Actress Leigh Arnold, a patron of the charity FirstLight, is to speak at a Women’s Little Christmas event in Cork city this week — about parenthood, work/life balance, personal fulfilment and the loss of her baby boy to sudden infant death syndrome, writes MARIA ROLSTON
FOR Irish actress Leigh Arnold, the year ahead is going to be all about empowerment, strength and doing more for herself.
Best known for her role as Dr Clodagh Delaney in RTÉ series The Clinic, Leigh, from Blackrock, Co. Dubin, has suffered more than her fair share of grief and pain, having lost her second son, Flynn, to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) at just two weeks of age in 2013, prior to the unexpected death of her younger brother Nicky two years later.
The tragic experiences have given Leigh a “harder shell,” she says, but speaking out about the unbearable loss of a child or loved one is “one of the most powerful things” a person can do to aid their recovery and help other people going through a similar experience, she adds.
This Friday, Leigh, who gave birth to her third child, Piper, in 2015, will be speaking at a Women’s Little Christmas event in Cork city, in aid of FirstLight, the Irish charity supporting suddenly bereaved parents and families.
Leigh, who has been a FirstLight patron since 2013, says she is indebted to the charity after receiving “immeasurable support” from its professional counsellors and wider community of families following the death of her son, Flynn. Her eldest child, Hunter, is now four years old.
She says the Little Christmas event, which takes place in De Calfe Cafe in the Cornmarket Centre, will focus on the positive rather than negative so that guests come away feeling empowered and inspired.
“It will be a really empowering event. I will be speaking about bereavement but I don’t know that I’ll go into the depths of my own personal experience,” said Leigh.
“We all face our challenges and hurdles in life, regardless of who you are or where you come from. Everyone has their problems but everything is relative and it’s all about learning how to cope and deal with the challenges life throws at us,” she said.
“The reality is that grief is a universal emotion and unfortunately no one escapes untouched. I know from my own experience and from the experiences of other amazing families I’ve met through FirstLight, that child loss is an indescribable journey of survival.
“It’s about getting through our lives to the best of our ability and it’s important to remember that we’re all here to support each other and we must learn to take care of ourselves and never be afraid to speak out. Sometimes, speaking out is one of the bravest and strongest things a person can do to help themselves and others in similar situations,” she said.
Leigh, who will be guest speaking alongside celebrity solicitor Gerald Keane, said she will talk about how FirstLight supported her through the “darkest time” in her life and says she wants everyone to know that the charity exists to help people going through the pain and heartache of child loss.
“I came across FirstLight when it was known as the Irish Sudden Infant Death Foundation. I had come home to Ireland for a few weeks during the summer after my son passed away and my mother had found out about of them. One of their counsellors helped me immensely and the foundation connected me with and thrust me into a huge community that I was never aware existed. I found great comfort in their support and when they went on to found FirstLight they very kindly asked me to become a patron and I was honoured to accept.”
Leigh said that as an actress in the public eye, she felt a responsibility to accept the role as patron in order to help other people, but she also took on the role as a means to keep the memory of her son alive.
“The number of new families that have contacted FirstLight is up by 58% from last year. It’s astonishing that so many people are going through the tragic experience of losing a child but it’s FirstLight’s vision to ensure that every parent, family and community who suffers the devastating loss of a child knows that there’s a professional service in FirstLight that can give them the support they need.
“Being a patron has helped me hugely but it also brings everything back every time I speak about my experience. I’m left dealing with the emotions but I do this to keep my son’s memory alive and to help other people going through the horrendous experience,” she said.
As well as bereavement, Leigh said she will also be talking about everyday challenges like parenthood, work/life balance and personal fulfilment.
“I don’t want people thinking the event is just about bereavement. It’s about empowering people and helping attendees make a positive start to 2017, so I’ll also be talking about other things like working and juggling things as a mother.
“I mean, I’m an actress but at the moment I’m working as a full time mum. That’s my main job and that in itself has its challenges. When you have children you don’t have time to stop and think. You have to keep going and being busy is a saving grace but it can have its downsides too.
“I also spend a lot of time travelling so I never really have time to sit and be still and think about things, but maybe one day I will be brave enough to sit and look back and take things in.
“I’ve also been writing a lot lately. I’m working on a fictional book about love and loss and I have my own website too so I’ll be talking about how writing helps me.
“One of my favourite pastimes is watching the world go by and wondering about the stories behind everyone’s faces. You never know what’s going on in someone’s life unless you know their story and I think we need to remember that and step back from time to time and be better and kinder to one another in this world.
“A prime example is what’s going on in Aleppo at the moment. Homelessness is another massive issue in Cork as well as Dublin and I’m acutely aware of the fact that we need to start being more aware of other people and to help one another more,” she said.
And sometimes, to be able to do more for others, it helps to do more for yourself first, to ensure you have the resources to give to others, Leigh said.
“In 2017, as well as helping others, I would like to do more things for myself. I don’t have enough hours in the day to do what I need for me, to allow me to be happy and fulfilled so that I can be all the things I need to be for the people around me.
“Sometimes, we need time to write, work, exercise or whatever it is we need to do to be good to ourselves because it’s very easy to lose ourselves, especially when you’re a busy parent. I’m always on the bottom of my list and my New Year’s resolution is to spend more time taking care of myself so that I’m empowered to help other people and make a fighting start to 2017.”
Tickets to the FirstLight Women’s Little Christmas event cost €30. Contact Louise on 086 8581268 or Judy on 087 6492426.