“It’s amazing to see both my daughters smile again”
Diane Leatherbarrow, 36, from Liverpool tells how Grief Encounter helped her two girls cope with their grief
Recently, Diane’s two daughters Charlie, seven, and Jessica, four, asked if she would read them a special bedtime story. “They have a story called The Banana Shark, which their dad, Dave, wrote for them. He would read it with funny voices and actions, getting everyone involved. Although it was incredibly hard to get through, it was the first time we were able to do that in almost a year and a half, since Dave passed away,” says Diane.
Dave first started experiencing problems with his health in November 2013, when he developed symptoms of what he believed to be an ear infection. Then, on 3 November, he spun little Jessica around but couldn’t get his sense of balance back for over half an hour.
“He went to the doctor, who sent him to A&E. They organised a CT scan and MRI, which showed he had a brain tumour,” says Diane. “They told us he would have the tumour removed and we would get an appointment with a doctor who would be able to tell us more about it.
Then, on 24 November, Dave, then 32, went into hospital to have the tumour removed. “That evening, the doctor came to see Dave and told him it was a high-grade tumour so it wasn’t worth doing the operation. We were devastated.”
Dave was started on a six-week course of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. “On 14 February, a few days after Dave’s treatment had finished, we went to meet his boss, but he told me he was experiencing flashing in his eyes and couldn’t see.”
Diane quickly phoned Clatterbridge Hospital, who sent an ambulance. “He was taken straight to the resuscitation area and he had a seizure for nearly 45 minutes.” Dave was given another six months of treatment, then sent for a scan, which showed the tumour had grown.
“They said they would have to start Dave on indefinite chemotherapy, but on 18 December they told us he was too sick for any more treatment.”
Diane brought Dave home on 23 December and cared for him with the help of palliative care nurses. “He never got out of bed apart from for 15 minutes on Christmas Day to tell us he loved us, which felt like he was saying goodbye.”
Then, on 4 January 2015, the day before his 34th birthday, Dave was taken to Woodlands Hospice. “I had to tell Charlie her dad only had days left to live. I’ll never forget the look on her face,” says Diane. “Dave didn’t want the girls coming in as his behaviour was unpredictable, but she insisted. It was the first time in days he was lucid and he hugged her tight and told her he loved her.”
On 10 January, Dave passed away with Diane by his side. “I was heartbroken. We’d been together for 14 years and he was an amazing person – very loving, quick-witted and thoughtful – it was so incredibly hard to adjust to life without him.”
Diane also noticed her daughters were struggling. “Charlie got very upset and was lashing out. They were also both having nightmares and would wake up screaming.”
Diane tried to arrange counselling for the girls, but was told they would have to go waiting lists and – at just two and a half – Jessica was too young to be seen. “Charlie was getting worse, so I started contacting organisations I thought may be able to help. However, they all told me there was nothing they could do.”
Eventually, someone at Dave’s life insurance company suggested Diane contact Grief Encounter. “They explained that, while they didn’t have offices near to me, they would look into places that might be able to help.”
A few days later Diane received a box in the post. “I just couldn’t believe what was inside – it was packed with things for the girls, including teddies, books, photo frames and bracelets. I was overwhelmed by how thoughtful it was and it was amazing to see the smiles on the girls’ faces when they saw it.
“There were things that we were able to use immediately – like the Mr Good Grief teddy bears they take to bed, which are covered in reassuring sayings to let them know they’re not alone and what they’re feeling is OK, and a book they have me reading nearly every night at bedtime.”
Diane has already noticed a positive change in her daughters. “I can see a difference in when they talk about their dad, as they don’t cry as much. There are times when it’s hard for them to talk about him, but there are other times when things flow – normally when they’re doing something they’ve been sent by Grief Encounter.
“When I contacted the charity I was at a loss about how to help Charlie, who had completely shut down. They were there for my family when we needed it the most, and I can’t thank them enough for that.”
THE FACTS – Grief Encounter
- Each year, one in 20 children under the age of 16 in the UK experiences the death of a parent or sibling.
- Every year, 24,000 parents die in the UK, leaving dependent children.
- Grief Encounter supports over 500 bereaved children in the UK, offering pioneering, accessible services.
- Family programmes include counselling, fun days, remembrance events, residential camps, workshops and bespoke support for as long as families need it.
- For more visit griefencounter.org.uk
BIG GIVE UPDATE
Grief Encounter will spend the £44,550 raised on sending out Grief Relief Kits to 500 bereaved children to help facilitate the grieving process. The kits – which already have a proven record in the UK – contain tools such as a workbook, Mr Good Grief teddy, books and a journal.