How we learned to cope after the death of our son
The death of a child is every parent's worst nightmare, and when it makes headlines, like that of David Cameron's son Ivan, it stirs up a lot of emotions. For Sue Wrench, from Northwood, who lost her teenage son Alec in an accident one Christmas, it's a painful reminder of the past, writes Liz Rowley.
CHRISTMAS is a time for family and spending quality time with the ones we love.
Sue Wrench and her husband Alan lost their son Alec, left, in a fall from a roof on December 23, 2006. Inset, how Sentinel Sunday reported the tragedy. Bottom, Conservative leader David Cameron and his wife Samantha attend the funeral of their six-year-old son Ivan, below. Picture: Malcolm Hart
But for Sue Wrench, December 23, 2006 is forever etched on her memory as the day her 17-year-old son Alec never came home following a night out with friends.
Now, more than two years on, her family are slowly learning to continue with their lives, though when she read the news about Ivan she was filled with empathy for the Cameron family.
"Whenever there's something like that in the national press I always read it," she says, "because I know exactly what they're going through. You don't think you're ever going to get over it."
At the time Alec's death cast a shadow over her and he family's life that they believed could never be lifted.
She recalls: "It was in the early hours of Saturday morning when we received a call from one of Alec's friends saying that something had happened to him," says Sue, a 53-year-old civil servant who lives in Prime Street, Northwood, with her husband Alan, aged 54, and their two children Tim, aged 22, and 13-year-old Jamie.
"Like many teenagers Alec could be hard work at times, so my first thought was that he had got himself into trouble. It never occurred to me that something this bad could have happened to him."
Alec, a keen sportsman, had died from severe head injuries having fallen 30 feet. He had climbed on to the roof of North Staffs Tyre and Battery in Williamson Street, Tunstall, and was pronounced dead at the scene.
"He was only young but he was a risk taker," says Sue.
"I don't know why they decided to get up on that roof, they'd obviously had a couple of drinks, which at 17 he shouldn't have, but we've all done it.
"When we were told I was hysterical and I'll never forget the feeling of having to tell Jamie, who was 11 at the time, the following morning.
"It's every parent's worst nightmare, and because it was over Christmas there didn't seem to be much help available.
"The police liaison officer was lovely, but for the few days over Christmas we just didn't know what to do, so we did the only thing that came natural – which was to carry on with our normal routine."
Preparing three stockings as she had done every year, Sue continued on auto pilot, making Christmas dinner no-one wanted to eat and laying Alec's presents out with all the rest.
But while this helped her move on from day to day, she was aching for someone who could empathise with her loss as well.
"I think it's completely different to lose a child compared with any other member of the family. To lose someone so young goes so much against the grain – having the child die before the parent.
"Don't get me wrong, our friends and family were fantastic, but while they could sympathise and grieve for the loss of Alec, they couldn't empathise and quite often you would find that they wouldn't know what to say ."
Then Sue found out about The Compassionate Friends.
Aimed at bereaved parents and their families, the organisation offers understanding, support and encouragement to others after the death of a child or children.
With a chance to finally speak to other parents who had gone through the same experience, Sue felt she could start to come to terms with what had happened.
"I think men grieve differently to women, and originally it was me who wanted to find someone to talk to," she continues.
"But I think you need to talk about it. I never tire of talking about Alec, as I find it very therapeutic.
"I think it's good to get it out rather than keep it all inside.
"One thing it has highlighted is the need for more immediate help for people who have lost a child.
"Learning about The Compassionate Friends, which enabled both Alan and I to talk face to face with others who have lost children, was very good for me.
"With other people who haven't been through this you do feel like you're treading on eggshells. They don't know what to say to you because they don't want to make you upset, and you don't want to upset them, but in The Compassionate Friends group you don't have that because you can't say anything wrong.
"At the time I thought there was nothing worse than what we were going through, but when you talk to other bereaved parents and see people such as David Cameron's family, you start to realise things could have been worse.
"Don't get me wrong, I would have Alec back in a heartbeat, but if he had survived the fall I know he couldn't have coped with a disability.
"But I've also learned that, while I can't imagine how parents cope who have gone through a prolonged illness with their child, they look at me and wonder how I got through my sudden loss, but the grief we share is still the same."
While nothing can replace the void left by Alec's death, Sue, Alan and their family have learned to live life the best they can.
"Even Alan's a bit of a convert now," she says, "and has got a lot out of the group. You don't go specifically to talk about the people you have lost, which is nice because you can become too wrapped up in your own little world.
"But at some point the conversation will turn to someone like Alec, and for me talking is the best therapy I could have."
While the first time they laughed brought feelings of unbelievable guilt, the family now laugh at what Alec did enjoy and would have enjoyed had he lived.
"Initially I felt every emotion you can think of, and I still feel guilty now that life is going on," says Sue, "but I know Alec is always with me.
"You don't heal because it's not something you can ever get over, but you do change, and I'm shocked that I have been able to get on with my life."
To learn more about The Compassionate Friends contact Paddi Hind on 01889 563822, Sue and Alan Wrench on 01782 856739 or visit www.thisisstaffordshire .co.uk/sentinelle