Parenting

When our son died my husband was forced to take unpaid leave to grieve


When Henry died aged four from cancer, my world had gone (Picture: Dawn Allen)

Henry was my little superhero and he was my world. He was the most cheeky, happy, mischievous chappy you could ever meet.

All I ever wanted was to be a mummy, so when Henry died aged four from cancer, my world had gone.

Everything I ever knew had just disappeared like that. I didn’t know what I believed anymore, what I was supposed to do. I had no one to look after. I felt so lonely, lost and isolated.

Henry had a normal childhood up until he was two and a half. I kept going backwards and forwards to the doctors because, although he was full of life, his temperature would spike in the most horrendous way at night.

But then in the morning, when I took him to the doctors, he would be fine, running around like a headless chicken and making it look like there was nothing wrong with him. 

Things got progressively worse and, eventually, he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare form of childhood cancer.

Henry was diagnosed at Christmas and he started his first chemotherapy session in February. When he was four, we were told by the consultant that he had relapsed badly and there was nothing else we could do.

I gave up work after Henry’s diagnosis, but my husband, Mark, worked throughout. His employer was supportive while he was ill, but as soon as Henry died they expected him to ‘pull his socks up’ and get back to work. 

They allowed him to take unpaid leave for a few days, but to be honest, it wasn’t enough. 

It was as though they expected everything to get back to normal at a time when we needed even more support. 

Two weeks is not enough time to come to terms with the loss of a child, but it’s two weeks more than bereaved parents had before. 

That I consider us lucky for them allowing Mark that time off shows how dire workplace provisions are for people who lose children. 

I didn’t want Mark to return to work so soon after Henry died but he was under a lot of pressure. He was the main breadwinner and the only one bringing in a salary, so to take more unpaid leave wasn’t an option. 

We didn’t want to lose the home we’d shared, which was our sanctuary and held so many memories of Henry. 

I am relieved to know that other parents won’t have to go through what we did, after the introduction of Jack’s Law this week. 

Jack Herd was a young boy who died in 2010, and whose mother Lucy has campaigned for years to ensure parents are given two weeks’ leave from work, irrespective of how long they’ve been with their employer, should they lose a child under the age of 18 or their baby is stillborn from 24 weeks of pregnancy. 

If Jack’s Law had been around when Henry died it would have really helped us as a couple. I wouldn’t have felt so alone, which didn’t help with the grieving process. It would have given us some breathing space and relieved a bit of the pressure. 

We’d have had time to grieve together and just be us. We could have banked the time off for occasions like Henry’s birthday or the anniversary of his death, which are always difficult.   

When a child or baby dies, it is so hard to get on with your day-to-day life. People are sympathetic, but after a while they get on with their lives while you’re still struggling with the grief. 

Two weeks is not enough time to come to terms with the loss of a child, but it’s two weeks more than bereaved parents had before. 

It’s a step in the right direction to give families the time they need to be together to grieve, to remember and to begin rebuilding their lives.   

You can find out more about Child Bereavement UK here, and The Henry Allen Trust here.

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