Nicola graham woman standing beside chair

My son’s death inspired me to help other families

Nicola Graham, 45, lives in Mottram, Greater Manchester, with her husband Mike, 42, and their son Isaac, eight

My son’s death inspired me to help other families

Standing on a little bridge on holiday in Devon, I looked at Reuben, my 23-month-old son, running around excitedly with Isaac, his big brother, and I thought to myself, ‘I’m so lucky. Life doesn’t get any better than this.’ It was August 2012, and the most idyllic of days. 

The next morning, though, Reuben stumbled in the living room and banged his head. Mike and I rushed him to A&E, where a CT scan revealed he was suffering from an extremely rare and aggressive brain tumour. The horror was unimaginable. 

Reuben was rushed into surgery to relieve the swelling on his brain. His heart stopped during the operation but he clung on. Two days later, in surgery, his organs started failing and there was nothing the doctors could do. Just one week after his fall, Reuben died in my arms.

Saying goodbye and leaving him there was the hardest thing I had ever done. When we got home to see his little shoes in the porch, I fell apart.

The only thing that got me through was thinking what we could do in Reuben’s name, so something positive could come out of the tragedy. We registered the name Reuben’s Retreat on Facebook. Our plan was to open a place where families of children with life-limiting illnesses could have a break, offering bereavement counselling and practical help, like reflexology and reiki. 

We set out to raise £1million in 23 months – the length of Reuben’s short life. We did anything and everything – bake sales, because Reuben loved cakes, and sponsored runs and walks. Incredibly, we hit our target and, in 2014, bought a dilapidated hospital in the Peak District and set about transforming it. We opened part of the project in August 2015 but there’s still lots to do. I’ve given up my job to run it and we’ve now got four full-time staff and dozens of drop-in counsellors.

The roof needs replacing and we’re adding family apartments, but I’m proud of what we’ve achieved so far. Of course, I’d swap it all to have Reuben back home. We still miss him more than words can say, but at least his death wasn’t in vain.

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