A SUNDERLAND girl orphaned at 13 is reaching out a lifeline of support to other bereaved children.
Jessica Meldrum’s world was torn apart when she lost both parents in the space of just six months.
She had barely come to terms with losing mum Allison, 39, to secondary cancer when dad Philip, 44, was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer.
Now aged 22, Jess is gearing up to cycle 400km across India to raise money for child bereavement charity Winston’s Wish.
Jess, who has just graduated with a first in management entrepreneurship from Lancaster University, said: “27th June, 2005, was the day my mam died of secondary breast cancer.
“It was also the day that I first saw my dad in intensive care with 10 per cent chance of survival, before he then died of stomach cancer six months later. It was the day my world changed forever.”
Former St Anthony’s pupil Jess lived with her parents and brothers Jonathan, now 24, and Thomas, 17, in their Tunstall home. The siblings remained in Sunderland for three years after the tragic death of their parents, before moving to the Midlands with relatives to start a new life.
Jess, who still has family in Sunderland, said: “Dad had been fit and healthy and had been nursing my mam throughout the year but suddenly he was really ill.
“He went into hospital and was put into intensive care and they found out his stomach had burst. It was really scary.
“A few months later we found out he had stomach cancer and that it was terminal, and he died a few months after that.
“It was crazy, my mum had just died so it was just another hit for me.
“We had a few weeks where we started to rebuild our lives and then we found out dad was dying.”
Jess received counselling when she was 16, and knows how important it is for youngsters to have support at such a difficult time.
She said: “From day one, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I was listened to and helped to open up, week after week, and month after month.
“Talking eased the pain of my bereavement, the fear of my future as an orphan, and it helped the torturing confusion as a child of how on earth could my parents be ‘just gone’.
“I have still managed to reach the same point in my life that I would have hoped to reach even if my parents had been alive.
“Without a doubt, I would not have been able to build myself a promising future without the help of a bereavement charity, which taught me the benefits of talking and gave me some hope at a crucial time in my life, as I began to determine my future.”
Jess will spend three weeks in India in September, including six days cycling 400km through the Rajasthan region, as part of a charity event arranged through Lancaster University Students’ Union.
l To sponsor Jessica, text ‘WINS70’ followed by an amount (for example WINS70 £1) to 70070, or visit her fundraising page online at: www.justgiving.com/jessicameldrum.
l Comment – Page 18