Margaret's Story: My Only Child
Margaret Jackson’s son Richard was hit and killed by a reckless driver in October 2010. He was 20. As well as being a budding sportsman Richard had one of the biggest smiles around. Asked as a young boy what he wanted to be when he grew up, his answer was as spontaneous as it was unexpected – “I want to be happy”. And this is the legacy that Margaret now works for with her charity RJ Smiles.
It’s the simplest of ideas but her organisation works with people who have suffered a major loss or setback and helps them to rebuild their lives again. And that often starts with a ‘smile box’, a gift of goodies that will bring a brief moment of relief and a smile to lighten the day. Margaret believes this can bring renewed confidence and the strength to face one’s demons, whatever they met be.
“The love that you have for your children is constant, so when they die it doesn’t go away.”
But Richard was also Margaret’s only child, and her grief has a particular dimension that maybe only childless parents may fully understand. Margaret had spent the last twenty years ‘pouring’ into her son, planning how she was going to assist him with his future so when he died she lost what she thought was her whole reason for being.
“The love that you have for your children is constant” she says “so when they die it doesn’t go away. And the hardest thing was finding a way to deal with the love that I still want to shower on him. It’s as if I have this field of love that is just hovering with no place to land. It’s there, it exists, it wants to be shared but there’s no place for it go.”
So what is good about her grief? For Margaret grief is something that we must allow ourselves to open up to – “its not grief that you keep locked down or buried somewhere.” Yet to feel that grief is going to take a huge amount of courage just to acknowledge that, yes, it is real. Her son, like our boy Josh, really did die and the aftermath of these tragedies is also real. But to accept the grief and all of the feelings that come with grief is no easy task.
“Because none of us want to feel pain.” She’s kind of stating the obvious, “so there’s another level of courage needed to let the people around you know about the grief that you are feeling, to be able to share it and talk about it.”
The day we visited Margaret she was doing just this. As part of her work with her charity she had arranged a special treat for Julia and her three sons. RJ Smiles has been working with the family for some time as they had begun to rebuild their lives after a series of emotional and financial challenges. Their day would be spent riding the ferris wheel at National Harbour, a slap up lunch at Nandos and a bit of pampering for Julia at the beauty salon. In the past year Margaret and her team of helpers has offered support to over 500 families and individuals who are struggling to face life’s challenges.
The advantages of these encounters are two way. Everyone of Margaret’s beneficiaries will be aware of her story, how her son died and the struggle she has had in coming to terms with her loss. “I cannot say that I know the pain of the death of a child” Julia told us, “but I know the pain of when you lose everything”. Without going into details there had been many times when the authorities were on the verge of taking her three boys into care. Julia had also attempted suicide on a number of occasions, something she would now no longer ever consider.
But in order to help her regain some stability in her life, Margaret had to know about Julia’s pain and to share her own – only by doing so could she genuinely meet and understand Julia’s needs, which in a sense were more emotional than practical. In this ‘work’, beginning and ending with a smile, they found a mutual benefit.
o for Margaret a good grief is about being true to your feelings, being true to your needs but it is also something you want others to be aware of, to share.
She quotes a line from Maya Angelou “I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.”
“I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.”