Friday 24 March 2017

'My baby died. But why me? What did I do?'

Actress Leigh Arnold tells Niamh Horan of her anguish at losing her two-week-old baby boy to Sudden Death Syndrome

Leigh Arnold
Leigh Arnold
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Actress Leigh Arnold has opened up for the first time about the trauma she experienced following the sudden death of her two-week-old baby, Flynn.

The young mother, who lost her child to Sudden Death Syndrome less than two years ago, described the terrible agony and loss in the weeks that followed.

"At the time I felt very robbed and angry. I still do," she said.

After coming back to Ireland to bury her son, she tried to deal with the shock, as her own mum watched on, helpless to her daughter's turmoil: "I was like a wild animal. I think I just walked around in circles and circles and circles for hours, just confused," she said. "I don't remember that chunk of my life; it was very confusing. It was a blur."

In a desperate bid to get her daughter help, her mother sought out a support service and within hours, a psychotherapist arrived at Leigh's door.

"It was only a couple of weeks after it happened. I came back to Ireland because I wanted to bury Flynn here, so my mom googled to see if there was any support for a woman who has just suffered the loss of a child and she found Ger O'Brien's organisation, for sudden infant death syndrome, which was in the process of transforming into First Light."

The charity, which Leigh is now working with, offers support following the sudden deaths of children, regardless of circumstance: "Ger has been unbelievable. She literally travels on her own to hundreds of families around the country. What we want to do now is to try to get enough money together so that if someone picks up the phone to the charity, there will always be someone there to take their call."

The 35-year-old also spoke about the difficulties all family relationships face when dealing with grief and said it is important to remember that loved ones need to deal with the loss, in their own way.

"Sometimes we forget other members of the family and solely concentrate on the mother. All mother's grief is terrible, but there's a father's grief and a sibling's grief. And confusion. Did they do something wrong? Did they affect it? Was it something they said? They didn't say goodbye. They didn't get a chance to say goodbye. Why did this happen?

"It's a hugely confusing situation for everybody and it throws everybody in all sorts of directions that can lead to anger and resentment and blame.

"And to have others to say 'Look this is a normal process of grief'. Anger and blame is one of the stages. And it's just a phase. If you can understand that you can get to the other side. There are many relationships that I know that have gone through loss and they haven't been able to get through it because a person's grief is very individual, but you have to allow them that space and they will come through it the other side," she said.

"If people want to lie in bed and close the curtains all day, that's their right. You have to let them do that."

Now slowly getting back to work as an actor, she is moving her family home to Dublin, where she wants to raise her children, Hunter and another baby now on the way. Speaking about her pregnancy she said: "I am apprehensive to get too excited because, when you have been through trauma, you kind of tend to walk on eggshells.

"You anticipate anything that could go wrong so you feel you're somewhat prepared. Its not a nice way to live, but unfortunately, it's the reality.

She says the wisest words she received only made sense with time: "I know that this is such a cliche, but I remember what a friend said to me when I was in the height of agony. She came around for a cup of coffee and to talk. And I just kept saying, 'Why me? What did I do?' I remember saying, 'Did I ever hurt anyone? Was I cruel? Or if there was karma or a God would they punish me and do this to me?' And I just kept saying this over and over and she just grabbed my hand and she just said, 'Leigh, you can't hear it now, you won't be able to hear the birds sing, or the dogs barking or music or a beautiful symphony but you'll wake up one morning and there'll be a time that you hear the morning chorus again'. And I said 'I can't understand how people's lives are going on when my life has stopped'. But it does, it really, really does.

"It's a cliche, but time really is a healer. It never heals you completely, your heart will never be the same again, there will always be a piece of it that's broken but the pain isn't as awful."

She says the experience has made her less afraid of dying: "I'm not scared of death. Death doesn't scare me anymore. I like to think that there's a better place out there, somewhere extremely beautiful. There is a paradise that we will all go to and where we will meet. again."

For more info on First Light, visit www.firstlight.ie or to donate text FIRST to 50300.

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