How I turned my grief into something positive
Lots of mums do amazing things for their families. But it takes someone really special to give their time to families they’ve never even met before, in the hope of spreading light in the darkest of times.
As part of our Bags More series we met Gayle, the founder of A Child Of Mine, who helps families across the UK. Taking the most painful experiences imaginable, and using them to bring communities together.
How it began
‘Our charity’s story starts in June 2008, when our beautiful 8 month old son Lewis was diagnosed with Stage 4 high risk Neuroblastoma,’ says Gayle. ‘We were absolutely devastated, because it’s an extremely aggressive cancer with a poor prognosis, but Lewis went into his treatments like a star.’
‘He was always smiling and charming every nurse he met, and Birmingham Children’s Hospital became like a home to us,’ Gayle explains. ‘We were spending nights on camp beds and living off microwave meals, but we really came to value our “oncology family”’.
By January 2009 Lewis had finished all his major treatment in hospital, and was able to go home again. But sadly he relapsed in June, and by the next year, his body could not fight any more. Lewis died on 3 July 2010.
‘After Lewis’ death, we became very aware of gaps that existed in services for bereaved families,’ says Gayle. ‘It was a very scary time, because there was nobody to tell us that we weren’t alone. It was only when we turned to the other families from the hospital where Lewis was treated, that we realised how lucky we were to have their support.’
This was the spark that caused Gayle to establish A Child of Mine.
‘As many of our “oncology family” had been in the same position as us, they understood exactly how we were feeling,’ Gayle explains. ‘They didn’t have to pretend or imagine, because they knew – and it gave us someone to talk to.’
‘However, we knew that many people in our position would not know anyone who has lost a child, and might be feeling terribly alone. So we decided to create a website that we could fill with helpful experiences and trusted professional advice, in the hope of providing comfort to other families.’
From web resource to running workshops
In order to populate the website, Gayle spoke to local councils around the country. After asking them which services they would suggest for bereaved parents, she realised there was a huge gap to be filled for in-person support. And at this point, her small online resource became a full-blown charity.
‘Almost straight away, I started arranging talks about bereavement at Birmingham Children’s Hospital – the place where Lewis was treated,’ says Gayle. ‘I then met with the hospital’s Chief Executive, who had seen one of my flyers and wanted to introduce me to the bereavement team.’
Since then, Gayle has offered her experience to lots of professionals in the sector, and Great Ormond Street Hospital is now one of her biggest advocates. But as well as helping out the professionals, Gayle’s key aim is still to support families.
‘An invisible bond’
‘At A Child of Mine, we run all sorts of events – from memory days at local children’s hospices, to our monthly ‘Sunshine and Rainbows’ and ‘Our Space’ groups in Staffordshire – which offer play and creative therapies for children and teenagers who have lost siblings.’
Although Gayle is the charity’s only full time staff member (supported by her daughter Georgia, who volunteers), she tries to support as many people as possible. In fact, families come from across the country to join the stay and play groups, because the shared experience is so valuable to them.
‘We know how comforting it can be when you talk to someone who has walked the same path as you,’ says Gayle. ‘So if a family has lost a child at any age and under any circumstances, we do all we can to make life a little bit brighter for them.’