Give yourself time. Even if you are a naturally busy person. Take time out. I definitely should have done that instead of speeding into fundraising. I don’t know how I got up on stages and spoke about Emily dying as I find it hard now so may years on. I must have been in automatic pilot.
The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.
Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives. How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?
In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Kent MBE. Julie is a Sax player, key note speaker and on the board of three charities. She lost her first child from a brain tumor and formed a charity in her name resulting in two oncology, pediatric wards being named after Emily, over 25 years of charity fundraising for various causes and being awarded an MBE from Queen Elizabeth II in June 2021.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Julie was the eldest of three daughters brought up in Gloucester. She was always musical and her father encouraged her along the way doing two jobs to buy her a flute, saxophone and then a piano to practice on to get into Music college after she left school. He loved following her around performing in Jazz Orchestras, soul bands and gigs all over the South West.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘No one has ever become poor by giving’
After losing a child I discovered that by giving, fundraising and giving back to others, thinking of others it stopped me thinking about myself and the joy of giving to others was some sort of comfort in some dark days. Fundraising is tough and I had to keep on telling the story of Emily but the encouragement and funds raised made it worthwhile.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Being a bit crazy helps! I am an energetic person and have a sense of fun. Living with 60 teenage girls in a boarding house for 20 years brought many emotions, including laughter and tears but I wanted the girls to talk about their boarding school days in 20 years time with a sense of fun and great times had by all! I would organize crazy things! Even getting a school porter to kidnap me at a fire drill and all the girls had to follow clues to find me! I was across school with trays of pizza and doughnuts! They will all remember that!
- I don’t give up easily. If someone says that it isn’t possible it drives me even more to find a way to achieve it and encourage others to do the same. I wasn’t a runner but ran the London Marathon in 2021 when I was 50. I started by running for 2 minutes and walking for 2 minutes and then did it in under 5 hours and raised £12.5k for Clic Sargent a children’s cancer charity.
- I love people and will listen to them, try and encourage them, be there for them. It is time consuming but it is all about Giving in all shapes and forms. I believe it is what I am here for.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The worst thing did happen. No one expects to lose a child. No one expects to organize the funeral of their child before the funeral of their parents. It was the worst thing.
At the age of two and a half Emily started to fall over more than a child would normally and we took her to have her eyes tested in case it was her sight. They said something wasn’t right and were told to go to a consultant at the hospital. (eye specialist) He also said something wasn’t right and we were booked in for a scan.
From the scan we were taken straight to a hospital specializing in neurology and were told that she had a tumor in the back of her brain the size of a tennis ball at two and a half years old.
It was never going to be good as the prognosis was that the tumor was aggressive but there were protocols to try.
We had chemo and were in and out of hospital for 6 months before she died. We didn’t have any other children.
I had had a miscarriage when she was 18 months old and as I was a musician playing all over the world, and we weren’t that young we decided that we wouldn’t have any other children.
How did you react in the short term?
We started to fundraise straight away. When we were in hospital we could never get her scanned quickly enough after her treatment to see if it was doing anything because there wasn’t enough anesthetic equipment. To start with we wanted to finance that to help other children get scanned to see how their treatment was progressing. It was like being onn a merry go round….you just kept on to the next thing to raise money.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
Does the dust settle? People go back to work, they all get on with their lives and we had to cope with an empty house. I would go into her room and smell her clothes. Then a friend offered to help me sort her belongings. That was a good thing. It is a stage that needs to be done to move on. I became desperate to have another child but the doctor said my body had shut down and I had to have some fertility treatment.
I continued to use the mechanism of raising funds, for the children’s cancer wards, children and their families with cancer and it made me feel that something positive was coming from something so negative.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
We closed our charity 7 years later. By then we had a son and another daughter. Although it was hard to close ‘The Emily Kent Charitable Trust’ I knew it would be the only way to move on. I still hadn’t grieved properly but it was a way of focusing ore on the two children we now had and I felt we had achieved a great deal.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
I was then offered the job of looking after 60 teenage girls 24/7 in term time. You don’t really have time to think about very much when you are responsible for 60! Plus our two who loved living with all those girls in the centre of a school with acres of land and facilities. My time was filled with helping them, inspiring them, teaching them to become wonderful young women. I had them from the age of 13 to 18.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
After my father died, 16 years after Emily, it all came back to me and hit me like a bus. It made me realize that I hadn’t coped with it at the time. That I just rallied myself to raise money and give back. When my Dad died I didn’t want to get out of bed, talk to people, socialize. I was about to spend the summer in Spain for 9 weeks and even called my doctor for anti depressants but he wouldn’t give them to me over the phone. I had a friend who spent that summer with me and was patient with me. She identified with the darkness I felt and didn’t rush me but encouraged me gently, to face social situations. She let me cry, talk about the pain I felt inside and was patient with me. I couldn’t fundraise as I was away. I just had to give myself lots of ‘me’ time to think, cry and get it clear in my head.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
When I returned after the long summer I was ready to return to my job, I was ready to decide what to do next and I joined a charity that had Emily’s Ward as part of it. IT felt like a full circle but this time around I could meet families of children who were battling cancer as I struggled with that before, and they were so appreciative of Emily’s Unit at the hospital. It gave me a good feeling to see what we had supplied was helping so many others.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
I learnt that we are not superhuman as I always thought I was. Being such a positive, energetic person I never thought I would go to a dark place. I learnt that most of us need time and space to work it all out in our head. I was lucky that it was the big summer break and I was in a place that gave me time to do this. Appreciate any help when it is offered to you. You don’t always have to be the bravest. I was so used to being the person everyone went to and then I became that person! It shocked me. I wasn’t invincible!
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.
- Talk to people who have been there. We were not offered any counseling that I remember but if you are try and find people who have experienced the exact same thing as you, They really understand how it feels.
- Give yourself time. Even if you are a naturally busy person. Take time out. I definitely should have done that instead of speeding into fundraising. I don’t know how I got up on stages and spoke about Emily dying as I find it hard now so may years on. I must have been in automatic pilot.
- Getting involved with a charity and giving back definitely helps when you are ready! Find a charity that you feel passionate about. Maybe connected to your own grief.
- Write a journal and be honest about how you are feeling. It will be therapeutic and when you look back in years to come you will appreciate how far you have come.
- Take up a new hobby. Something completely unconnected to the person you have lost. Even if you are useless at it. Stick at it. It will help you to make new memories.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
My message is now for everyone to Give in any way, shape or form. It is a powerful action. Giving makes you feel good, makes the person you are doing something for feel good and produces a win win situation for all. I specifically encourage giving to local community projects where you can see where your volunteering makes a difference or where your money will go from fundraising.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)
Lets be brave Oprah Winfrey!! Or Holly Willoughby
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My website is juliekentmbe.com
I am just about to launch a ‘Make a Big Effort’ for a Million to raise a million pounds in one year
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!