Prince Harry's email of kindness to heartbroken family of Liverpool teen Holly Smallman  - The Guide Liverpool

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Prince Harry’s email of kindness to heartbroken family of Liverpool teen Holly Smallman 

24/04/2020

Prince Harry and Meghan have sent a personal message of condolence to a Liverpool family facing the double heartbreak of losing their teenage daughter and saying goodbye at a near-empty funeral because of coronavirus restrictions.

Holly Smallman, who had been seriously ill from birth with a number of complex conditions including cerebral palsy, epilepsy and chronic lung disease, died peacefully in her sleep aged 18.

Her parents Hayley and Gary, younger sister Ruby and 21-year-old brother Josh, were struggling to come to terms with their grief, isolated from their closest friends and family in lockdown at home in Aintree, when mum Hayley finally found the courage to open her unread emails.

There, in her inbox, was one from the Duke of Sussex.

In it he recalls in detail meeting the family when, as a patron of the charity, he presented Ruby, now 12, with a WellChild Award in 2015 for her devotion as a young carer to Holly. He expresses his sadness at their tragic loss and says the Smallmans are in his thoughts and prayers at ‘this, the most difficult of times.’

The email, signed simply Harry, gave the family precious comfort in what 43-year-old Hayley says has been the darkest time of their lives.

“The grief that we’re going through is so awful and we can’t have contact with anybody else at the moment, only over the phone and facetime, so we’re desperate.

“For Prince Harry to find the time to send this email, to know that Holly made that impact on him and that he cares so much, even in all this private turmoil he’s going through, just meant the world to us.”

The family have been left to deal with the loss of their daughter in the most extraordinarily difficult circumstances because of the government’s lockdown restrictions.

After being told she’d be unlikely to live past her second birthday because of the severity of her many conditions, Holly died peacefully in her sleep following a cardiac arrest.

“Holly did have massive problems with her chest, she’s been on life support and she’s had pneumonia and been struggling to breathe which was really traumatic for her, but there was none of that,” recalled her mum. “It was just the most peaceful way for her to end her story, in the place that she felt loved the most, and we were so grateful for that.

“We’d hoped to have a big celebration of her life, but it couldn’t be how we’d wanted it to be because we weren’t surrounded by the people who loved her and love us – Holly had this amazing affect in the way she generated love around us. At the end everybody wanted to be there for us and to say goodbye to Holly but that just wasn’t possible.

“All the medical people who’ve been on the journey with us, the people who became like family, wanted to show how much she meant to them. To have that taken away from us, to look across the crematorium and see my family all spaced out, not able to comfort each other, was so difficult. We just felt so alone.”

The family have been left to deal with the loss of their daughter in the most extraordinarily difficult circumstances because of the government’s lockdown restrictions.

After being told she’d be unlikely to live past her second birthday because of the severity of her many conditions, Holly died peacefully in her sleep following a cardiac arrest.

“Holly did have massive problems with her chest, she’s been on life support and she’s had pneumonia and been struggling to breathe which was really traumatic for her, but there was none of that,” recalled her mum. “It was just the most peaceful way for her to end her story, in the place that she felt loved the most, and we were so grateful for that.

“We’d hoped to have a big celebration of her life, but it couldn’t be how we’d wanted it to be because we weren’t surrounded by the people who loved her and love us – Holly had this amazing affect in the way she generated love around us. At the end everybody wanted to be there for us and to say goodbye to Holly but that just wasn’t possible.

“All the medical people who’ve been on the journey with us, the people who became like family, wanted to show how much she meant to them. To have that taken away from us, to look across the crematorium and see my family all spaced out, not able to comfort each other, was so difficult. We just felt so alone.”

The family decided to ask supporters to #wearpinkforHol because they didn’t want the end of her life to overshadowed by coronavirus. Thousands joined in via social media including Coleen Rooney whose sister Rosie, who had Rett Syndrome, died in 2013 aged just 14.

Holly Smallman and Prince Harry

After the funeral, Hayley and 46-year-old Gary, who gave up their French polishing business to be full-time carers for Holly, went back to their home and to isolation.

It was on what she says was ‘an awful day’ that she decided to finally look at hundreds of unopened emails and spotted a familiar name.

“It was Prince Harry’s private secretary. She’d sent me some correspondence after Ruby had won her WellChild Award to say how much he’d loved a gift that Ruby had given him. She’d read about him having been on an expedition to the North Pole, so she made him a pottery penguin, with ginger hair and medals.

“When I opened the email from him it was just so personal, he literally remembered every detail of our meeting five years ago at the awards ceremony in London, and there was such a sense of genuine caring in what he’d written.”

Hayley says Prince Harry gave the family one of their most precious moments.

“When Ruby won her award, only two people were allowed to go and meet him at a private reception before the main event,” she remembered, “the winner and one other person. Even though Ruby was completely trained to look after Holly, I had to explain she couldn’t take her, it had to be an adult, so Holly waited outside with Gary.

“We were talking and Prince Harry wanted to know so much about Holly, he said he’d watched a video on why Ruby had won the award, and he completely empathised with everything she was saying about being a young carer.

“At the end he said, ‘I think I might need to meet your sister, don’t you think?’ and Ruby said, ‘oh she’d love to meet you’. He said to me, ‘after everybody’s gone, stay where you are. You don’t have to be anywhere else do you?’ I said ‘no, it’s Ok, we’re not busy!’ and he was laughing.

“One of his team went off to find Holly, and he said to me, ‘Hayley, how am I best to communicate with Holly?’ I told him she was visually impaired and she got frightened of people talking over her or down on her, so I said the best thing to do was hold her hand so she knew he was there and try and talk on her level.

“As soon as she came in he got down on one knee, held her hand and had a full conversation with her, chatting away to her. He said, ‘I’ve just met your incredible sister and I thought there was no way I couldn’t meet you as well’. He sent everyone else out of the room and just spent time with the two of them, it was such an incredible moment.”

Hayley says his email now shows he’s still the caring, compassionate man they met then.

“In the midst of everything he’s going through personally, plus the world landscape that we’re living in anyway, he’s still the same really empathetic genuine person. When he’s talking to you he’s so passionate, and the love and the care that he has shines out of him.

“I’ll always be eternally grateful for what he’s done for my family. Ruby especially has been devastated because Holly was her best friend and this email has been such a lift, she’s read it over and over again.

“Wherever he is in the world, whatever he and Meghan and their son are doing, he found the time to contact a family from Liverpool who’ve just lost their daughter.

“To me that email reflects the man that Holly and Ruby met, and the man who got down on one knee to hold Holly’s hand that night.”

 

By Dawn Collinson, Copy Media

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