Martyn Horton of 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Cheshire) was killed in 2010 at the age of 34 in a road traffic accident whilst serving in Afghanistan. He left behind a son, Ethan, who was 9 at the time and his estranged wife Jane.
Jane recalls the day she heard the devastating news: “I got a knock on the door from Martyn’s sister at 5am. I knew straight away it must be bad news. I remember waiting for Ethan to wake up to tell him the news.”
She describes the special relationship that they had: “He and his dad were thick as thieves. They both loved football and motocross and had lads’ holidays”
Jane made sure that Ethan was involved in every aspect of Martyn’s tragic homecoming – he led the procession at his dad’s military funeral, placing a toy baby monkey and some letters in his dad’s coffin at the burial.
It wasn’t until a year after Martyn’s death that they realised they needed help. “I felt we were coping well but grief can become bottled up inside. The very act of getting on with day to day life doesn’t leave you much time to reflect or grieve properly” explains Jane.
Jane rang the Helpline of Winston’s Wish, the UK’s leading childhood bereavement charity. Following visits to their home offering practical help and advice, the family were invited to a residential weekend in March 2012, funded by Help for Heroes.
During the weekend, a number of Forces families came together to remember their loved ones. Jane spent time with a parents’ group, receiving advice on how best to support Ethan through his grief, while Ethan and the other children took part in practical and creative activities to encourage teamwork and to build confidence and self-esteem. In both groups parents and children alike were able to make their voices heard and emotions felt about being bereaved in these very specific circumstances.
Jane felt nervous about becoming upset during the weekend, but it proved to be a turning point for both of them. Jane commented: “It was like a huge weight of emotion had been released. I don’t feel so alone. I am proud of being able to open up and show emotion”.
The two of them worked together on creating a memory book for Martyn, which included a letter of condolence from the Prime Minister.
The family were also the focus of a feature piece in The Sun newspaper, highlighting the work of Help For Heroes and Winston’s Wish through describing their experiences. In telling their story, they have acted bravely as ambassadors for both charities.
Ethan has also been actively involved in fundraising for Help for Heroes through a football match and a sponsored run.
“Grief and bereavement are not something that go away and losing Martyn is something we both think about every day,” said Jane. “But thanks to all the help and support we received, we can look forward rather than back.”
Read more about how Help for Heroes and Winston's Wish are working together here