‘My al­lot­ment helped me heal’

Af­ter her only child died, Jane Cross found a unique way to cope with her grief

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Hello! -

The lounge of Jane and Paul Cross’ home in the Isle of Wight is full of pic­tures of their son Pete – on hol­i­day, squint­ing into the sun, play­ing golf and foot­ball, smil­ing with friends. From his birth in 1992 to his death in June 2012, they show a much-loved boy and the young man he be­came – a quiet high-flyer who ex­celled at ev­ery­thing he did.

In 2010, Pete had just fin­ished his A lev­els, had a place at Southamp­ton Univer­sity to study Eco­nom­ics and was about to visit Bul­garia with friends to cel­e­brate the end of school days.

‘His en­ergy lev­els were down and he’d no­ticed a small lump on his neck. So, af­ter his last exam, I took him to the doc­tor, who thought it might be glan­du­lar fever and ar­ranged a blood test,’ says his mum Jane, 58.

‘The next day, the hos­pi­tal called us in. It was se­ri­ous. On the Thurs­day, he was di­ag­nosed with Acute Lym­phoblas­tic Leukaemia (ALL). Our world was shat­tered.’

The next two years were taken up with hos­pi­tal stays, chemo­ther­apy and anx­i­ety. When Pete went into re­mis­sion in March 2011, the fam­ily were filled with hope, but it quickly turned to de­spair when he re­lapsed that De­cem­ber.

‘Shortly be­fore he died, on 3 June 2012, he told us, “I’m go­ing to miss you so much”. I couldn’t say, “We’re go­ing to miss you, too”, be­cause I didn’t want to ac­knowl­edge what was hap­pen­ing. But he knew.’

In the dark, empty days fol­low­ing Pete’s death, one thing seemed obvious. ‘We couldn’t carry on liv­ing the same life in Loughton with­out Pete,’ says Jane. ‘We had to start afresh. Paul had taken re­dun­dancy from his HR job with the NSPCC, and I’d taken un­paid leave from my job with the lo­cal coun­cil.’

Even so, Jane had been called into sick­ness review hear­ings through­out

Pete’s ill­ness. A few weeks be­fore he died, while liv­ing at the hos­pi­tal with him, she re­ceived a let­ter stat­ing that, if she didn’t re­turn to work, she’d be in breach of her con­tract. The tim­ing couldn’t have been worse.

In Oc­to­ber, four months af­ter Pete died, she and Paul were vis­it­ing her par­ents on the Isle of Wight, when she spot­ted a house for sale nearby.

Jane re­calls, ‘I said, “Well, we might as well look…”’

Eight weeks later, they’d moved. ‘Friends said, “It’s too soon”, but ev­ery­one who’s vis­ited thinks we did the right thing.’

Wasn’t it a wrench to leave the old place, full of mem­o­ries?

‘No,’ says Jane. ‘It was too hard to stay. We ac­tu­ally feel Pete chose this house for us be­cause it’s per­fect, with a cricket club nearby and al­lot­ments op­po­site.

‘I’ve al­ways liked pot­ter­ing in the gar­den, and the coun­cil

‘We’re not re­li­gious, but we do be­lieve Pete’s spirit is around us’

told me it was £9 a year for half a plot (half the size of a ten­nis court), but there was a three-year wait­ing list. Two years later, when one came up, it seemed such a big thing to take on, but I’m so glad I did. I’d made good friends here, and one – Brenda – was keen to join me. It was to­tally over­grown, and the coun­cil gave us two months to get it into shape, which fo­cused our minds. It was very, very hard work but we re­ally went for it.’

For Jane, tend­ing the al­lot­ment has been ben­e­fi­cial men­tally. ‘It’s grat­i­fy­ing to see all the hard work pay off in tidy beds, as­para­gus, beans, leeks, blue­ber­ries, cour­gettes and cu­cum­bers,’ she says.

Any sur­plus veg gets bagged up and sold for £2 a pop in the pub, with pro­ceeds go­ing to Leukaemia Busters, a char­ity in Southamp­ton which funds re­search into child­hood leukaemia and safe ways to treat it. It’s a poignant way to keep Pete at the heart of their lives.

Jane and Paul are in­volved in sev­eral trib­utes set up in Pete’s name, like the shield his school presents an­nu­ally to the pupil who most shares his unas­sum­ing nature and high-achiev­ing at­tributes.

‘They say los­ing a child of­ten tears par­ents apart, but it drew Paul and me to­gether,’ says Jane. ‘He’s my rock.’

To­day, Pete’s ashes are in an oak cas­ket in the lounge, with plans for them all to be buried to­gether un­der a tree. ‘Nei­ther Paul nor I are re­li­gious, but we do be­lieve Pete’s spirit is around us. I talk to him all the time, and Paul’s wo­ken up some nights al­most feel­ing Pete hug­ging him.

‘In­ter­est­ingly, a friend who knew Pete well went to a spir­i­tu­al­ist meet­ing af­ter her father died. The medium seemed to de­scribe him, so she put up her hand. “Your dad’s here with a young lad called Pete who be­came ill when he was young,” she was told. “Pete just wants ev­ery­one to know he’s ab­so­lutely fine.”

‘Fun­nily enough, “fine” was the only word Pete ever used to de­scribe things.’

Mean­while, Jane throws her­self into life, as Pete would have wanted. Near the end, his thoughts had been for them. ‘What about Mum and Dad?’ he’d asked his Macmil­lan nurse.

‘I def­i­nitely feel the al­lot­ment helped my re­cov­ery,’ says Jane. ‘It’s helped me stay positive. We dig and plant, and weed and water, then sit with flasks of tea and have a nat­ter. It’s my lit­tle piece of Heaven.’

The three of us

Our boy Pete

It’s grat­i­fy­ing work

The al­lot­ment

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