The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday

My baby and husband died within days. I can only try to move forward


After the deaths of her husband and son, Rhian Mannings slowly rebuilt her life, remarrying and starting 2Wish, a charity that has helped 10,000 families in Wales who have been affected by the death of a child or young person. Rhian, now 44, pictured with her dog Milo, won the Pride of Britain award for her work. Here, she shares how suffering changed her.

In 2012 I was a PE teacher. My husband Paul and I had three children: Holly was three; Isaac, two; and George, one. It was a very chaotic household. Paul and I always tried to bathe the children together, which we did on this night, and then we’d bring them downstairs.

Georgie just crawled around laughing but suddenly he rolled over backwards onto the floor and I instantly knew something was wrong. His eyes were open and he was breathing but he was still. We called the ambulance and within two hours of having been admitted, George died of what we later found out was pneumonia. By midnight we were back home, his birthday cards still up because George had turned one the week before.

Five days after George died, Paul was just beside himself and inconsolab­le. He was blaming himself and blaming us, saying we should have done more for George. He went out, and I thought it was to clear his head. Half an hour after Paul had left the house the police knocked on my front door. And that’s when they told me that Paul was dead and that they’d found his body. He had taken his own life.

In the months after, I completely shut down. But there were no tears, no emotion. There was a joint funeral and even then I didn’t cry. I’d get the children to nursery and in the day I would lie on the sofa. I was constantly retching.

After a year, my mother told me that I was existing but not living. She was right. I knew I had to live.

I decided I would start fundraisin­g to build a family room in the hospital. When George died, there was no private space for us to sit with him. The nurse had to carry his dead body through the corridors of the hospital looking for somewhere to lay him.

I didn’t want any other family to have to do that walk.

I raised £25,000 in the first few months. We built the family room and expanded to help other hospitals. This was all I cared about.

Then after four years, one morning I found that I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t feel my hands and my feet. I was suffering from exhaustion. That’s when I started psychother­apy to accept what had happened. I was diagnosed with PTSD and understood that I was blaming myself for what had happened.

Since then I’ve been on a journey. I’ve changed, my family’s changed. My life has changed. But not all for the worst. I think people expect the changes to be negative, that I must be bitter and sad and depressed. I do suffer a lot with anxiety and before that I used to be a laid-back person. However, I appreciate things more than I used to. I empathise more than I did. I’m not judgmental.

I also have a purpose. I think I was a good person before but I didn’t have time to stop and think of other people, I didn’t volunteer for a charity or anything. I am so grateful to the people who helped us and not everyone is so lucky. There are single parents who don’t know anyone. How the hell they cope, I don’t know. I want to be there for them.

We built family rooms in other hospitals, trained staff and made agreements with the police and health board in Wales that when a child dies, the family is referred to us.

I married a friend who worked for the charity. He knows that he’s married to me and Paul and that we have a third child, George. He knows I miss them and he knows that he makes me very happy.

If I could go back 10 years and change it, of course I would. But I can’t. I could stay in bed for the rest of my life but I can’t bring back the boys. So I can only try to move forward.

In the months after, I completely shut down … my mother told me I was existing not living

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 ?? ?? Rhian’s husband, Paul, was ‘beside himself and inconsolab­le’ in the days following George’s sudden death
Rhian’s husband, Paul, was ‘beside himself and inconsolab­le’ in the days following George’s sudden death

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