‘There are no medals for sitting in silence’

Holly Neill with her mum, Heather.
Holly Neill with her mum, Heather.

Over the past 14 months Holly Neill’s heart has broken in ways she did not know possible.

The loss of her beloved mum Heather in a car crash near Randalstown last February left her utterly devastated.

Heather Neill, who was killed in a road traffic collision near Randalstown in February 2018, was a colourful, vivacious character.

Heather Neill, who was killed in a road traffic collision near Randalstown in February 2018, was a colourful, vivacious character.

But the young Lisburn woman says talking about what happened has helped her cope with her grief.

After her mother was so cruelly taken from them, Holly revealed how she and her grandmother, Olive Scott, both turned to local grief counselling charity Cruse Bereavement Care.

She says she and her grandmother have both benefitted from the charity’s free one-to-one counselling, and insists she would recommend the “invaluable” service to others struggling to cope with the loss of a loved one.

“It has been really hard. There’s obviously not a single day that goes past that I don’t wish that she was still here, and I miss her every single day,” Holly said.

“We had an amazing relationship. Twenty-five years having her as my mum, it wasn’t long enough. But I don’t think any length of time would have been long enough. But I still have to be thankful that I had 25 years with her.”

Heather, a 58-year-old retired teacher, was head of Business Studies at Dromore High School for over 20 years.

She was described as “a unique and much-loved individual” and a “vivacious, fun loving and extremely caring member of staff.”

Holly says the high regard in which her mother was held by so many people, including many of her former pupils, was a great help after her death.

Like her mother, the 26-year-old Ulster University PhD student has a strong Christian faith and is a member of Lisburn Christian Fellowship. Her faith gives her hope, but she says “hurting with hope still hurts”.

In the dark days after Heather’s death, a family friend recommended the services of Cruse.

And although she has “really supportive family and friends”, Holly said speaking to a Cruse counsellor has been a great help.

She started one-to-one Cruse counselling sessions in May 2018 for six weeks, and returned for more sessions last month.

“It is horrific what happened to us and I think the counselling has helped me process things. People are supportive and say ‘oh call me any time’, but it is uncomfortable to talk about death with people, it is awkward. Cruse help to remove that awkwardness and normalise the topic. They offer a safe space without judgement and let you talk about anything you want.

“Something I have learned from Cruse is that everyone grieves differently and that’s ok. There is no right way to grieve or wrong way. Everyone is going to respond differently.”

Stressing that she and her grandmother are both “really thankful for Cruse”, Holly says she would recommend the charity’s services to others.

“There are no medals for sitting in silence. Their services are so needed and they have made a massive difference to me. I will never be the same person again, but I think they help you to realise that and accept it. There is hope and you just have to take it one day at a time.”

Holly is now hoping to raise thousands of pounds to help the charity meet the cost of providing its services in Northern Ireland.

She has put together a group of 20 family members and friends and entered four relay teams into next month’s Belfast Marathon.

As a tribute to Heather, their theme will be “glitter, colour and fun”.

“Mum loved glitter, loved colour, and I think those are two things she was well known for,” Holly explained. “On the day we’ll have some glitter face paints, maybe even dye our hair. It has been nice to have something good to focus on.”

Having already raised more than £1,000, she said she has been “blown away by people’s generosity so far.”

“I have been so touched by every donation, but especially from those from people who I don’t really know but who knew my mum. People have been so kind,” she added.

Anyone who would like to support Holly’s fundraising effort can do so by donating online at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/holly-neill

• Who are Cruse Bereavement Care?

Cruse Bereavement Care was founded in 1959 and is the leading national charity for bereaved people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It offers support, advice and information to children, young people and adults when someone dies and works to enhance society’s care of bereaved people.

Cruse offers face-to-face, telephone, email and website support. It has a Freephone national helpline – 0808 808 1677 – and local services, and a website (hopeagain.org.uk) specifically for children and young people.

The charity’s services are provided by a network of 5,000 trained volunteers and are confidential and free.

The name ‘Cruse’ is derived from a passage in the Old Testament, but despite the origins of the name, it is a non-religious organisation and welcomes people of all beliefs and none.

For more information log on to www.cruse.org.uk