Keeping memories of a lost child alive this Christmas

Rachel Aldred
Rachel Aldred
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Whilst the excitement of santa fills houses this weekend, Christmas won't be magical for some families in Lancashire.

This Christmas Eve, Lisa Aldred will hang five stockings over the fireplace but one will still be untouched on Boxing Day.

Rachel Aldred with her brother Sam

Rachel Aldred with her brother Sam

While Hannah, Leah, Ben and Sam eagerly open the gifts in their stockings, thoughts will automatically turn to Christmases past when their 14-year-old sister, Rachel, was happily opening her presents, too.

This is the second Christmas that Lisa will spend without her daughter, who died last year.

Rachel was born prematurely, at 28 weeks, weighing only 2lb, leading her to develop cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus and hearing loss. She attended mainstream school before her condition deteriorated, leading to a brain injury at the age of nine, which meant she needed respite care at Derian House, in Chorley, regularly.

Lisa says: “Looking back on photos of our first Christmas without Rachel, I’ve realised I don’t actually remember anything about it at all. It was as if I wasn’t there - I was just doing it for everyone else. At Christmas we’ll have more time together as a family. It’s really nice that we do that, but there’ll always be someone missing.

“Christmas is a time for families, for sharing memories but for us there will always be someone missing. It’s not a fairytale time for everyone, it can be the toughest time of the year when you’ve lost a child and the world seems to revolve around children – it’s everywhere you look.

“For me, when I put the star that Rachel made for the tree on top and get out the ornaments in clay that she made, I’ll be remembering her – we’ll have the stockings out but these little things will be the most important decorations we have this year.”

Being able to open her heart to talk about her beautiful daughter, who had a smile and laugh for everyone, has been a tough journey for Lisa but she had got there thanks to the help of specialist staff at Derian House and a support group for bereaved parents run at the children’s hospice in Chorley.

She can now reminisce about the Christmas joy she shared with Rachel. She recalls: “Rachel was so excited about being an angel in the nativity. It was the first time I’d ever seen any of my children in a nativity so it was truly a special moment that I’ll treasure for ever. When Rachel got excited, you could see she was overjoyed at the whole experience.

“When I first went to the support group, I would never have been able to have had a conversation about Rachel.

"I wanted to be anywhere else than at that group at first but I knew Rachel’s younger brother, Sam, needed the sibling support group Pebbles and we wanted to keep that link with Derian House as we’d be keeping something of Rachel alive, too, through that link.

“After Rachel died I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me. At the support group I was among parents who were in exactly the same situation as me – we could share our experiences and we all understood. We know we’re all there for each other – even after the meetings, we still keep in touch, sharing our feelings and thoughts on Facebook.

“Rachel really loved it at Derian.

"And it was an absolute God send to me as I knew she was in a safe place, with the very best of care and surrounded with love. It was so reassuring to have the support of Derian throughout the time Rachel was ill and when I think about her now, I think about her tucked up all cosy and comfortable in her bedroom at Derian.”

Bereavement support is available indefinitely for all families who have lost a child at Derian House. It is easy to make a donation and help support this vital work – visit http://www.derianhouse.co.uk or call 01257 271271 to find out how you could help make a difference.