Debbie's story

"The responses were so kind and supportive, and gave such good advice. It restored my faith in the human spirit."

Debbie Riordan lost both of her parents to cancer within the space of a few months. This, combined with the loss of a close friend and a beloved family pet, led her to seek a connecting thread in our online community.

"About 13 years ago, my Mum and Dad decided to retire in Malta and they both loved it," Debbie says. "Unfortunately, things changed in January 2015 when Mum was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

"She was operated on and started chemotherapy in May. But, during her second round, she developed an infection, sepsis and within two weeks she had died. Throughout this period, a very close friend also died following emergency surgery; in fact it was 3 days before Mum.

"I stayed in Malta with my Dad. There was no funeral as Mum's body was kindly donated to medical research."

That was a horrible time for Debbie who spent a lot of time travelling back and forth between England and Malta.

"When I returned home in July, we had a garden tea party in memory of Mum, which was lovely," she recalls. "My Dad stayed with us and returned to Malta in August."

"Grief is a whole-body experience"

"The year before, my Dad had been diagnosed with lymphoma but was doing fine. However, he too went downhill and died in October 2015, aged 78. Again, we held no funeral."

During this time, there was additional sadness when Debbie's four-year-old dog suffered spinal strokes and, despite lots of physiotherapy and care, passed away in November 2015.

"We were a very close family," Debbie continues. "Before and after they retired abroad, we had regular phone calls, chatted on social media and went on trips. I've been so lucky to have both parents with me for 52 years, both well, mobile, together, happy and just living a normal life. They were always there for me.

"To lose them together quite suddenly, within months, has been very very hard," she admits. "I really had no idea about loss: how it's a whole-body experience; physically, emotionally and mentally. It feels as though you are broken - and you are; the family is broken. Everything shifts, relationships change, and the isolation,  desolation and sadness are overwhelming."

"It feels like a virtual hug"

While Googling for bereavement help, she came across the Sue Ryder online community and support.

"Struggling with anxiety, before I joined I regularly looked on the community forum. Then I joined in December 2016," she recalls. "The responses were so kind and supportive, and gave such good advice. It felt like a virtual hug; it still does.

"It restores your faith in the human spirit when you so need that reassurance," Debbie explains. "It makes me feel I'm not alone. I realised that there's this whole underworld of grieving, brave souls who are willing to help another person who they don't know and will never meet, yet they take the time out of their own struggles to respond. It really lifts the heart.

"I return to the forum now and then. The site is easy to navigate, you can dip in and out, and it doesn't feel intrusive; it feels safe. Today, nearly two years on, I still struggle," she reflects.

"For anyone thinking of going on the site, I'd say be open, give it a go and reach out," urges Debbie. "There is so much kindness there that shines through. During the darkest of times, it gave me hope."

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