It’s hard to believe this now, but I honestly thought I would be okay when my son Raj died. After all, I had known for months that his condition was terminal. Unlike some parents, I had been given time to prepare for this loss. I convinced myself I could deal with it.
I knew I would have no regrets about the way Raj had lived his short life, or doubts about whether I had tried everything possible to save him.
In the days and weeks after he died, I was kept busy. We had prayers at home followed by Raj’s funeral. I carried on. I made plans to raise more money for The Brain Tumour Charity through The Raj Rana Fund, which we set up after Raj was diagnosed.
And then it happened. About three weeks after Raj’s funeral, I felt my heart explode. Smashed into a million pieces. It was a physical sensation as much as an emotional one.
I struggled to comprehend how I could be feeling so terrible. I kept thinking: ’Come on Suk... you spent so much time with Raj. You made the most of everything. You tried everything you could. You knew this was going to happen.’
It was then I realised what grief really is. It can’t be controlled or planned. You can’t rush it. The realisation hit me. Grief could be a forever thing.
My manager had attended Raj’s funeral and I’d said to her there: ‘I’m coming back soon!’
She told me: ‘Whenever you are ready, Suki.’
I realise now that rushing back to work would have been the worst decision. This is the hardest and most important time of my life. I need to heal and my mental health at this time is so important. I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to take time off with pay. I didn’t need to worry about finances. Bills will always have to be paid but at a time like this, it’s the last thing you need on your mind.
My employer, Mars, had been hugely compassionate through Raj’s treatment. There was flexibility around appointments and a mutual understanding of what was required from me and them but I know that others have very different experiences.
I’m part of a forum on Facebook for bereaved parents of children who died from cancer and when I discussed with them the issue of going back to work, I was shocked by what I learned. Some were sacked as they took time off to care for their children. Others had to rush back to work as they were not paid.
One mum said she worked in GP practice and didn’t even get the three days of compassionate leave she had requested following her child’s death. Others, like me, had support and agreed it was needed most at this time.
Losing your child is just wrong. I realise I will need to be kind to myself and work through this slowly and so I had my first counselling session this week via the NHS, after six weeks on the waiting list. I’m not sure what direction counselling will take but for now I will continue with the sessions.
This week, Parliament is discussing plans to give parents the legal right to two weeks’ paid leave following a child’s death. I can’t stress enough how important this Bill is and how much I hope it becomes law. We need to support anyone in this position.
Two weeks is not a long time at all to grieve. To be protected financially is just something that would allow you to have peace of mind in the darkest of days.
Rushing back to work is not good for anyone. I know of parents who went back too quickly and then had to take time off months later. I’m now back at work on reduced hours. My days and workload are guided by me. That’s the kind of support parents like me need. In return, I will give my job 150% effort.
None of us in this ‘club’ wants to be a part of it. To help protect us financially is just a little weight off our shoulders from the huge mountain-like burden we already carry.