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Freedom to grieve at your own pace 'should be a right'

Published date: 03 January 2014 |
Published by: Rhian Waller 
Read more articles by Rhian Waller  Email reporter


 

“I CAN’T even explain what it’s like to lose your child,” said Angela Davies of Garden City in Deeside. “It’s the worst feeling in the world.”

Angela’s daughter, little Amelia-Mae died last year, aged two, after being diagnosed with stage four Neuroblastoma.

She said: “It’s been five months but we’re still in a bit of shock. I don’t think we’ll ever get over it.

“You build your life around your grief. We’re learning to breathe again, learning to live again, but the grief never goes away.”

Now Angela has leant her support to a parliamentary bill, which calls for a parent’s right to paid bereavement leave to be enshrined in law.

The Parental Bereavement Leave bill will see its second reading in the House of Commons later this month.

Scottish MP Tom Harris put the Bill forward.

Addressing the House of Commons late last year, he said: “Most of us can imagine nothing more distressing than losing a child. Yet at this traumatic juncture in a parent’s life, there is no guarantee of paid statutory leave in the event of a child’s death.

“At present, all employees have the right to take immediate ‘time off for dependants’ under the Employment Rights Act 1996. That is a legal right to unpaid leave to cope with family emergencies.

“However, there’s no set limit on how many days can be taken, only a vague definition of a “reasonable”.

“Each employer will have their own bereavement policy, which typically provides for just three to five days’ leave.

“Grief is not uniform – it affects people in different ways. Each person will need a time specific to them to deal with it.”

While some employers act admirably, said Mr Harris, others do not.

He cited a number of cases, including when Channel 4’s ‘Undercover Boss’ highlighted an incident where a driver was forced back into work a day after his daughter died.

Angela said: “My husband Stuart works at Hanson cement in Flintshire. They were very good. They even kept ringing to ask how Amelia was doing.

“It would have been so much harder if we hadn’t had that assurance. When Amelia was ill, we concentrated entirely on her. Every hour of every day was taken up making sure she was comfortable, sorting the medication and caring for her when she was very poorly.

“Toward the end, she was so ill she couldn’t even speak.

“When she died, we didn’t sleep for a week. We really needed to spend some time together as a family.”

Because of the duration of Amelia’s illness, the family did receive some government support.

This lapsed as soon as Stuart went back to work, leaving them with a £50 transport stipend to see them through the month until the pay packet arrived.

Angela said: “It’s a terrible time when a child dies. We had amazing support from the community, and from Amelia’s cousin John Murray (who spearheaded a £250,000 fundraising campaign to pay for pioneering surgery in America).

“We’ll never forget that – and the fight will go on as we’ve set up the Amelia-Mae Foundation to help other parents in the same position.

“But at the end of the day, even when all your energy has gone on caring, and you have suffered a loss, you still have to pay the bills.

“I signed a petition supporting the idea of paid bereavement leave for parents. I very much support this bill.”

Annie Taylor Jones, 49, of Mold, also supports the Bill.

She said: “I lost my baby girl 19 years ago. She was 16 weeks old. It was cot death. You never forget.

“I now have grandchildren, and I worried about them when they were young.

“In our case, the death came as a complete shock. My other daughter found her – she was seven at the time.

“More than that, as soon as the ambulance arrives and the paramedics realise there’s an unexplained death in the household, the police and the coroner have to get involved. There was a post mortem and we were in limbo for a week.

“Teryn died on the Friday and it was only by the following Friday that we could sort out her funeral and burial.”

Like the Davies’s, Annie and her husband Bryan had a good experience with employers; they allowed Bryan, the main breadwinner, to stay home on sick pay.

Annie said: “We needed that. I was a mess. He wasn’t just taking care of the practical side of things, he was stopping me from running off and maybe hurting myself.

“The death of a child doesn’t just impact the parents. It impacts the grandparents, their siblings – everyone.

“Bryan was basically holding the family together. It would have been so much more difficult if we’d had the threat of a job loss hanging over us.”

The Mold-based plastics firm that previously employed Bryan even allowed him extra time off when Annie had twins two years later.

She said: “What shocked me was that, when we had a relative go into critical care, we were legally allowed more time off for compassionate leave than we were when my baby died.

“It seems ridiculous to me that the law allows more leeway to parents to have time off if the child is alive, as though they expect you to be all over it and fine again after three to five days.”

More than 25,000 people have signed the petition. You can find it at: www.epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/41330.

For more news from across the region visit newsnorthwales.co.uk

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