Published: 13/08/2017 13:00 - Updated: 11/08/2017 12:41

Bereaved mum helps others cope with grief

Written byVal Sweeney


Betty Madill
Betty Madill is helping bereaved parents in Inverness.

AS a parent, Betty Madill has had to deal with the worst imaginable scenario – the death of her young daughter in a tragic swimming pool accident.

"Until it happens, you don’t understand what pain feels like," she reflected. "It is almost like a physical pain."

To make it worse, she and her family were living abroad, away from family.

But she now uses her own experiences to help other bereaved parents in the Highlands.

Once a month, she runs the Inverness group meeting of The Compassionate Friends, a charitable organisation of bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents dedicated to the support and care of other bereaved family members who have suffered the death of a child or children of any age and from any cause.

"I am a bereaved parent myself and I know from experience other parents can help you," Mrs Madill said. "It isn’t something you come to terms with. It is something you learn to live with. We know how it feels so we can support other people who are just beginning this journey."

The group meets in the Celt Street church hall on the last Thursday of each month from 11.30am.

"It is difficult for newly-bereaved parents to understand there is a way forward," said Mrs Madill who lives in Aberdeenshire.

"Coming to Compassionate Friends, we can offer them support and help them find their own way of coping. There is no ‘one size fits all’. Everyone is different."

Mrs Madill lost her three-year-old daughter, Lisa, in a swimming pool accident in 1983 in Brazil where her husband worked in the oil industry. 

She went to a friend’s home for their children to play together but while they were chatting and having a cup of tea, her daughter had wandered across to the swimming pool.

"We tried to revive her and we took her to the clinic but it was too late, she recalled.

"I was in a foreign country. I didn’t have anyone to rely on."

Lisa was buried in Glasgow and eventually the family returned to  Scotland permanently.

Soon afterwards, Mrs Madill saw a TV interview with two bereaved mothers from Compassionate Friends and after contacting them became involved in the organisation.

She and her husband, Dave, have three adult children and two grandchildren.

Mrs Madill found her Christian faith and writing a book, One Step At A Time, also helped her to cope with her daughter’s death.

An occasional attender at the Inverness group meetings is Margaret who lost her 31-year-old son in a mountaineering accident about two-and-a-half years ago.

She went to her first meeting, accompanied by her husband, just 20 months after his death when her emotions were still very raw.

"It gives an opportunity for people to come together who are in a similar situation yet have very wide-ranging circumstances," said Margaret, who did not wish to give her full name.

"I think to be able to go along and have the support of other people is very important.

"You cannot describe the devastation, if you have not been through it. At the time, people say, ‘I can understand what you must feel,’ or ‘I know what it would be like, if I lost my son or my daughter.’

"But unless you have been through it, you cannot appreciate what people are feeling.

"In that respect, it is a very good group to be in because everyone has been through the same thing - whatever the reason, whatever the situation, it is the loss of a child."

She reflected that with her son’s circumstances, he died doing something he loved and speculated that it must be worse for parents who lose children after a long illness, or in a shooting incident.

"At the end of the day, you lose a child and it must be so much worse for other people," she said.

"It is as much about going to the group and being there as it is about hearing other people and their stories about their children as it is about you talking about your children."

The informal meetings usually involve a group discussion followed by chat and have a sandwich.

"I think it is good to have that opportunity to talk to other people in similar situations," she said.

"It is fine having your own family and friends to support you but after a while even they stop asking how you are and stop referring to your son whereas if you are going to something like this, you can talk openly about your child and know there are others in a similar situation."

She and her husband also cope with their loss by being active – they travel extensively, for example, and also walk their dogs.

But she had found it hurtful when people crossed the road to avoid speaking to her.

"It is much better to say something rather than avoiding people," she maintained. "I think sometimes people are not very good at talking because they don’t know what to say.

"I think there is an element that because it happened two-and-a-half years ago, they feel we have moved on. Because outwardly we are getting on with our lives, it makes them think we are all right.

"But this is something which is going to be with us forever. You never get over it. The pain gets less. Whether someone has been a part of your life for a few months, or 30-odd years, it will never go away."

The Inverness group of The Compassion Friends will meet again at the church hall in Celt Street on Thursday August 28 starting at 11.30am.

More information is available by calling 07711 152640, or emailing

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