What to Do When Your Friend's Child Dies

13/06/2016 11:55

The life and death of Charlotte Smith have touched many people. She died in her sleep at the young age of 20 months, a death that took months for pathologists and paediatricians to explain. We heard through a mutual friend; calls late at night rarely bring good news. Shock and sadness, and oddly guilt were the emotions in those early days for us as friends who were separated from Charlotte's family by geography and the eroding passage of time.

We had known each other while we were at university, and perhaps inevitably, as we stayed rooted in the city where we studied, many of our friends moved away to more rugged, remote or exciting parts of the country. We all came together to remember Charlotte and support her family when the funeral was held. It seemed a shame that it had taken a tragic event to bring all our friends together.

Deprived of the time, due to family and work commitments as well as logistics, to be of practical help to Chris and Jane, Charlotte's mum and dad, we struggled to think of what we could do to support them and their wider families. In the end we decided to do what came naturally; be creative, bossy and try to organise people.

Six months after the funeral 10 people donned cycling jerseys bearing the logo #C2C4C - "Coast 2 Coast 4 Charlotte" - on the west coast of England. After months of planning, cajoling, training and gathering of determination they set off to cycle over 130 miles across the narrowest, but probably hillier parts of the country in memory of Charlotte. In the process they raised over £11,000 for two charities; the Lullaby Trust and Sudden Unexplained Deaths in Childhood Foundation.

The range of ability, experience and preparation for the marathon event that would take over 23 hours of cycling over 2 days probably reflected the diversity of people that chose to ride with Jane and Chris; from old university friends, work colleagues and friends of friends. Family provided support at impromptu feeding stations, cheerleading and ferrying of messages between groups of riders in remote parts. There was also the small case of accompanying one rider to hospital after a tyre-corner miscalculation resulted in a body-dry stone wall impact. Luckily the X-rays were reassuring and he lived to ride another day.

As we finished the ride on the east coast, we hoped that the training and the event itself had provided Chris and Jane with a diversion and focus from the unspeakable heartache of coping with Charlotte's death. It may have been a way of channelling a small part of their emotions as well as completing a fantastic fundraising job to make a difference to other people facing similar tragedy. It gave the opportunity for friends that may find the right words to say difficult to show solidarity with them through their ability to bake cakes, buy bananas, plan routes, book hostels and simply encourage the spirit of human endeavour. It also showed Chris and Jane that they had friends and family around them, and scattered around the country, that were willing to suffer physically with them, share the pain of loss and the lesser pain of searing muscles, joints and ligaments.

We're so glad that we found a way to channel our perfectionist tendencies, attention to detail, love of being bossy and organising people in a way that expressed our love and affection for Chris and Jane. We'd encourage any friends of those who are bereaved that simply by being yourself and using your gifts you can find a way to support those that are going through the darkest time of their lives.