Debbie’s story: “Thank you, Winston’s Wish, for being a light in our darkest days”

Debbie turned to Winston’s Wish for help supporting her young children, Lizzie and Hattie, when their dad and former partner, David, died in 2018. The Winston’s Wish books, website and online resources helped her family to navigate their grief from the days following David’s death up until today and into the future. To help us mark our 30th birthday, Debbie is sharing her family’s story:

In 2018 the lives of my children were completely shattered when their dad died after a short illness. Their dad, David, was 43 and my children were aged eight and five years old.

As a family there is absolutely nothing that can prepare you for the sheer force of emotions after a loss so profound. It felt as though we were caught up in a bewildering vortex of desperation and doom… and there was no escape. No way forward and, as much as our hearts ached for it, definitely no way back.

Black and white photo of Debbie, Lizzie and Hattie smiling

From the very beginning of our grief journey (although at the time I didn’t quite realise how much of a journey it would become), I wanted to help and support my two girls as much as I could. I knew to do that, and to lead us from the rubble and plumes of smoke clouds onto a calmer, sunnier and more hopeful path, I needed somewhere I could access help and support with people who were or had been in a similar position to me.

I turned again to the booklet which the hospital had given me the afternoon David died, which I had clutched onto so tightly on the surreal taxi journey home to tell the girls their dad wouldn’t ever be coming back. A Child’s Grief: Supporting a child when someone in their family has died Winston’s Wish.

I remember the first time I looked at the Winston’s Wish website and I immediately felt relief. Relief that there was a place out there where people understood what it’s like to parent children who are grieving. A million miles away from the well-intentioned platitudes and misconceptions of “they’ll be ok, children are so resilient” and “let’s not talk about it because we don’t want to upset them”. The relief was also tinged with hope, which was a really positive step, since it felt like hope had exited our lives the moment David died.

I signed up to the Winston’s Wish Facebook page, which I found of HUGE benefit. The regular posts were comforting and supportive (I think because I felt a real affinity that my frustrations and worries were finally validated), and really helpful in terms of learning about how children process their grief and the ways in which other family members can support children in very practical ways.

I ordered one of the publications – a wonderful workbook called Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine – which the girls used. It not only helped them express their feelings and emotions around their loss, but also to remember the good things that were still present in their lives, and what fun things might be enjoyed in the future.

We actually looked back over the books together recently and, aside from a few chuckles regarding the girls’ style of writing when they were so little and how it has changed and expanded over the years, I could see that actually their grief (in fact our grief as a family) had changed and expanded too.

Hattie and Lizzie reading Winston's Wish book Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine

There is never a point when suddenly you stop grieving. I know there will always be a part of us grieving inside, but it became apparent that we were most definitely no longer caught in a traumatic tornado and the dust had truly settled.

David is still very much a part of our lives. His memory runs alongside us every single day. Whether we’re giggling and remembering something funny he did, or what he would think of a new situation, or when we’re celebrating and remembering him on the special days. The good days FAR outweigh the bad days now, and happiness and hope reside with us once again.

Thank you, Winston’s Wish, for being a light in our darkest days, and for helping my girls on their grief journey then, now and into their future so they grow, expand and flourish in their life, living well alongside their loss.

I imagine I’m not unique in that I’m one of many families out there in the shadows who ultimately remain anonymous to the charity, and yet gain so much benefit at the same time. Thank you for helping me to help my children and for inviting our stories on your 30th Birthday!

The girls and I are planning some fundraising later in the year to give back to more people who, like me, are caring for children who have experienced the death of someone in their family. I’ve also made Winston’s Wish a beneficiary in my Will.

Happy 30th Birthday! Thank you to all involved at the charity for your help and support.

Where to get support

If you are a bereaved young person or you are supporting a child or young person (aged 0-25) who is struggling with their grief, please call our Freephone Helpline team on 08088 020 021 or email We can provide advice, support and resources.

If you need urgent support, the Winston’s Wish Crisis Messenger is available 24/7 for free, confidential support in a crisis. Text WW to 85258.

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Winston’s Wish provides bereavement support to grieving children, young people (up to 25) and their families, along with online resources and training for professionals.