How a mother used her own unimaginable loss to support over a thousand Welsh families

Ten years ago Rhian Mannings had what she describes as a "happy and perfect" life.

She had a loving husband and 3 beautiful children but on the evening of 22nd February 2012 that all changed. 

Her youngest son George, who had celebrated his first birthday just a week earlier, suddenly became unwell at the family home in Miskin near Pontyclun. 

He was rushed into hospital but despite the best efforts of the doctors and nurses at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital George died shortly after arriving.

Rhian and her husband Paul left the hospital that night not knowing where to turn. 

While they had support from family and friends and spoke at length to each other they received no professional support. 

On leaving the hospital Rhian recalls being handed a leaflet which included helpline numbers some of which were no longer operational and others which never returned their calls. 

Rhian vividly remembers how alone the couple felt. 

“You just walk out into the dark of a night where you’ve just left your child in a hospital on his own, you never leave your child, a one year old on their own and you just have to come home to a house which was full of everything you wanted.

"Now you have a 2 and 3-year-old in bed that you are going to have to say their little brother was never coming home. 

"What I’ll never forget is that nobody in a professional capacity reached out to us, they didn’t know on the door, they didn’t ring us, they didn’t check on us and I’ll never forget that, feeling so lonely and those feelings of loneliness and not mattering will probably stay with me forever.”

Unable to cope with the sudden and devastating loss of his son five days later 33-year-old Paul Burke took his own life. 

Rhian believes had her family received professional support following George’s death Paul would still be alive today to see his two other children growing up. 

She said: "I truly believe that if someone had visited us and said to us that the feelings of guilt and blame and the horrible feelings that come with grief are normal we would have got through it.

"But Paul genuinely believed this was his fault. He'd failed our family, he'd failed his little boy and that was so wrong but that's why he walked out and never came home."

Rhian was recently recognised at the Pride Of Britain Awards for her charity work.

Seven months after the double tragedy Rhian established a bereavement charity to support families experiencing the sudden and traumatic death of a person under the age of 25. 

At the time she thought it would just help support people within her local community but the charity, 2 Wish, has continued to grow and has now helped one thousand and thirty one families at a time when they need it the most. 

Rhian and her team at 2 Wish are now working closely with the Welsh Government to create a support pathway at each hospital throughout Wales. 

Today though it’s all about remembering George and the legacy he left behind. 

The charity is asking people to mark the 10 year anniversary of his death by lighting a candle at 7.30pm – the time that George was admitted to hospital - to remember a loved one or a friend lost, or simply to show support, and post a picture on social media with the hashtag #forourstars.

Over the years, Rhian has maintained a strong connection with the doctors and nurses who were working when George died. Some have become involved with or fundraised for 2 Wish.

In recognition of the anniversary, one of the nurses on duty the night of George's death, wrote a poem about her memories of him and her memory of that day.

Part of the poem reads: "You're missed you know? We see you in feathers and a robin.

"Left your footprint in our hearts, you'll never be forgotten.

"But it's not just your mum and me that remember you day to day, it's now a thousand other families who've been supported along the way."

To mark a decade since George's passing, there will also be one thousand and thirty one candles lit outside each accident and emergency department, every police headquarters and the steps of the Senedd to represent each of the families that 2 Wish has supported.