Having both been through the pain of losing a daughter to cancer, dads Karl Fretwell and Timothy Hayes, and their wives Olivia and Keri-Anne, have developed a friendship that is far greater than the sum of its parts.
In their shared experience they are able to offer support and bring some comfort into each other’s lives, which were otherwise torn to shreds by grief. Here, Karl and Timothy share their thoughts about the value of common experience.
When Stephanie passed away in mid 2018, we had visits from so many people. Everybody was very supportive but there were also times that Keri-Anne and I (pictured right) simply wanted to be alone, and people respected that.
But of all the people who kindly came into our lives, the one person I had a burning desire to see was Karl. He wasn’t a close friend at the time, simply a mate from church. But from the moment a doctor said to me, ‘I’m sorry, but your daughter is not going to survive’, he was the person I wanted to speak with.
You simply can’t understand what it’s like to lose a child until you have experienced it, and it’s something I wouldn’t wish upon anybody. I wanted to see him because I knew he’d know exactly how I’d be feeling.
I know a lot of people who have lost siblings or partners or parents, but not a child. And especially not a child who was the same age as mine – Brooke was 15 when Karl and Olivia lost her, and Stephanie was 14.
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Karl had made some progress in his grief journey and ours had only just begun, so he and Olivia were a powerful support for Keri-Anne and I.
I’d often use Karl as a sounding board about things I was thinking or feeling, things that made me feel as if I was going crazy. It was very comforting for me to hear that he’d had the same thoughts and feelings. It made me realise I wasn’t a basket case.
And it’s not as if we always talk about the girls. Sometimes we just talk about sport or other stuff. It’s simply a very comfortable friendship. Without it, life would have been a little bit more difficult for Keri-Anne and I since we lost Stephanie.
The four of us are now a lot closer. It’s very healthy to have someone you know will not judge you, and who you will never judge.
We’ve been awfully fortunate to have people like Karl and Olivia to speak to. I have probably leaned on Karl more than he has leaned on me, but it’s wonderful to just have a good friend, somebody to hang out with.
Nobody can make things better for you, but having someone who’s happy to listen and not judge is very special.
Tim and Keri-Anne (pictured left) had a very informal relationship with Olivia and I; we’d just have a general chat when we’d see each other at church. But as soon as we heard of Stephanie’s passing, Olivia and I knew we had to be there for them.
We understood, in some way, the suffering and the pain they were going through. We felt that our presence might be of some comfort to them, even if we didn’t say anything.
Sometimes I’d speak with Tim and sometimes I’d text him. The minister from our church lives four or five doors up the road from Tim and sometimes he’d tell me when he thought it would be good for me to get in touch. And Olivia has done the same with Keri-Anne.
It hasn’t all been one-way, though.
It is also comforting for Olivia and I to know that through our own loss and pain, through the suffering that we have been through since we lost Brooke four years ago, that maybe we can help guide people in some ways through their grief.
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Nobody can really give you proper advice on how to deal with such loss unless they know that pain and suffering, unless they understand the experience.
Through loving and caring for Tim and Keri-Anne, we have felt enormous encouragement. They have helped us, too.
Olivia and I have found that when you’re around people who have been through the same thing, it provides you with some comfort knowing that you’re not the only ones going through it.
So what it has done for us is give us comfort in the fact that we’re able to show them love, care and support.
Words: Chris Sheedy.
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