We all have those moments when we realise something has happened that has changed the course of our lives forever. Most of us will probably only experience this a handful times throughout our lives.
My first ‘life-changing moment’ was probably the day I gave birth to my eldest son Martin, in January 1981. I was 21 years old and suddenly had a whole new set of priorities, but I could not have been happier.
Eight and a half years later, I experienced the second of these moments when my world was thrown into a sudden and uninvited darkness. The little boy who had bought me so much joy when he arrived in my life just a few years previously, went out to play with his friends and never came home.
For anyone who has experienced the death of a child, you will know that the days, weeks and even months that follow are hard to remember, let alone put into words. Upset, anger and disbelief take up joint residence in every waking moment and leave you living in a blur, as you attempt to plan a funeral and somehow get through each day.
The only thing that I remember penetrating that blur following Martin’s death, was the fear of paying the bill for his burial. Our finances didn’t stretch to the costs we were being asked to pay, and I had no idea how we were going to afford it. Thanks to a whip-round in our local pub and a loan from the bank we managed to pull the money together – but the thought has never left me, of what would have happened if we hadn’t lived in such a generous community, or if the bank had refused our request. What happens to those parents who just can’t find the money?
In May 2015, another life-changing moment gave me the opportunity to do something about it. Being elected as Member of Parliament for Swansea East, provided me with a platform. As hard as it was to open up those old wounds and share my experience, I knew that I had the opportunity to make a difference to all bereaved families, and that was something I couldn’t ignore.
Around four and half thousand babies, children and young people under the age of 18 die every year in the UK. That’s four and a half thousand bereaved families in need of support. I was determined that no more parents should be forced to choose between debt and a pauper’s funeral, when it came to saying goodbye to their son or daughter, and I made it my mission to persuade the government to introduce a Children’s Funeral Fund.
For almost 18 months, I spoke in debates, asked questions, wrote letters and met with Ministers over and over again. Every setback made me more determined – I was not taking no for an answer.
Losing my little boy is something I will never get over. As I approach the 29th anniversary of his death, I still have days where the pain is raw and I cry for the man he never got to be. Nothing will ever change that, but when the Prime Minister announced earlier this month, that fees for all children’s burials and cremations would be waived by local authorities and met instead by government funding, it made me so proud.
The government’s commitment to ensuring that bereaved parents will no longer face the added fear of debt when they are already suffering so much, thanks to my campaign, means a great deal to me. The fact that this commitment was made in Martin’s memory, is an honour.
Carolyn Harris is the Labour MP for Swansea East