GRIEF manifests itself in different ways.

But a universal aspect of human loss is the resultant struggle to adjust to a new normal.

Sally Anderson-Wai’s 18-year-old son Rory, from Wivenhoe, died suddenly in his own bed in August last year.

Sitting with her and trying to understand her grief leaves an uncomfortable feeling of inevitability and intrusion, of looking in from the outside at something you don’t truly comprehend.

She takes some small comfort from a final embrace she shared with her boy, brother to David, 16, and William, 21.

“We were at loggerheads last year,” she smiles.

“But at Easter he finished his A-Levels and started his work as a lifeguard.

“He suddenly changed, I realised it had just been that phase teenagers go through – he had come out of it and was being more sociable.

“We had a family BBQ, hired a beach hut at Brightlingsea and he had come along.

“Before we went on holiday, and this is the saving grace which helps me, there was a moment just before we went to the airport.

“He hadn’t let me give him a hug for years and he said ‘can I hug you?’ “I gave him a hug and a kiss and I told him I loved him, and I told him I was proud of him.

“That’s comforting to me, that we had that moment.”

That was the last time Sally saw Rory alive.

An inquest at Chelmsford Coroner's Court last week heard Rory had died accidentally, with a "likely" link to drug use.

On the counselling she has received from St Helena Hospice, Sally says: “You would be sort of wondering how to get on in life and the counsellor would say ‘You’ve got to get used to being normal again’.

“And I say ‘What are you talking about, I am normal.’ “They say ‘Your normal before this was a family of five, now your normal is a family of four.’ “The quicker you can get your head around thinking ‘There’s just four of us now’, the better you can cope.

“At every family occasion we say ‘Oh well, Rory wouldn’t like that’ – we’ll talk about him as if he’s still there. But he’s not.”

If we want a measure of Rory, we can look beyond his academic achievements, which include a school award for Maths and an academic award from Colchester Sixth Form College.


High-achiever - Rory with a school award for Maths

We will find a hard-worker, a young man who had already held down jobs outside of school at a chip shop, as a dog walker and a newspaper delivery boy.

Sally says he was already working on a “ten year plan”, and had bought his own motorcycle.

It didn’t take long for Rory to excel as a lifeguard.

Sally says her faith gave her an inkling of Rory’s heroic actions in the weeks before his death, while the teenager was working at Valley Farm Caravan Park, in Clacton.

“I was driving to work that day – and I have a very strong faith – I used to take Rory to church and Sunday school.

“I was sitting in the car and I just had this strong feeling that I had to pray for him going to work that day,” she said.

“I was praying he would be vigilant and a good lifeguard – because it is a big responsibility, he was only 18.

“You know those swimming pools at those caravan parks are jam-packed with kids.

“When I picked him up from work, he was looking a bit shaky and I said ‘Are you all right?’ “He said ‘yeah, but I saved a boy’s life today.’ “He said he was sitting on the chair looking round and he suddenly heard a little voice at his feet shouting ‘Help’.

“He’d slipped in from the shallow end to the deep end, his parents were elsewhere, so Rory just jumped down and scooped him out the water, calmed him down and took him over to his parents.”


Young - Rory had a lot of potential

More than 300 people attended Rory’s funeral, including former teachers.

“I’m thankful I have two other sons to keep me going, knowing they are there and I’ve got to be there for them,” said Sally.

“I used to say to him you’ve got the world at your feet, I would say ‘You can do anything you want to Rory’.

“He might have gone on to do great things.”