Elaine and Mick McHugh's daughter Eilidh passed away in March 2017 after a short battle with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, she was 22. Here Elaine shares the impact of Eilidh's death on dad Mick, sister Kerry and family and friends and how the coped following the loss of Eilidh. They are determined that Eilidh's light will continue to shine.
We were initially in total shock. Early on it was very much survival we were overwhelmed with the grief. I remember leaving the hospital after Eilidh had passed away and thinking how would you cope if you were on your own and did not have any support? This thought shaped the way forward. It would have been easy to just go home, shut your door and slide into a deep depression.
The presence of other people in our lives, both family and friends. Sometimes all we needed was a hand to hold and a heart to listen. What struck us was the strength of outpouring of grief from many people. Because of Eilidh’s age and the suddenness of her death, it shook people to their core.
Other people told us it felt better for them to support us doing something positive to help us cope with our grief, we discovered friends we didn’t know we had. There has always been a strong core of family and friends “Elaine’s wing men/women”. They loved us when we forgot to love ourselves.
What we appreciated most in those early days was the presence of others and their gift of time. Their kindness gave us strength. When someone is grieving never underestimate the power of giving and always care enough to reach out.
We have another daughter, Kerry, to care for, who was also grieving. She had lost her sister and the mum and dad that she had known. She felt her life had been destroyed. We needed to always remember her grief as sibling grief is often overlooked. Sometimes we got it right and sometimes we didn’t.
We weren’t easy to be around at that time but we wanted to remain present in the lives of our friends and families. We made the very conscious decision to always look forward, make plans and to accept every invitation that came our way even though didn’t always know how we were going to feel.
How could we turn this tragedy into something positive in Eilidh’s name. We wanted to make Eilidh proud of what we were doing but that took lot of energy. Some days I get up and I tackle a big ‘to do list’ and other days are extremely challenging.
After two months I felt as if I was on my knees. Dawn from Beatson Cancer Charity recommended Brightest Star for grief counselling. We sought grief counselling as a couple initially, and then individually, and then Kerry decided to attend.
Brightest Star is a wonderful charity, set up by Arlene Smith, who tragically lost her young son. Our counsellor Yvonne has been a lifeline and is the most amazing individual. She will never know how much she has cared for us.
Losing our daughter, and sister, brings suffering beyond words but counselling significantly helped us to walk with and grow around our grief.
I always felt lighter after leaving sessions. When speaking to someone professional you can often be more open than speaking to a friend or family member.
Most days my main concern was How do I get through today? Counselling helped me develop coping mechanisms and focus on my wellbeing. It’s important to protect yourself. If you keep yourself too busy that can be exhausting, but being too quiet can also be exhausting. Often there is nothing in between. No peace of mind. Brightest Star was and is a lifeline.
Being present or mindful takes energy and if you don’t feel strong then your coping mechanisms can be very much depleted. It takes a lot of willpower and you have to work at it every day.
Yes, we’re Catholic and we received a lot of comfort from our faith. Our parish priest, Father Harry O’Brien, guided and helped us and often said to us in our grief “to hurry, slowly”. Eilidh’s name means “light” and the word light is often used throughout mass. Father Harry continues to be a huge presence in our lives.
I’m often asked are you angry that Eilidh has been taken and I say “I’m too sad to be angry”.
If you don’t know what to do or say to someone who has been bereaved:
We were a family of four who were close, socialised together and did everything together, so the thought of not being together was crippling. We will always be a four. Giving back is our way of being a four and keeping Eilidh’s memory alive. We are so proud of both girls and we want that pride to continue.
We could not control what had happened, only how we responded.
Eilidh became unwell in January 2017 and spent some time at The Beatson. In just a short period of time we witnessed the work of Beatson and Beatson Cancer Charity.
At Eilidh’s funeral, instead of flowers we asked people to make a donation. On that day we received £4,000 and set up Eilidh’s Beatson Tribute Fund in conjunction with Beatson Cancer Charity.
We wanted to make an impact in Eilidh’s name as she was a clever, young, vibrant, happy young woman. We wanted to do something linked to health and education to make a clear difference to people’s lives.
The Consultants at the Beatson and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital got us through every day. As soon as they opened the door they did whatever they could to help Eilidh. Maybe they didn’t appreciate how much they helped at the time but they gave us the strength to cope by their presence.
We asked the Beatson Cancer Charity “what could we do that could make a difference?” And from the three projects suggested the digital information hub was chosen.
Putting all our energies into fundraising, as effectively as we can, has kept our family and Team Eilidh focused. It’s a force there every day that gets us through. We put our heart and soul into this. Every event isn’t about raising money but it’s about healing and a means of overcoming shock and tragedy. Not just a one-off.
It’s incredible how everyone in Team Eilidh has used their skills and talents and our hope is that when you come to an “Eilidh event” you will leave a better person. That is certainly the feedback we get.
We’ve undertaken all sorts of different fundraising activities including 10k runs, a 3 Peaks Challenge, Skydives, Head Shaves, Marathon Bike Rides, Concerts, Kiltwalks, Coffee Mornings, Ladies’ Lunches and Tartan and Tiara Balls.
Eilidh’s Day in June 2017 at the David Lloyd Club in Hamilton. It was a family day with a walk along the Clyde, auction and other fun activities, and really was what kick-started all of our fundraising.
Eilidh’s Talent Concert in the Bothwell Bridge Hotel in March 2019, including acapella, operatic singing, school musicians and a saxophonist, was a very special event.
We like to do things in a certain style and don’t want to keep doing the same thing all the time. What’s more important is that people come along, smile and honour our precious daughter and sister.
This isn’t the end of her journey. Her determination to do the right thing in life was her legacy and we should do the right thing in her name. We owe it to her to do something positive in her name. We are her voice in the world.
We also want others to see how you can turn adversity to positivity.
We’ll continue to fundraise in Eilidh’s name. To date we have raised over £300,000. We are known as Team Eilidh and there’s a lot of us working to do good things. This is such a big part of our lives that gives us a focus and comfort in our loss and that helps us whilst we are helping others. This is just what we do now.
The project we are working on now with Beatson Cancer Charity centres around a digital hub to support people affected by cancer. It will offers a vast range advice, guidance, support and information at whatever stage they may be at in their difficult journey.
Eilidh’s Light is always shining in our lives.
For more information and support on grief and and bereavement, please visit the following links:
Read more about Eilidh's story here.