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Penny Counsell

Loss of 15 year old child William

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My husband Piers and I have very recently lost our wonderful 15 year old son, William. He was tragically hit by lightening whilst riding his motorbike on our family farm in southern Zambia last December. My husband has lived in Zambia all his life and I am originally from England but moved to Zambia 20 years ago. I still feel many of my roots are in the UK and since we live in a very remote place and do not have much access to things like counselling or bereavement support, I have found this website and forum and am hoping I may be able to find some common ground and supportive help and advice from others who have found themselves in this most awful of holes.


William was, as many Zambian children are, at boarding school in Grahamstown in South Africa (at St Andrews College). This is relevant because we are used to our children not being with us all of the time while they are away at school, but his prolonged absence is now seeping in as reality. We are both struggling to accept that this has even happened.


The accident happened 10 days into his Christmas holidays, on 17th December 2016. William's body was taken to the nearby clinic where we first saw him. I have Christian faith and despite the shock, when I saw him I knew that his soul had gone to heaven and I felt I could not hug him. I am struggling with this now. Also the smell of burning is something I cannot forget. We know that he did not suffer for one minute and this gives us comfort. He spent the night in a coffin on our farm and I was then able to talk to him and touch him. He was then cremated the next day in Lusaka, a 6-hour drive away.


We live in a remote farming community, far from the main city, and on treacherous roads. There are roughly 50 or 60 farming families in a 2-300km radius around us and we have tremendous local support. Both my husband and I are open people and accepting of the huge support and help we are receiving, but we have no professional support anywhere nearby. We are talking freely and have open minds about how to cope and deal with our grief.


After William was cremated and the holidays were over, we had to take William's younger 13 year old sister, Ellie, back to her boarding school, DSG in Grahamstown (sister school to William's St Andrew's College). We had a very powerful memorial service at SAC for William, which enabled all his South African school friends to look back on his life together. It was a very moving yet positive service.


I stayed with Ellie while she started her new Grade 8 boarding year to support her. It may seem brutal to some of you that we have left her at boarding school, but that is what the children here accept as their schooling and that is where her familiar routine and friends are. Despite the urge to keep her at home with us at this time, all professional advice we received said it was the right thing to do. She will be coming home in 2 weeks or an extended half term holiday with us. There are massive support structures in place at the school. She does miss her big brother terribly as he looked after her so well in her first year there last year.


William is/was a very beautiful boy from the inside out. He was loving and kind, humble, loved and respected by all from children to adults. He was also an extremely talented long- and middle-distance runner and rower, and a huge character who was quietly followed by all the boys that knew him at school. He was also an accomplished polocrosse player in Zambia, and had represented Zambia internationally in Zimbabwe and in the UK in August 2015, as part of the under 16s squad. He has left a huge hole both in our Zambian community and in the school community.


Piers and I are now back on our farm in Zambia and are now just beginning our changed life here without him. I believe, from doctors' advice, that we are still in post traumatic shock and are both on sedatives, but we still need to function on a low level (with a lot of help from friends and neighbours), in order to keep our own farming business afloat. Piers runs the cropping side of our farm and I run the cattle and administration.


We are very aware, from advice we have had so far, that we need to make the family home a happy one for Ellie to come home to and continue to grow up in. But we are struggling enormously to come to terms with our loss, with missing William's physical existence (even though we know he would normally be at boarding school and so not necessarily here). The grief is at times unbearable and Piers especially is really struggling with feelings of guilt that he didn't pick William up in the car that day, instead of him returning home on his bike, which is what he always did in our Zambian rainy season which can be stormy. There was no storm when he was riding home, it had passed, but we think a freak bolt of lightening came down a distant power line and very specifically took away our son, William. Everybody else was out on bikes and fishing in the same weather. It was, we think, a very unlucky and freak accident, but I believe in my faith that God wanted William's soul and that he is needed somewhere else. He was and will always be our golden boy. Piers and I are able to comfort each other and as I have said, have huge support from our community. We are trying very hard to put one foot in front of the other to carry on each day.


We are only 6 weeks into our journey and I now believe that there will be no end to it. I sometimes get very scared of the future because I know that our lives will never be the same again, and I ask please (although I know they are different for everyone) what the common phases of grief are for cases of loss like this. I feel at the moment that there is no light and although I trust in God, I find it very hard to find the strength to carry on. Even for the sake of my daughter sometimes. I need to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that people learn to accept this. Does the pain get more manageable?


Piers and I have both found peace in talking to other bereaved parents in the last 6 weeks, which is why I have come on the forum. But in addition to this, are there any online counseling services available that we might be able to access from where we are, given our remoteness.

I  would be very pleased to hear from anyone who has gone through anything similar.





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I am soooooo sorry to hear of the loss of your beautiful boy ~

i have lost two

sons at different times.   Both unexpected and tragic one an accident on a motorcycle the other to suicide.  

I am sooo glad to hear of the great support you have.    Yet grief is mostly a solitary journey.  

U are right where u should be.   

Mothers is much I could share so if u ever want to talk please e mail

me at      rainie1964@gmail.com      Its much easier for me to type communicate thru my e mail   

I, too am a Christian and have felt / walked not just in ur shoes as losing a child & beloved sons    But have had to work thru all the perfectly normal human responses   &

without no support except for sights like this  

I am glad u found this site    This and others have saved my life & sanity  

anyway   There have been many times if just wanted to run away from life and God     But I thank God that he understands and is faithful to me when I am not faithful to Him      I always come to this juncture =  " where else can I go but to the Lord"

i used to think I was a weak Christian but God reviewed to me that I am a strong woman of God       I am still standing ~

just know that all the thoughts u and ur husband feel and things u do are PERFECTLY NORMAL  you have been traumatized in your body soul and spirit   It's like u have suffered a life threatening accident and you should be in the hospital covered in  bloody bandages and hooked up to life support machines        You are convelesing and in recovery trying to figure out how to live here on earth without your dear child  

I care    All here who have lost children have are walking in your shoes



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welcome Penny Counsell. What a handsome boy I am so sorry for your loss. It is good that you joined us here, I have found it a great help to talk to other parents who have lost a child/children because they understand in a way that others cannot. Also you can post online whatever the time difference or just read and think about what other members have experienced or posted. As you have said you are only 6 weeks into your grief journey and it is definitely true that there is some post traumatic shock for a while. You both sound very busy with work which is an escape but try not to push your feelings aside. Acknowledging your sorrow and loss is a part of eventual healing, and it is ok to break down and cry. Crying is a physical expression of the love you hold for your son and mourning is missing his presence in your lives. No one knows why tragedy strikes one family and not another, it all seems so unfair and your son's accident was caused by a freak weather event that no one could have forseen so please reassure your husband that he could not have prevented it. After the event things replay over and over in your head and everyone wonders if they had done things differently would the outcome be different, and the answer is that some things are beyond our control and therefore out of our hands. My 24 yr old son Tommy also died accidentally. He was at a friends college dorm after helping him move in and and during the evening during a party Tommy's friend climbed out onto a window ledge 14 stories up. This kid had depressive issues and totally lost it that night and was intending to jump and end it all. After being unable to talk him down Tommy climbed out with him and held his hand and after a while convinced the kid to come back inside. As the two were climbing back through the window the frame broke and they both fell sustaining severe injuries. Tommy went into cardiac arrest in the ambulance and although they tried in the ER they were unable to save him. His friend survived. I struggled with that for quite a while, why my son died when he was the hero? I have come to accept that bad things happen to good people sometimes, and the road to recovering from losing your child is long, traumatic and very painful. There are many ups and downs but in time, the down times happen a little less frequently and eventually there is light ahead. Grief is very overwhelming and it is so common to believe you are losing your mind at times. Being scared is also common because you are facing a different future from the one you had before, and because you are having to support your daughter and husband with their grief reactions too. There are no hard or fast rules to grieving. There are different stages of grief but each one of us is individual and we may get stuck in one stage or skip a stage  or go back and forth between stages until we finally get our heads straight. You cannot expect a sibling to have all the same emotions as the parents because the relationships are different, and men and women often differ in the way they visually and internally display emotions. It is so individual. Hang in there, you have come to a safe place where you are understood and supported, As Rainie says "we are walking in your shoes" and her description of being bloodied and on life support is very accurate because that is how it feels, raw, painful, battered and bruised in both body and soul. The life support is offered to you by the parents on this site, and by your family, friends and faith.

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Penny, I am so sorry for the loss of William.His picture shows a striking young man with so much potential to give.  I know these words get to be just background noise after hearing them so often.  You have come to a place where those of us here can relate to the loss of a child. Sometimes just being able to speak out can help, and sometimes just listening to the path of others can be a help.  I know you are probably doing your best to comfort and console your husband and your daughter while pushing your grief in the background.  Your husband is trying to protect his family because that is what men do.  I know right now your family is suffering with the inconsolable loss and devastation.  Even though you cannot even think right now, you all need to take care of yourselves on a physical level.  I know, that is the last thing on your mind, but grief takes everything out of you. You are only 6 weeks out from this life altering tragedy. You are probably doing so many "what ifs' in your mind.  Just take it one day (or one hour or one minute) at a time. I know you feel like you can never live through this pain but you will. But think about only getting through the next minute.  It is a rough and rocky road ahead.

But while your grief will become a part of you you will find that somehow you will adjust to this new normal in your life.  But don't beat yourself up about it not happening in a moment.  You loved your son not only for his 15 years with you but for all of the future you saw in your mother's eyes. Time is what will help.  Cry when you need to, I am sure it will come often. There is nothing wrong with that.

The most active thread in this forum is Loss of an Adult Child. Please come and join us there.  We have people who have lost their child at various ages and a few of them lost teenagers, some babies and some in early adulthood.  It is an active thread.  I am just over 2 years on this journey and this group has been a lifeline for me. I still cry everyday and not a moment passes that I don't think of my son but sometimes I feel a small moment of comfort.  I have a long way to go but after interacting with this forum I now find the word hope is not as foreign as it was.  It takes a lot of time to heal. Penny, you are not alone. There are kind, compassionate people who have walked in your shoes and still are. Peace and comfort to you and your family.

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Penny, I also post on the Loss of the Adult Child thread.  I can give you some directions to get there.

Go to Loss of a Child--like you did here. Under Loss of a Child you will see the pinned thread Loss of an Adult Child. On the far right you will see the last person that posted and underneath you will see either an hour count or a date.  If you click on that time stamp it will take you to the last post.  This is the most current post and going back in pages  are older posts. Page one is actually back to 2005.  Hopefully this will help you navigate. 


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Penny hope you are doing ok. We all know the devastation losing a child creates both physically and mentally and know we are here for you when you are ready. take care

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I am new to this forum and I just read your post about your son.  I am very sorry for your loss.  I too lost a child to a weather related accident.  She was also away at the time - summer camp last year.  A tree fell on her cabin during a lightning storm in the middle of the night.  No other campers or staff were hurt, just her.  The traumatic nature of her death certainly compounds the grief, as I'm sure it does for you.  It's very hard to make sense of these tragedies because they are just that, senseless. 

I hope the people in your community continue to provide support to you and your family.  I have found that initial support slowly goes away as time passes, which is one of the reasons I joined this forum.  I hope to connect with people such as you so that my loss does not feel so isolating.

Continued prayers for you and family.




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Liza how tragic to lose your precious daughter in a freak accident at camp. You did not mention when the accident hapenned, what year how old she was etc but as we all know too well the sadness is forever although it very slowly gets easier. Every loss of a life is senseless we probably all feel that, along with "Why my child?" There are no simple answers i am afraid but on this forum we try to support each other because we have all been there. Join us on the thread Loss of an Adult child which is the most active, and keeps us in one place so we can answer each post in a timely fashion. take care and please join us. it is a place where we can share memories of our children and get support.

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