Norwich charity helped us cope

It has been over two years since Deborah Brown's husband Alex died, and she and her sons are still finding comfort from the support offered by Nelson's Journey. Abigail Saltmarsh reports.

Just to know she can pick up the phone and speak to someone at Nelson's Journey has been of immense comfort to Deborah Brown, 40, from near Yarmouth.

Former palliative care nurse Deborah lost her husband Alex in September 2008 after he developed a brain tumour and became seriously ill.

With two sons, Daniel, now 12, and Ashley, eight, Deborah has not only had to cope with her own unimaginable grief and loss but has also had to be there for her children.

Her experience as a hospice nurse and her – and Alex's – decision to be open and honest with the boys during the illness have undoubtedly helped.

But, she said, having Nelson's Journey ready to step in when required has been of huge support.

'For me to know that I can just pick up the phone and tap into their services, has definitely helped,' she said.

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'It is partly about just knowing they are there for advice and support. It has been a real comfort – they are really very special.'

Alex, an IT consultant was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour in 2007, after collapsing and suffering a seizure.

The boys were just six and nine at the time, and Deborah decided to nurse Alex at home in order to give the family as much time together as possible.

'I think having worked as a nurse in palliative care was a great help. I knew I could look after Alex better than anyone else and it meant he was able to be at home until he died,' she said.

'It was lovely because the children could really spend time with him, getting into bed with him, reading to him and playing chess when he was up to it. We could still be a family.'

The couple initially decided to tell the boys that Daddy was very ill but promised themselves they would answer their questions truthfully when they came. So when Daniel asked a question that suggested he was wondering if Alex would ever get better, Deborah felt it was the appropriate time to answer him honestly.

'I explained that Dad would not get better and that he would die, and he handled it really well. He was very calm,' she said. 'We couldn't see how hiding it from them would help. It meant they were able to have time to prepare and to say goodbye.'

The family had been told about Nelson's Journey and after Alex died they were put in touch with someone involved with the charity.

'I then had several lengthy conversations with a chap there about Alex being ill, the children knowing he was dying and how they were coping,' she remembered. 'They were very supportive and explained that they wanted to wait six months as a minimum before taking them off on the Nelson's Journey camp.'

The boys had support from Deborah, other family members and friends, and their schools but going off on the Hilltops camp the following May brought them something different.

'In many ways they were both handling it well and had settled down to normal life but they didn't know anyone else who had been through anything like this, and I knew they felt very different from the other children,' she said.

'At the camp there were lots of other children to talk to who did understand, and it felt safe to say how they felt and how angry or upset they were. It was so important for them to understand that it was OK to feel all the things they were feeling. I know my older son, in particular, had worried about upsetting me by showing how he felt – but he could do it here.'

The camp was a success but it was not the end of the relationship with Nelson's Journey. Deborah and the boys have attended events such as Christmas parties since then, and she has felt able to pick up the phone whenever she has needed support or advice over a particular issue.

'It is great for the children but it is also good for the parents too. It is useful to be able to talk to other parents of bereaved children,' she explained.