"Sharing my feelings with other people helped to reduce the grief. And reaching out to them helped me too."
Wynne Barrett’s adventurous life spanned boarding school in Kenya, a proposal in Zimbabwe, subsequent marriage in England and the birth of her three children – all the while travelling and teaching English in 21 countries. However, in September 2016 she received a telephone call that changed everything.
"My son Daniel was working out in Turkey as a sound technician when I got the news that he had been taken ill," she recalls. "I immediately flew out to be with him and learned that he had a collapsed lung. It was horrible; there was the language barrier, which made it really hard to communicate with anyone and find out what was happening, and we couldn’t fly him home until he was well enough to travel.
"He was very poorly and was being treated at the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital when we learned that it was cancer."
The hospital was optimistic and told the family that, as he was so young (just 27), he stood a good chance and that following a liver transplant they felt he would be fine, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.
"The care he received at Nettlebed was incredible"
By January 2017, he was admitted to our Sue Ryder Nettlebed Hospice, a palliative care facility near Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire.
"I had never been inside a hospice, so when I first stepped over the threshold I felt it was full of older people and Daniel didn’t belong there," Wynne recollects. "The nurses admitted themselves that he was incredibly young and that normally the youngest patients were in their 30s. But this soon passed and the care he received was incredible.
"The staff couldn’t do enough for him and we couldn’t have managed without them," she continues. "Daniel was never alone during his time at Nettlebed. He was a quiet boy but really well liked and he even had a few ex-girlfriends visit that I didn’t know about - but as a parent I guess they don’t always share everything with you!" she laughs.
"The team were attentive to our needs as well as Daniel's, and allowed people to come at anytime and stay for as long as they needed, which was useful as we had people flying in from everywhere," Wynne says. "They even put us up in the family room, which really helped. As well as it being such an emotionally draining and terrible time, it was also physically exhausting travelling back and forth in winter in the snow.
"My son came over from Bangkok and my daughter flew in from Capetown; it was wonderful that we could all be together as a family and so close to Daniel during his last few weeks."
"No one really understands the loss of a child unless you've been there yourself"
In February 2017, Daniel died, aged just 27, surrounded by close friends and family.
The family were devastated with grief but they received special support from Wynne’s sister and brother-in-law.
"My sister in Canada lost her son in a climbing accident at the same age so she and her husband came over to support us," she remembers. "No one really understands the loss of a child unless you have been there yourself; it was so good having them to talk to.
"You really don’t know how good your family are until something like this happens and they all come together to support you. We had people from all over the world travel to Nettlebed, from Ireland to Uganda and many other places inbetween," Wynne adds.
"In the online community, you give and gain lots of support"
After Daniel's death, Wynne was offered help by the Sue Ryder Nettlebed bereavement support team.
"The trouble was I wasn’t ready at that time; I was still in denial after everything that had happened," she admits. "For the first few weeks, you are just ‘gutted’ basically. The physical and emotional pain you are experiencing is just overwhelming."
Instead, Wynne turned to the Sue Ryder online community.
"I wanted to talk and explain things to a neutral audience; this was cathartic.
"On the forum, you are drawn towards each other in a tragic way, but you give and gain lots of support. It's not just emotional support but also the very practical like 'What should I do with the ashes?’. That peer support really helps as it's coming from people who have been there and can share this experience with you.
"I found sharing my feelings with other people helped to reduce the grief. And reaching out to them helped me too."
Wynne initially logged on to the Sue Ryder community every day, but then, as time passed, she would come back online during quieter periods.
"The online group is good because you know them, but since you don’t know what they look like, you can be more open," she explains.
"It's good to start feeling needed again"
Wynne has just started feeling strong enough to go back to her job as a special needs teacher in Oxford.
"I’m trying to get some sort of structure and rhythm back in my life," she reflects. "My job is very hard but also very rewarding. I might not be as robust or energetic as I was but it’s good to start feeling needed again; you can get a lot out of that.
"It’s funny how in life your attitudes change," Wynne continues. "You feel like you're going to live forever but then things change in a second and it really knocks you. But you do start to realise what’s important and who’s important and that you need good people around you – and you soon realise who those good people are, whether family or online."
Her final piece of advice? "Time is limited so you should go to the events you want to go to with people you want to go with."
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