‘I found my happy, healthy baby dead in his crib – then was plagued with guilt when I realised I couldn’t afford a funeral’

LOSING a child is the worst thing that can happen to any parent.

But for mum Rebecca Hopper, the grief of losing her four-month-old baby Harry was made a million times worse because she knew there was no way she was going to be able to pay for his funeral.

Rebecca with baby Harry, who died at four months
Rebecca Hopper

Over 5,000 families lose a child each year and, with funerals typically costing £3-£4000, many bereaved parents struggle to cover the costs.

The single mum-of-four wanted to give her precious son the best send off possible but had no savings to pay for it – and she’s not alone.

Here, Sun Online talks to three parents who ended up in the same situation.

‘No one plans to bury a child’

Harry was a healthy happy baby and was hitting all his milestones
Rebecca Hopper

Catering assistant Rebecca Hopper, 31, lost baby son Harry on August 23, 2018.

She said: “Harry-James was a healthy, happy baby and was absolutely perfect in every way.

“At four months he was rolling, he was trying to crawl, he was hitting all the milestones for his age ahead of schedule and he had never had so much as a cold.

“I already had three children, now aged 12, ten and eight, and Harry was unexpected but still very much wanted. He brought us all joy.

“But at four months, three weeks and five days he fell asleep and didn’t wake up.

Rebecca found baby Harry lifeless in his cot
Rebecca Hopper

“I went to check on him and found him lying lifeless in his cot.

“Desperate and alone in the house, I gave him CPR while I waited for an ambulance – which took 15 minutes – but Harry couldn’t be revived.

“My world came crashing down. My perfect baby boy was gone.

“In the weeks that followed, I was traumatised.  As his death was a suspected case of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) there had to be a post-mortem, which was devastating.

“I had been through the process with my mum, who took her own life four years ago, and the thought of my little boy going through that was horrific.

Rebecca, with baby Harry, wanted to give him the best send off possible

“But more than anything, I was worrying about the cost of the funeral.

“I knew most funerals cost thousands and I thought I would have to turn to my grandfather.

“Nobody plans to bury their children and Granddad had already paid for Mum’s funeral. So, not only was I struggling with my grief, but I was going to have to put a financial strain on my family with left me feeling racked with guilt.

“This was the last thing I would ever do for Harry and I wanted him to have everything so the thought of skimping was heartbreaking.

Baby Harry was the youngest of four
Rebecca Hopper

“We chose the Co-op funeral services because they had buried my mum – and at my first meeting I was told they would waive their charges.

“I only had to pay for small extras, like his order of service – £159 in total.

“Before the funeral, I put a lot of toys and blankets inside his little white coffin, but I couldn’t bring myself to part with his favourite toy Zizi, so the Co op had a picture of Zizi hand painted on the top.

“His funeral was in September 2018.

“When the hearse arrived I dropped to the floor screaming. The pain was too much to bear. But funeral director Devon picked me up and helped me through it.

Rebecca had a picture of Harry’s favourite toy painted on his coffin
Rebecca visit’s Harry’s grave as often as she can
Rebecca Hopper

“I managed to carry Harry into the church. I carried him out of the church and I lowered him into the ground.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it was the last thing I would do for my little boy. It broke my heart.

“Harry’s death floored me. I have been diagnosed with PTSD and I’m on medication, as well as having  counselling.

“Losing a child is the hardest thing any parent can go through but I can’t thank the Co-op enough for helping me through my darkest hour, and giving my son the best send-off.”

‘It’s tragic to unwrap your child’s Christmas presents when they’ve gone’

Luke with mum Becky and dad Mark, during treatment
Mark Bell

Mark and Becky Bell, from Darlington, lost their eight-year-old son Luke to cancer, just two days before Christmas last year.

Devastated dad Mark, 37,  said: “Luke was a lively kid, a ball of energy but in 2017 we noticed he’d been getting tired and run down that March, we got a call from his teachers to say he had fallen asleep in a couple of lessons.

“At first the doctor thought he was anaemic but after blood tests, in April 2017, he was diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma – a type of cancer that affects the nerves. He started chemotherapy straight away.

“We were devastated. Cancer hadn’t even entered our minds.

Luke hated losing his hair through chemotherapy but kept positive
Luke was a happy little boy who was determined to fight

“Luke hated hospital. We did as much as we could to make it better, taking his own duvet and his console but in terms of the treatment he just got on with it.

“The chemo made him ill, but he had a positive attitude that he’s going to beat it and get through it.

“He was inquisitive and wanted to know what was going on. When his hair fell out he found it hard so I shaved mine off and so did every member of the rugby team I play for, Mowden Park.

“After 10 rounds of chemo, then radiotherapy and immunotherapy, Luke was given the all clear in December 2017.

“But in April 2018, a routine scan showed that he’d relapsed and had a very slim chance of survival.

Luke with Mark, Becky and big sister Alysha

“We were told, on December 10,  that he had weeks to live. Even then we refused to believe it.

“We found a clinical trial in Barcelona but the start date wasn’t until the second week in January this year.

“Becky and I had separated when Luke was diagnosed because she struggled to cope with it but we remained close and she moved back in so we could be around Luke all the time.

“It made Luke happy and he was so excited about Christmas.

“The day before he died he was up and about, watching TV with us and playing on his iPad.

“But on Sunday, December 23 2018, he was sleeping more and more to the point that he didn’t respond. We phoned the nurse who explained nothing could be done. Then he just stopped breathing.

“It was quick and he was at home with the whole family so it was the best it could be.

Mark with Aysha, Becky and Luke at a fundraiser
Karen Harland

“Christmas was awful. It’s pretty tragic having to unwrap your child’s presents when they’re no longer there.

“We tried to stay as positive as we could for Alysha, who was 18, and make a day of it, but it was pretty tough.

“One thing that helped us through the most painful time imaginable was the help of the Co-op.

“It was midnight when Luke died but the hospital rang the Co-op and someone came to the house straight away and was really understanding, talking us through the process.

Luke died just two days before Christmas
Mark Bell

“Money wasn’t discussed. We were distraught and we just wanted to make sure Luke was looked after.

“Personal finances had been a concern as we’d were getting disability allowance and child benefit which stopped straight away.

“We live 30 miles away from the hospital so fuel, parking and eating out over two years was a crippling expense, and secretly I was worried about the cost.

“We had done a lot of fundraising through a #TeamLuke campaign and raised we raised £120k for the Barcelona trial but we wanted to use that to help others.

“The Co-op waived their fees and in the end we paid £1,800 for all the local authority fees and an extra car, which is not cheap but it could have been £4,000.

“On the day of the funeral, we drove past the school Luke went to.

“On the fence there was a huge poster with a picture of Super Mario, with ‘TeamLuke’ written across it and each child had made a handprint with a personal message to Luke.

“Luke was tall, so he had an adult coffin and four of us carried him in to the church.

“We put a few of his favourite cuddly toys inside along with a chain of mine that he loved and a blue blanket he’d had since he was a baby.

Mark shaved his head when Luke’s hair fell out through chemotherapy
Mark Bell

“As a family we are still coming to terms with losing Luke.

“Alysha has been a tower of strength. She’s had her moments but we all try and get through it together.

“We’re still sorting through his clothes and toys and that sets you off.

“We’re in a better place than we were a few weeks ago but the process is going to take time.”

Co-op calls for changes to help bereaved parents

For the last thirty years Co-op Funeralcare has waived their fees and they have helped 25,000 families so far.
Over 5,000 families lose a child each year and even if funeral directors fees are waived, local fees such as burial and cremation costs cost an average of £1100.
Last month, the government announced that a promised Children’s Funeral Fund would be in place before summer 2019, to cover these fees but private cemeteries and crematoriums can still charge.

David Collingwood, Director of Funerals at the Co-op said: “We strongly welcome The Prime Minister’s announcement to waive child burial and cremation fees.

“However, for some time there has been a lack of consistency across the UK which has left many bereaved families facing financial hardship.

“Whilst the latest announcement will mean that local authorities will no longer charge families for children’s funerals, this must also be the case for privately owned cemeteries, crematoria, and parish churchyards. Otherwise, some families will still face financial concerns at such a devastating time.”

‘No one plans for their child to die’

Vicky Turner, 30, lost her daughter Isabel, one, in 2015.

The former accountant, from Dorset, has now set up the Isabel Baker Foundation and campaigned for a government scheme to give free funerals to children and young people.

She said: “Isabel was born on August 4 2014 and, at three weeks old,  I noticed weird grey bruises on her body.

“I had no idea where they were coming from, and the doctor we took her to immediately said, ‘this is a blood condition, take her straight to the hospital.’

“After a blood test, he told us she had infantile leukaemia.

“It was so shocking. You never expect a new born baby to have cancer

“Isabel was in hospital for six weeks, having a central line fitted, steroids and chemotherapy.

Vicky with Isabel who was diagnosed at three weeks
Vicky Turner
Vicky said Isabel was constantly smiling despite her illness
Vicky Turner

“Seeing our tiny baby go through that was horrendous. Her body swelled up, she had sickness and diarrhoea.

“At six months, she was diagnosed as terminal so she was on palliative care for six months more.

“Isabel was the happiest baby in the world, smiling all the time. You would never know she was poorly.

“She died on 12 August 2015, eight days after her first birthday.

“As well as the emotional toll, caring for a sick child for a year is a huge financial strain.

“Neither my then-partner or I could work because we were both living in the hospital. We gave up our house because we couldn’t pay the rent so we were living in my mum’s spare bedroom on the rare times we were home.

“Clic Sargent, who were a huge help, have houses near the hospital so we took it in turns to stay overnight with Isabel and in the house.

Vicky now runs a charity for bereaved parents
Brave Isabel passed away just after her first birthday
Vicky Turner

“The day Isabel died we were in shock. The hospital called the Co-op and they came to speak to us.

“They told us that they provide free funerals for children so we only had to pay for the cost of digging the grave and the headstone.

“At the the funeral parlour, they put Isabel in a cold cot so we could visit her every day until the funeral, which helped. We just didn’t want to let her go.

“We chose a white wooden coffin and put her favourite teddies in with her. Her half-sister put half a necklace in and kept the other half.

“I miss her all the time but my way of coping is to be super busy and not think to about it.

“I set up the Isabel Baker foundation two weeks after she died, to help other bereaved parents, and I recently went to parliament to lobby the government to follow through on their promise to fund children’s funerals.

“Parents need as much help as possible. No one plans for their child to die and nursing your child through a terminal illness can leave you in debt.

“When your child dies you’re faced with the prospect of this huge financial strain, whilst grieving and going through the worst possible pain. It’s overwhelming.”

 

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