Guest post: “Grief might be universal, but the way we react to it is an entirely different story”
Julie Wallace, who lost her 21-year-old daughter Sara Zelenak in the 2017 London Bridge and Borough Market terror attack, says she hopes to help others affected by the traumatic loss of a loved one
Posted on: Thu 04-Oct-18 15:44:01
(12 comments )
No mother ever expects to lose a child - it’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Yet on June 3, 2017, my daughter Sarz was murdered in one of the most horrific ways imaginable: she was stabbed to death on a night out for dinner with friends. My angelic, beautiful, loving Sarz was killed 28 days before I was due to reunite with her in France.
Sarz was just like me. The same height, weight; the same physical features, only a much better version. And when we lost her - my husband Mark, my kids Scott and Harrison, the wider family - a little part of us went missing too.
Before her flight to London, I’d dropped her off at the airport with a mixture of excitement and concern. Seeing her massive smile and giddy wave goodbye, I knew that I’d miss her terribly. But never once did it cross my mind that I really had to worry for her safety; let alone that this would be our last moment together.
She was travelling to the city to work as an au pair. And, on the night of her death, she was simply, tragically in the wrong place at the wrong time. That night, every door that could slide, did. Sudden and violent, her death left us all in shock, feeling desperate in our attempts to cope.
Any grief is personal and worthy of attention, support and careful consideration. But there’s no way to compare the experience of a terror incident to the anticipated death of a loved one due to illness. And much in the same way that you can’t compare those instances, you can’t compare the grief that follows.
There's no way of predicting or determining how people will respond to the sudden or violent death of a loved one. The experience is deeply personal, and there's no one-size-fits-all approach to coming to terms with it.
There’s no way of predicting or determining how people will respond to the sudden or violent death of a loved one. If I’ve learnt anything through Sarz’ passing, it’s both the debilitating impact of this loss, and the varying ways in which each family member responds to it. The experience is deeply personal, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to coming to terms with it.
Truthfully, you cannot predict the days when it’ll have you on the knees, or the days when it’s your fuel to make every second count.
Mark and I still feel like Sarz is guiding us every day, but talking about her and our feelings in therapy doesn’t really help. For me, physical activity, reiki and mindfulness is a great release. For Mark, it is kinesiology. For my sons, it’s a different story again. What I learnt is that everyone heals on their own terms.
And if my family differs so much in our coping mechanisms, it got me thinking about what help there is out there to cater to such varying needs. Do institutions exist to offer therapy, physical activity and specialised treatments all under one roof? I didn’t know.
Soon enough, we found that the answer was ‘no’. In Australia, we knew that counselling and charities were there to provide support, but nothing stood out as a holistic service to cater to the needs of people struggling with traumatic grief.
This revelation gave us a sense of purpose, and the hope that we could create something new and meaningful; something to honour Sarz and help others. Since then, I’ve spent time with other parents who have experienced the same events. I’ve met first responders to the London terror attacks, and even the Prince of Wales. It’s been fascinating for me to hear their stories - but most of all, it’s compelled me to act so that Sarz’s death will never be in vain. We’re committed to supporting others, and to help them make their journey as positive as possible.
Has anyone out there been through something similar? I ask because I’ve been working with my husband to set up Sarz Sanctuary - a not-for-profit holistic healing centre for individuals suffering traumatic grief. It’s no small undertaking. And while we’re excited and passionate, we know our ambitions are high. We’ve kicked off several events and are working with many different partners to build awareness and raise funds, but it can be a lonely ride sometimes. I’d love to hear your thoughts on our progress, as well as your own personal stories.
Sarz Sanctuary is a non-profit making charity offering personalised support and treatment programs for people from Australia, UK and around the world who are suffering with traumatic grief.
By Julie Wallace
What a sad story - I'm so sorry this has happened to you all. But what an incredible legacy you're building xxx
I can’t bring myself to read beyondtbe first paragraph.
I desperately hope you don’t find that disrespectful.
I am so sorry. Words seem so trivial and inadequate. I truly am
I'm so so sorry for your absolutely devastating loss
Thank you for sharing your story, I hope your charity gains the widespread recognition it deserves, as it will surely be a hub of support to those unexpectedly in the most dreadful circumstances. So moving to hear of your strength and dedication to your incredible girl's life and legacy
Your charity sounds like a beautiful tribute to your daughter.. and a much-needed resource for those who have suffered traumatic grief. I look forward to hearing more about it. So sorry for the loss of your daughter
I'm so so sorry. What happened to your lovely Sarz was awful. I have lost a friend in sudden traumatic circumstances and friends through illness and it's true there is not the support there for the trauma. I think your charity is needed and important. Good luck.
I have followed your story from Melbourne and am so sorry for the loss of your lovely girl. I think the different ways people grieve is a really important discussion and your charity will make a difference.
I’m so sorry for your loss
I am so sorry for all your family, and I do know [some of] how you feel. My son died suddenly aged 26, abroad, in an accident that didn't involve anyone else. There was nobody to blame, which makes our situation less appalling than yours. Several years have passed and one does grow emotional scar tissue -- you get through it, not over it. You are absolutely right that everyone's response to bereavement is different. I admire you for wanting to help others cope. I'll be thinking of you.
I’m so sorry that you have lost your beloved daughter Sara.
I’m not religious, and after the sudden and unexpected death of a young family member, I remember dreading his funeral. To me it felt wrong, wrong to be there, wrong for the person we lived to be there. Yet unexpectedly, on the day, I found it helped. The service leader acknowledged our anger and helplessness and put a voice to some of my feelings.
I hope your writing helps you to place your thoughts, and that in time you find peace.