Friday, 17 June 2011

Sugababes are at Cazfest, Caroline's Mum speaks of loss

Mum speaks of loss ahead of Cazfest

AHEAD of next month’s Cazfest, ELEANOR PATMORE speaks to Caroline Johnstone’s mum Lesley about coping with her loss.
"YOU can look over the edge of what it might be like to lose a child but until you fall you don’t know what it’s like down there.”
Lesley Johnstone
Lesley Johnstone
Three years on from losing her daughter, Lesley Johnstone admits every day is a battle to face down the grief that threatens to overwhelm her still.
While she has been able to draw strength from the support of family, friends and the community, it is the understanding of those who have lived through every parent’s worst nightmare that has helped her begin to face life without Caroline.
“I have to face it every day and sometimes it gets the better of me,” she said. “Something simple will trigger it and I’ll have an awful day. Other times it will sit on my shoulder and I’ll just have to tell it to f*** off.
“Grief will drive you insane if you let it, but what I’ve come to learn is that the sadness and the pain is part of me now. It will always be part of me but I won’t let it be me.”
Lesley, 53, said that coming to terms with Caroline’s death in June 2008 will be a long and difficult road, but one she won’t have to walk alone. Soon after her 17-year-old daughter died, she got in touch with the Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) charity and, four months after they had laid ‘Caz’, as she was known, to rest, she and husband Johnny, of Chapel Lane, Little Hadham, were invited by CRY chief executive Alison Cox to attend a bereavement support day.
Caroline Johnstone
Caroline Johnstone
“I don’t have the words to describe what it was like to walk into a large conference room full of people who had lost children like us,” Lesley said. “It was very strange and sad, but I also felt safe as everybody had been through something similar.
“I’ve got fabulous family and friends and a very supportive community, but it struck us both, particularly after we started speaking to other people, that you do get a lot of comfort from people who really, really understand what you’re going through.”
It was at this seminar in Wimbledon in October 2008 that Lesley met another grieving mother who was to inspire her to become a CRY counsellor.
Also called Caroline, she too had lost her son, Andrew, at the age of 17 in 1997 when her daughter was 15, the same age as Lesley’s son Ross at the time.
“She mirrored us as a family and I was just in awe of her,” Lesley said. “When you’re in the early stage of that deep, horrible place that grief takes you, you think you’ll never function normally again, but here was a woman who had lost her son at the same age as we’d lost Caroline who seemed to be functioning normally.
“I remember someone saying to her at the end of the day ‘Can you ever be happy again? Can you laugh and have fun?’ She stopped for a moment and then said ‘Yes, you’ll have laughter in your lives, but that deep, profound happiness you probably will never have again’. It was very honest and I’ve realised since that you don’t even know you have that deep, profound happiness until you lose it.”
Lesley added: “For me, she was inspirational. You’re so overwhelmed with your fear that you’re desperate for someone to help you, to tell you everything’s going to be OK. She didn’t lie to us but she still gave us hope.”
Caroline was on a night out with friends when she collapsed due to sudden heart failure. She was placed on life support, but her family took the agonising decision to switch it off when it was clear she had suffered irreversible brain damage.
Lesley is now halfway through a two-year training course to be one of CRY’s ‘bereavement supporters’.
“We spent the first year doing a lot of talking, sharing our stories and making sure we’re in a safe enough place so we can be of help to others,” she said. “You’re no use to someone if you get upset. The next part is more theoretical. It’s what I call the ‘head’ stuff.”
Her own experience has taught her that grief is a deeply personal journey and that the way people respond to losing a loved one varies enormously. “It’s very different for everyone – even within my own family we have our own ways of coping,” she said. “For me, [becoming a counsellor] has helped me, not to accept what has happened, but to deal better with the horrible, deep, dark places that you go to.
“We’re all different people with different relationships with our children so our responses and reactions will be different. There isn’t a guidebook to grief. All you can do is walk alongside them and hold their hand.”
Cazfest, the third annual music festival held in Caroline’s memory, will take place on Sworders Field in Bishop’s Stortford on July 2 with the likes of The Sugababes, S Club and The Overtones. Tickets are £20 in advance or £25 on the day. For information and bookings, see Or for more stories on Cazfest, visit our music page.

No comments:

Post a Comment