‘Our world imploded when our giddy giggler was lost to us within hours of taking ill’

A parent’s loss: ‘Allow yourself to be happy, to smile, to celebrate and to remember’

Everyone knows the heartache of a bereavement and nothing will ever prepare us for that final reality.

But, despite the sadness and grief we have all experienced, it is so difficult to imagine the utter horror of losing a child.

In 2007, Benji and Jackie Bennet went through every parent's worst nightmare when their four-year-old son Adam fell ill and died within a matter of hours. The couple were on vacation in Brittas Bay with their children Harry (now 21), Robbie (now 15) and Adam (4) – (they also now have a 13-year-old daughter called Molly) – when their middle son began to experience very severe headaches throughout the night.

They drove him to hospital the following morning and soon after he was admitted, he vomited and had a seizure. This led to him being placed in intensive care where a scan revealed a significant brain bleed caused by an undisclosed vascular tumour.


He underwent emergency surgery, but this was cut short when doctors realised there was nothing that could be done to save him.

Just as he had arrived into the world with a ray of sunshine kissing his head, he left us at dawn in loving silence

“Our world imploded when our beautiful golden-haired, brown-eyed, giddy giggler was lost to us within hours of taking ill with an undiagnosed brain tumour,” recalls Benji. “As dawn approached on that August morning, tranquillity and peace transcended on the intensive care unit where Adam lay still and Jackie and I lay beside him, cherishing what we knew to be our final moments with our son.

“Just as he had arrived into the world with a ray of sunshine kissing his head, he left us at dawn in loving silence surrounded by adoring parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. And took his last earthly breath. In a puff, he had gone to his cloud.”

The heartbroken parents went through shock, disbelief and denial followed by what they describe as a “relentless and enduring nightmare from which there was no escape”.

“Squirming, clutching my stomach in a feeble attempt to ease my gut-wrenching pain, I remember begging for relief as I sat broken on the couch in my sister’s house,” says Benji.

“Life was over; there was no air; the simple act of drawing a breath became panicked, claustrophobic and, at times, seemed pointless. We knew we were in trouble; we knew we had a responsibility to our other children, and we knew we were about to face life’s most brutal battle.

“We were fearful, uncertain and terrified about the future. How could we possibly survive this as individuals or as a family? How could we protect our children from a life of misery, sadness and fear? How could we raise them as happy individuals and not have their lives defined by Adam’s death? How can we raise them without the darkness of death negatively consuming them?

“I guess the answer to our questions came to us at the moment Adam died. I turned to Jackie and told her that we would survive because we loved each other and Adam so much. We told Adam we loved him every day and needed to remind parents of the importance of telling their children they were loved. At that moment, we found purpose and decided to grieve positively for our children’s sake, to never forget Adam and know he would forever be with us every day.”

We grieved together but also alone; we cried together and alone

On their wedding day, couples pledge to stick together “for better, for worse” and “in sickness and in health”. But how can a marriage survive the death of a child? Benji and Jackie say their combined love for Adam, their other children and each other is what helped them to get through their shocking ordeal.

“When Adam died, we knew we were in it together and would feel the same physical and emotional pain,” says the Dublin man. “We had to find our way to cope both together and individually. We respected our need to grieve differently and gave each other space to do so.

“We grieved together but also alone; we cried together and alone. We caught each other when we fell and picked each other up off the floor. We always took strength in the fact that we felt lucky in that there was no one to blame, Adam didn’t suffer, we had no regrets as we were fortunate to have treasured every moment we’d had with him.

“But probably the most powerful force that kept us in the fight together was Harry, Robbie and Molly. They gave us the will to fight and gave us moments of happy, innocent childhood experiences full of love, laughter, fun and happiness.

“We put our family’s needs as a whole ahead of our own individual needs and wants and had respect, support and kindness towards each other. Our love for our children and ensuring they had happy childhood experiences despite such a devastating loss, got us through as did the support from our extended family and friends. Also, we were not afraid to smile, laugh, be happy, or fight for our future and never allowed ourselves to become victims of our grief.”

In a bid to keep Adam's memory alive and to channel their grief into something constructive, Benji wrote a book, entitled Before You Sleep, about a little boy just like Adam. Since its publication, he has gone on to write several other books in the Adam's Cloud series and says it has been a cathartic experience for him and the rest of the family.

“Since day one, the thought of a parent snuggled up under the duvet with an Adam’s Cloud book expressing love and affection towards their children has proved not only to be a wonderful legacy for Adam but gives us peace and acceptance as to why Adam had to leave us,” he says.

“The process of writing and publishing the books made me stronger and more determined as every day went by. As I shared my various drafts and updates with anybody who cared to listen, the reaction, naturally enough, was very positive. In fairness, who was going to tell me that my book was a pile of drivel when they were confronted by a person who had a sorry excuse for a scruffy beard, wore his jumper inside out and back to front and looked like they were going to burst into tears if you simply smiled at them?

“Then as the draft illustrations began to come through, they brought with them powerful and uncontrollable waves of emotions for Jackie and me. Strangely, the tears were not as painful as the ones I had become accustomed to but, instead, were wonderfully soothing and sprinkled with a sense of purpose, happiness and reflection. My appetite for more illustrations where Adam was alive in his new world, going on adventures and full of love and joy, was insatiable.”

Immerse yourself in nature, because it is there that you will see them, feel them, experience them, and remember them

Benji’s first book won an Irish Book Award and he says the whole family felt that Adam was “guiding and protecting” them, and this has helped his other children to cope with their terrible loss. “All our children have grown up with Adam in their hearts and minds,” he says. “He also left us knowing the importance of spending time with family and telling them you love them. We share this philosophy with the world where family comes first, and happiness is built by creating positive and early childhood experiences.

“Our children have all been beautifully inspired by Adam as they know how powerful, wonderful and unique he was, and still is. He has left us all a gift of inspiration, spirituality and the drive to live our best lives.”

Losing a child is undoubtedly the most painful thing a parent will go through, but 15 years after the death of his son, Benji says the heartache becomes a little easier to bear as the years go on. His advice to anyone who has lost a child is to “allow yourself to be happy, to smile, to celebrate and to remember”.

“Know that the pain does ease, and life is beautiful once you travel through the darkness and despair,” he says. “Fight as you have never fought before. Fight to get out of bed, fight to breathe, fight to smile, fight to be happy, fight for your children, fight for your family. And fight to grieve positively and spiritually.

“Don’t look for answers but rather concentrate on celebrating your child, and you will naturally find your peace, discover the reasons why and make sense of things and gain acceptance. Immerse yourself in nature, because it is there that you will see them, feel them, experience them, and remember them.

“As I have always said, time is a great healer, but sometimes you have to wind your life’s watch so that time does not stand still, and you keep moving forward to a beautiful tomorrow.”