THE START OF A SEEMINGLY ENDLESS NIGHTMARE On a fine morning in June of 1987 I was sitting in my York office facing another normal day running a Pollution Control Section of the Yorkshire Water Authority. I had been up half the night watching General Election results on TV with a group of political party workers in a house being used as the Committee Room. By 3 a.m. the owner of the house was becoming increasingly anxious about his teenage daughter who had failed to return home. Eventually she did up, much to everyone’s relief, but little did we know this was to be an omen of worse to come for us. I sat at my desk wearily considering the fact that we had woken up to the re-election of the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher. The phone rang. It was my wife, Pauline. She choked out the words, "Please come home, there's been an accident, Jackie's dead." I muttered something about coming home, and put the phone down. I felt as though I had been anaesthetised. I do remember walking into my team office and telling the nearest colleague that my daughter was dead and I was going home. I walked out into the corridor and started walking in the opposite direction to the way I should have been going. A colleague caught up with me, put his hand on my shoulder, turned me round, and asked if he could take me home. I declined, feeling more and more like some kind of zombie. I got into the lift, went down to the ground floor and walked out into the car park. I drove the 26 miles home, though I do not really remember how I did that. I must have been running on some kind of auto-pilot. My son David, who was seventeen at the time, was there with Pauline. We just held on to each other and cried. I cannot begin to describe the feeling of having a daughter one minute, and then in the next minute, to have no daughter. I knew this happened to other people all the time, but never understood what it meant. Now I did, and the whole of our world became a lifeless, meaningless place. The next thing we had to do was to get into the car and drive to a small town in Derbyshire, where the local police would take us to Derby General Hospital to identify the body. They would also be handing over Jackie’s battered suitcases and other belongings. Jackie had been on holiday in Cornwall with her boy friend. They were coming back to Yorkshire prematurely because the boyfriend's father had died. They were driving through the night, boyfriend at the wheel, when for no reason that has ever been established, at three o'clock in the morning on the A38 the car veered across the central reservation straight into the path of an oncoming truck. Jackie was killed instantly. Her life had come to an abrupt and violent end at the age of nineteen. The boyfriend very nearly died, but he survived. We had never liked him, and now we liked him even less. What are the chances of meeting an oncoming truck at 3 a.m.? The Highway Authority has since constructed a crash barrier along the central reservation of that section of the A38. Had that been there then I might not have been writing this account. So far as I am aware, nobody disliked Jackie, and she had lots of friends. She was full of fun for most of the time, but was sometimes prone to fits of depression (but then what teenager isn’t?). She was bright at school, and soon after leaving she was champing at the bit to strike out independently. She got a job as a sales administrator with Dunlopillo in Harrogate, left home and rented a small bungalow with her boyfriend just outside that town. We were proud of her. THE PURSUIT OF LIFE IN THE SHADOW OF DEATH Soon after her death I was promoted to oversee river quality management in the final two years of the Yorkshire Water Authority leading up to privatisation, and to provide some input into the creation of the National Rivers Authority, Yorkshire Region. In a way this helped to take my mind of what had happened to our lives, but within eighteen months my mental state was becoming more and more fragile until I felt I could no longer withstand the pressures of the job. Rather than transferring to a senior post in the new National Rivers Authority I felt compelled to opt for voluntary redundancy and start some kind of new life at a simpler level. My wife, meanwhile, was suffering panic attacks and agoraphobia as the after-effects of our bereavement began to kick in. It was difficult for both of us to come to terms with the fact that many of our acquaintances would cross the road rather than face the embarrassment of having to talk to us. This was not true of everyone, of course, and many real friends "came through" for us. She managed to occupy herself with secretarial employment and eventually became a General Practitioner's Secretary and Receptionist. IDENTITY CRISIS AND A MAJOR LIFE CHANGE For myself, after abandoning my professional career, I did nothing for six months except muck about with the house and garden, wondering who on earth I was, and why I existed. I had to adjust to not being part of a large organisation, and no longer having any status or influence at regional or national level. After six months I took up part-time taxi driving with a local family firm, a job that included transporting children, who lived in remote farmsteads, to and from school. HOW DO YOU RECOVER? .. CAN YOU RECOVER? My Thoughts on these Questions I want to tell any of you out there who have experienced this kind of thing that several years down the line, things do actually return to a kind of acceptable normality. Time does not really “heal” - contrary to what people keep telling you. The pain is always there, but over time you do develop ways of living with it. Moreover, life sometimes has the surprising capacity to throw up certain kinds of compensation (for want of a better word) for your suffering.   We like to think that the paths we take through life are determined by our own conscious will, but we often find ourselves going down a path mapped out by someone (or something) else. Whether this is the Will of God or just Fate, or simply the Lottery of Life depends upon your own beliefs. But regardless of whether you are religious, agnostic, or plain atheist, you have to accept that you can - and often do - lose control over your own destiny. Indeed, you may have already lost it without realising it. In our own case, this untimely death set in train a series of life changes that eventually led me, several years later and apparently quite by chance, into contact with another group of lives and a whole new set of relationships, one of which was connected with more tragedy. Had my own tragedy not occurred, I would not have lost the will to pursue my career in environmental management; I would not have taken early retirement; I would not have taken a part-time job as a taxi driver, involving the transporting of children to school and back; I would not have met two children who enjoyed an idyllic, but short-lived, existence with their young mother, Susan, and her partner, John, on a smallholding in the depths of a North Yorkshire forest. There was so much love in that forest setting that it was impossible not to be affected by it. It was a privilege to have known Susan and the children. It is an even greater privilege that the children, in spite of now being young adults, and two hundred miles away from that woodland scene, stay in contact with me. I was, after all, only their school taxi driver. I met these children because their young and beautiful mother was terminally ill with cancer, and it was my luck to be assigned to provide their school transport. I had a good relationship with them and grew fond of them. In the end, all Susan's hospital treatments came to nought and her life came to a slow, painful, and undignified end. Her partner of two year's standing had no legal claim on the children, and their natural father was, at the time, a sometimes violent alcoholic. And so they were whisked away down south to live with their grandparents until they completed their education and obtained good jobs. But we still keep in touch, and we still see each other from time to time. (This is an example of one of those compensations that I mentioned earlier.) The young girl once wrote to me that it was sad but true, that had her mother not had cancer, we would never have met. But she was glad we met, and she said she valued my letters and my support. What greater privilege can a man be given to than to have this said by a child? It is equally true that had my daughter not passed away, I would never have been in a position to come into contact with these children. I cared for these kids a great deal. (Compensations.) I wrote a poem called "Forest Shadows" dedicated to those Children of the Forest. JACKIE DIES, BUT FULFILS A PROMISE I have just been describing one positive outcome to a very negative experience. There was another one ... My wife's mother was widowed at a relatively early age, and she lived alone in a small apartment in a London suburb. Here we were, living in North Yorkshire 250 miles away from her - hardly in a position to be on hand in any kind of personal crisis or illness as the years began to take their inevitable toll. Jackie had always been a very loving granddaughter and had frequently said to her "Nan" that she would always look after her in later years. Of course she could not have known that her own life was scheduled to end at the age of 19, and yet, rather wonderfully, this promise was kept in an unexpected way. A few weeks after Jackie's death we were contacted by Dunlopillo - Jackie's employers. Unknown to us it was company policy to provide life insurance for all their employees. Jackie had only been with them for six months or so, but we were informed that there was a cheque for £12,000 in the post. It was clear to us immediately how this money should be spent. We built a "Granny Flat" on to the side of our house and brought Jackie's Nan up from London. She has been able to live a reasonably independent life in her new abode, knowing that we were on hand right next door. A few years ago she suffered a stroke, but made a fair recovery. Nevertheless she needs (and receives) daily attention from us - all made possible through that life insurance payment. I can't think of a better memorial to Jackie than a comfortable apartment for her Nan, with help immediately to hand. SOME FINAL THOUGHTS FOR OTHER BEREAVED PARENTS It's awesome when you think about how many of us are members of this dreadful "club". None of asked to join, but we have been handed Life Membership. Those of you who might now be in the depths of despair, please persevere, and keep struggling along that difficult, shadowy, thorny path you are now on, because ahead of you lies the real possibility of sun rays through the gloom, and a renewal of hope and purpose. You can become stronger. Your life will not be the same again, but it doesn't have to be worse - just different .. very different. You will gain new strengths. Allow for the fact that you and your partner may grieve and recover at different speeds and at different levels. Above all talk to each other about your shared loss. Most importantly, if you are fortunate enough to have been left with other children, understand that they might feel utterly neglected and unloved, because you have been  (unwittingly) taken over - to the exclusion of all others - by your grief for the one you have lost. It is quite likely that you switched to “victim mode” leading to others being shut out of your life. Finally, make allowances for those people who have never experienced what you have experienced and don’t know how to relate to you, and perhaps avoid you: they mean well. They just have no idea what you are going through and don't really know what to say or do (which is also distressing to them). Finally, a few weird numerical coincidences Jackie's life and death .. She was born on the 19th of the month. The letters in her full name add up to 19. The digits in her Harrogate telephone number added up to 19. She died at the age of 19. She died crossing the strip that divides the A38 in half. Half of 38 is 19. Her funeral was on the 19th of the month I am grateful to an anonymous visitor to this site who provided this poem .. Think me not dead, Think me only gone awhile, To return a sunny day, As the wind blows you a reminder And crossing your mind I enter your heart and fill your soul With the love of forever, And forever our love is remembered Until I return to you.         This picture of Jackie was taken 3 days before she died Click to enlarge Ice skating at Garmisch Partenkirchen Jacqueline 1968-1987