with the opportunity to host two high profile carol concerts raising funds for the charity and awareness of issue of young sudden cardiac death.

In December 2012, the stunning Guards Chapel, Birdcage Walk in Central London, provided an impressive venue for a candlelit service with readings delivered by well-known Patrons and musical performances from the Band of the Scots Guards, R&B singer Javine Hylton, and of course, CRY Patron Pixie Lott (who also gave an impromptu concert for CRY families and staff whilst enjoying post-concert refreshments).

Everyone was thrilled when Pixie agreed to come back to sing again the following Christmas, this time at a service which saw over 500 people gathered at the prestigious setting of St John’s Smiths Square, Westminster. Full sponsorship of the performance was organised by the leading retail group, McColl’s, enabling all proceeds from the ticket sales to benefit CRY directly – a truly fitting tribute to CRY in what was its 18th year!). Guests and Patrons were greeted at the entrance to the magnificent church by members of CRY’s staff, all traditionally dressed in Dickensian costume.

Alongside professional musicians from the Choir of Royal Holloway, University of London and the Orchestra Nova, over 40 pupils from Sandcross Primary School in Reigate were also invited to ‘take to the stage’ and sing some of Britain’s best loved carols, with Pixie joining them for the grand finale.

Finally, another important feature of CRY’s Christmas offering, is the annual “Christmas message.” First delivered by Alison Cox in 2013, it is now recorded by CRY Chief Executive Dr Steven Cox and posted on social media to reach as wide an audience as possible. It also looks back and reflects on the achievements and milestones of the previous 12 months, thanking families for their tireless efforts, thinking about our future goals for the coming year and most importantly, remembering all those who have lost their lives to YSCD.

2020 will be no different and Steve Cox will once more be looking back over the past year, which as we all know, didn’t turn out to be the 25th anniversary campaign we’ve originally planned. However, instead, Steve’s speech will look back at how well CRY adapted to the pandemic and the new initiatives that were born out of lockdown.

So, don’t forget to look out for next week’s blog, which will be ‘looking back’ in more detail at our accomplishments during lockdown and how quickly we were able to respond to the challenges we’ve faced as a charity…