Last Friday I was invited to a special lunch with a group of close friends. I always look forward to this occasion as it’s a fun afternoon of wonderful food and plenty of wine. Put in the mix the chat and company of good friends and what’s not to enjoy?
However, this was no ordinary lunch.
This is a lunch for an extraordinary group called Anam Cara (the Irish for friend of my soul, or heart), a group I hope never to be a part of, as each member of this group has lost a child.
This special lunch is held once a year as a fundraiser for the support work they do. Reaching out to parents in their darkest days, as well as providing information to friends, family and even companies, on how best to care for and support those who are living and working with them after such an enormous loss.
Each year one brave parent stands up and shares with the room their story. Last year it was my own great friend, who spoke of Daniel. This year another mother shared her story.
This lady and her husband had wanted children for many years only to discover, when they had nearly given up, that they were expecting. It was a little boy and he became everything they could ever have wanted or wished for, bringing a huge amount of joy into their lives.
Unfortunately, in 2014, aged seven, he was killed in an accident.
Thrown into the darkest of days they searched for help. Friends tried, but they could never understand what his parents were feeling. His mother spoke of her enormous pain and loss, searching for answers in bereavement books. These books, she felt, spoke all too often of God or faith pulling them through. Something she could not accept.
In desperation she turned to Google and came across Anam Cara. She contacted them and almost immediately felt understood. Here were others who shared her pain and who had survived. Now she had hope.
It’s difficult to describe what it feels like to sit in a room knowing so many have felt this pain. To eat lunch beside friends who have had this unimaginable tragedy in their lives. To listen as they recall stories of their handsome boy, his sporting prowess, his incredible love of life and the mischief he put into every day, and to know their pain is as real today as the moment they lost him.
It is impossible, despite the light hearted atmosphere, not to pause for a moment and secretly applaud those gathered at every table, who behind the smiles and laughter are parents who have lost a much loved child, and in some cases more than one. For here they were, raising funds to help others and giving back.
It is ten years since Sharon Vard and her husband began this charity, after the loss of their daughter Rachel aged five in 2004. Since then they have reached out to almost 10,000 parents among them my friend, Daniel’s mother.
They gave her what we could not… hope.
I salute you Anam Cara, your amazing founder Sharon Vard and all the incredible volunteers. You have made a difference to so many lives and are an inspiration to us all.