One fatal punch at a house party in January 2014 took my son's life and changed my life forever.
As a family we had been out for drinks, we returned home and Tom decided to go on to a nightclub and later a house party with friends. The house party was in full swing with around twenty five people there. It wasn't a good atmosphere - drink and drugs had been taken by some there and girls were in tears - my son challenged the behaviour of a group of lads.
Somehow he was isolated in one room in the house with this group, the mood turned nasty and my son was punched on the side of neck. The punch severed his artery and was fatal. A second lad delivered a karate kick to his head and stamped on him. The coroner later said he would have died within twenty seconds of the blow to his neck. Appallingly they left my son and did not call for an ambulance.
The police knocked on our door at 1pm and asked if I was Tom's mother and also asked me to get my husband it was then I knew something serious had happened.
My world fell apart; I was numb and couldn't absorb what had happened. The devastation the whole family felt is indescribable.
The police supported us, visiting every day for six months and took us to see the incident room so we could see first-hand the high priority with which Tom's death was being treated.
The coroner ruled it was the first punch that had killed him and the kick and stamping were not the cause of death.
Initially the lads blamed one another - eventually they were charged with murder and when the case reached Crown Court they changed their pleas to manslaughter. I felt cheated of the chance to hear them answer publicly for their actions. I was able to read my Victim Impact Statement to the court in full and I could see in the faces of the two men the dawning realisation, as they slid back in their chairs, of the real impact of their actions.
The two men received custodial sentences to be served in separate prisons. They were given a copy of my statement that I had read out in court to take with them.
The emotional turmoil did not in any way end there - my family and I were reliving the horror every single day.
Restorative justice - which involves the meeting of victims and offenders - was not something I knew about until it was suggested by the police after the court case.
I was surprised when the two men agreed to meet with me.
My husband and my other two sons felt angry and that meeting them was in some way disloyal to Tom. I was not motivated by a desire to forgive but a need for answers.
My facilitator helped me prepare; think through he questions I wanted to ask and consider how I may feel and react. I met with both men separately one day after another and spent around two and a half hours with each.
I met first with the man who threw the punch that killed Tom. He approached the door and turned as it to leave before he had even fully entered the room. I said: "Come in and speak to me; we have got this far." He did, he came in and sat down and we spoke for around two and a half hours.
I felt he listened and I could see from his face his comprehension that I was a grieving mother. I asked him - why?
He said there had been a charged atmosphere at the party, he and his friends were very drunk and had taken drugs and were easy to aggravate. He said my son moved as if to stand up and he read that as an aggressive move and the punch was thrown.
I asked him why he had left, why he hadn't phone an ambulance for my son?
He held his head in his hands and said "I am so sorry, it is something I think about every night when I am lying in my cell."
I didn't feel hatred, I cried and hearing him say those words felt like a massive relief.
The second meeting was with the man who had kicked and stamped on my son. He seemed small, almost feral and it was clear had not had a supportive or caring family to guide him. Perhaps it is my background as a primary school teacher but I saw a young man who seemed to have been written off by society from an early age.
I told him of my devastation and the impact on our family. He listened and said he was deeply ashamed of his actions that night.
I hope the meeting did him some good and in many ways he appeared vulnerable and in need of support to enable him to build a future of value.
A few years on and my sons understand the reasons why I needed to have answers to my questions about what happened that night. I am able to share the answers with my sons and perhaps help lift some of the weight from their shoulders.
My family were relying on me to provide emotional stability and I could only do that if I could find a way of living with what had happened.
Restorative justice gave me a voice. The meetings were powerful and deeply moving.
I don't forgive, I believe they had a choice in how they chose to act that night, but I can move forward and I do have answers.
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