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Guest blogs

The grief does not go away

The tragic death of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s son brought back painful memories for psychologist Linda Blair. In this article in The Times, she describes her own experience.

‘Andrew Lloyd Webber’s eldest son, Nicholas, dies of gastric cancer aged 43.” When I read that headline last weekend, everything around me disappeared and my mind went numb. And then the pain returned. A pain like no other I have ever known — one that sits somewhere just under the heart, buried deep, and one which is inconsolable and incurable.

My first reaction was to think how unbearable the loss of Nicholas must feel for his family. But then — selfishly, it seemed to me — more thoughts followed. My own memories from 2019, sitting in ICU with my eldest son, Jonathan, hope draining away. He died of multiple organ failure brought on by cystic fibrosis. Had he lived he would be 40 now, three years younger than Lloyd Webber’s son.
After forcing myself back to the present, I remember thinking, “Oh stop it.” But then I realised that parents who lose a child at any age can’t “stop it” or get over it, because grief doesn’t work that way. You don’t “get through it”. You learn to live with it. Acceptance, even though unwanted, is the only outcome.

Parents who lose adult children are often overlooked in the conversations around grief. In recent years the taboo surrounding miscarriage and stillbirth and child bereavement has lifted, thankfully, so we know more about the heartbreak that follows, and are therefore better prepared to help parents cope with it. But the pain of losing a child never stops, even when that child is grown up.
No one who loses a child is saved from experiencing the most devastating grief, because somehow it shouldn’t happen. We shouldn’t lose our children. Losing a parent is devastating of course, but it feels like the natural order of things. My mother is a few months short of 100, and I know that makes me very lucky, but to outlive your grandchild doesn’t feel right to her either.

Nor can wealth protect you, and sadly, Lloyd Webber’s fortune can’t shield him from his family’s pain. My professional training didn’t help with my grief either, as I’d hoped it might. I’m a chartered clinical psychologist, and I have more than 40 years of experience helping families to work through crises, but nothing in my training afforded me protection.

Therefore, in tribute to my son Jonathan and to Nicholas Lloyd Webber, I offer my observations for those who have endured the death of their child. I use the term “child”, because that’s what our offspring are to us parents, no matter how old they
are. I expect these observations can apply whatever the age of the child you lose, although I can only speak from the experience of losing an adult child.

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