When 9-year-old Henry tragically died from acute myeloid leukaemia in February 2022, his family spent five special days at Demelza with him, making precious memories. This Dying Matters Awareness Week Henry’s mum, Sam shared her experiences of returning to work after Henry’s death and the hidden struggles she is still facing post-bereavement.
“This January marked my first day back at work, 11 months after Henry died; but when you factor in the time I was off for his treatment, as well as the time I worked from home during COVID-19 to protect him from infection, it was nearly three years since physically being in the office. Honestly, I was terrified to come back to the workplace.
Partly it’s the tragedy of why I’m able to come back after so long. I was supposed to come back once Henry had finished his treatment; once we’d found the needle in the haystack and he was all better. Instead, the reason I can come back is that Henry died, and we have to try and figure out how to navigate life without him.
There was also the thought of walking through those doors to a sea of faces – some knowing what had happened, others not – that kept me up at night. The thought of entering every conversation on the back foot, unsure of whether I can mention Henry’s name or explain where I’d been for so long, was unbearable.
Death is a taboo subject, and you find that some people avoid you altogether rather than trying to face the reality – the utter enormity – of the terrible thing you’ve been through. I’m grateful for the people who’ve tackled it head-on, stopping me at work to say hello and ask how I’ve been, and to give me an opportunity to talk. I was also fortunate to have a supportive line manager, who worked with me to make the transition as smooth as it could have been, under the circumstances.
Support from Demelza has also made a difference. I recently attended the Snowdrop bereavement event at Demelza with Henry’s brother Edward; being in that environment, with other families who had been through the same thing as us, meant we didn’t have to walk on eggshells like I sometimes do at work. I was able to talk about how hard my return to work had been, and others shared similar experiences which made me feel so much less alone – there was no expectation or judgement, just understanding.
For his part, Edward got to chat to everyone about Henry and reminisce about his time staying at Demelza, and the Demelza team opened the Book of Remembrance to Henry’s page. We felt very close to him then.
When it comes down to it, I’m not the same old Sam I used to be. My grief is a part of me now, and everything else has to build around it. It takes every ounce of my strength and courage to come into work after what I’ve been through - and what we’ve been through as a family – and I’m so grateful to all those who have been, and continue to be, supportive of us. My heart goes out to any parent, or family member, going through the same."