‘My beautiful daughter took her life aged just 16. But I won’t let myself drown in grief… I want to make sure that no other struggling young person is ever left without hope’
- For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or go to samaritans.org
Tuesday, March 10, 2020, was just like any other day for Emma Webb and her 16-year-old daughter, Brodie. Mundane. Ordinary. Nothing remarkable.
It started with Emma dropping her daughter at the school bus stop and Brodie blowing her a kiss goodbye across the road.
Later, there was a GCSE revision class for Brodie and a staff meeting for Emma, a teaching assistant. Then a quick stop to grab some dinner on the usual after-school trip to exercise Archie, Brodie’s beloved horse.
In the car, there was a bit of chat about Brodie’s sore throat. About how she was going to wash her hair later that evening. And that the grilled chicken takeaway she was eating might just be her new favourite meal.
‘There was nothing. No indication. No sign that anything was wrong,’ says Emma.
But a couple of hours later, Brodie left her horse fully tacked up and vanished.
‘She’d never have left Archie like that. She was so meticulous,’ says Emma. ‘I knew immediately something was horrifically wrong. I felt it. I just knew.’
Tragically, she was right. Because Brodie – a rising star of the showjumping world, a teenager with all A-star predictions for her GCSEs, a girl with so much joy and love in her life and the epicentre of Emma’s existence – had disappeared into a patch of local woodland and ended her short life.
The impact on her mother is impossible to imagine.
Emma was a rising star of the showjumping world and had all A-star predictions for her GCSEs
Brodie disappeared into a patch of local woodland and ended her short life. The impact on her mother is impossible to imagine
Her only child – a happy, bubbly, talented girl who often felt more a best friend than a daughter – just gone.
Why get up in the morning, she must have thought. Why bother with anything ever again.
But Emma, 48, is not like most of us. She is strong, driven, kind, giving and, most of all, full of love.
‘I’m a mother, but now I have no child. I have all this love and nowhere to put it,’ she says.
‘So I’ve tried to channel it into helping other people’s children, to make sure what happened to Brodie never happens to them.’
Which is why, as we chat, we are walking the streets of Newport, in South Wales, dragging behind us a 30 kg (4 st 10 lb) resin horse on wheels, called Miles, with Emma in her final stretch of training.
On Saturday she will set off on an epic 157-mile, 15-day walk, Miles in tow every step of the way, from the David Broome Event Centre in Chepstow, where Brodie used to train, to the ExCeL centre in London, which is hosting the London International Horse Show, Brodie’s favourite event in the world.
‘I could have walked on my own but, well, who would notice one woman walking along?’ she says. ‘So I bought a horse in Brodie’s honour and called him Miles, for all the miles we’ll cover.’
Brodie’s mother Emma is dragging a 30kg resin horse across Britain to raise awareness of child mental health
She is raising awareness of mental health issues and collecting funds for Papyrus, the suicide prevention charity. ‘I want to help anyone suffering,’ she says. ‘To try to break the stigma down. To make them realise that it’s quite normal to have periods when your mental health isn’t that good and it’s OK to ask for help.’
She also wants to help parents be aware that, even when their children seem totally fine, often they are not.
It is a message she and Miles (who is wearing a stylish blanket designed by Brodie) will be spreading through rain or shine as they trudge and trundle between eight and 16 miles a day and stay in B&Bs on the way.
‘Basically, anywhere that will give stabling for Miles,’ she jokes.
She is also hoping that, along with the friends and family who are already planning to join them, she and Miles will be a magnet for others – ‘so many people have lost somebody’ – and, hopefully, by December 13, when they march through the centre of London, there will be quite a gang.
It would be nice to have a helping hand on the reins. I wouldn’t want to be hauling Miles up even the gentlest hill in the rain. He has a shocking turning circle and is a nightmare to get up and down kerbs. But Emma feels a visceral need to do this.
‘I have to – I can’t not,’ she says. ‘And I will be propelled and inspired by Brodie.’
She also wants to protect other families from her deep, shattering grief and experiences no parent should have to endure.
Like visiting her daughter’s grave every single day. Watching helpless as Brodie’s friends take their exams, grow up, spread their wings and head off to university.
Talented rider Brodie, then 14, holding the reins of one of her previous horses, Gwen
Keeping her room exactly as it was the day she died – right down to a pair of crumpled up pyjamas on the floor and two half-empty water bottles – but going in every morning to open the curtains, and every evening to say goodnight and draw them.
‘Of course I find it hard to get out of bed every day and carry on. I’m heartbroken without her,’ she says. ‘My life might be ruined, but I can help other people and, somehow, channelling that love and grief for Brodie gives me a purpose. And I need to, because she was an exceptional girl.’
She certainly sounds it. Brodie was born on December 10, 2003 in Newport. She was happy, smiling, so strong that she was walking at ten months and always much more into animals – her first birthday cake was in the shape of a sheep – than dolls or Disney.
She would spend hours in the back garden teaching her dogs Coco and Maggie agility tricks, and ages petting the horses in the field by the church. But when she started riding lessons aged six, it was apparent that she was hugely talented.
As her riding career bloomed, Emma and Brodie became closer and closer. They drove thousands of miles a year with Brodie’s horse Archie to compete. They would sleep in their campervan at horse shows. Every day after school, they would make the 30-minute drive to Archie’s yard to exercise him.
‘She was always hungry, loved her nan’s tuna pasta bake and was very loving and cuddly,’ says Emma. ‘She’d tell me every day she loved me, even though she was 16.’
Somehow, Brodie also found time for her friends – from when she was little, school and the showjumping world – and schoolwork.
‘She was meticulous. So organised. I don’t know how she did it, but she never missed a deadline. She was so good at juggling it all.’
Maybe she was too good at making it all look so effortless. Showjumping is demanding and exacting, Brodie was a perfectionist and her GCSEs were looming. Perhaps it was something to do with the friendship issues she had been having in recent months at school.
‘Before I lost her, she was feeling a bit isolated and felt her friends were turning against her and not speaking to her,’ says Emma. Though most teenagers have friendship issues at some stage or other.
We will never know for sure what maelstrom of emotions propelled Brodie to do something so drastic.
Or where her mother found the strength to carry on afterwards.
Because the very next day after Brodie died, Emma made a vow.
‘I said to myself, ‘It’s not going to be in vain. I’m not going to let her life be a waste. I’m going to make a positive difference. I’m going to help other people’s children.’
And she has. She has campaigned, raised money and awareness, set up a website doitforbrodie.co.uk, sold hundreds of hoodies, raised a lot of money and given away Horseshoes Of Hope she’s decorated and tagged with organisations that help young people who are struggling. Last year she gave hundreds away on a 285-mile walk in aid of a suicide prevention charity and raised more than £10,000.
‘I’ve got to be busy,’ she says. ‘I have to find things to turn my mind to, to distract me.’ From memories of the nightmare of lockdown, that came so soon after Brodie’s death and trapped Emma and her mother Pam inside, stricken with grief and very little support.And Brodie’s funeral – after a delay of 12 weeks, a teeny Covid affair in the churchyard with just ten family members with her daughter dressed in her best show-jumping gear, Italian leather boots, best hat on chest. But the celebration-of-life service she organised, on what would have been Brodie’s 18th birthday and attended by so many friends, reminded her of the love and support here in Newport.
‘Sometimes now I get distracted and for a moment, I forget and I’m having fun. I’m almost happy,’ she says, sounding almost guilty.
As we plod along in the sunshine, horns toot, friends shout cheery encouragement and neighbours smile and it does all feel rather lovely and upbeat. Until a school bus driver waves and she stiffens, because this was Brodie’s bus. ‘It’s little things that can trip you up,’ she says. ‘Because, of course, everything has changed for ever.’
So today, while she and Pam still live in the same home, there will be no Christmas tree this year, no presents.
‘We don’t do birthdays or Christmas any more. We’ll go for a nice walk with the dogs and then to the graveyard,’ she says. ‘Though we will put a new Harrods Christmas teddy on her grave, because we used to get one together each year in London.’
She also hasn’t slept in her bed since Brodie passed away. ‘I don’t want thing to feel normal again, because they’re not,’ she says. Instead, she sleeps on the sofa.
She doesn’t work at the school any more, either, and has a job in events. Since Archie was sold to an international rider in the Cotswolds, she couldn’t bear to keep in touch with his progress.
Like so many parents in a similar position, she struggles with guilt and the endless, swirling ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’.
I should make it clear that she is only telling me all this because I ask. She has an extraordinary ability to cut through the fog of grief and sorrow to focus on the small, golden moments.
Such as how some days she’ll go to her grave and find a clutch of Brodie’s old pals, home for the holidays from university, there just to say hello and bring love.
And on other days, when it’s just Emma, a robin will always perch nearby, and somehow she feels a connection to her daughter.
And how, during Brodie’s teeny, alfresco funeral, the horses in the nearby field – the very same animals that Brodie had petted as a child – all came and stood quietly at the edge of the graveyard, heads low, for the duration of the service.
‘It was so Brodie to be outside with the animals,’ she smiles.
Today, however, her biggest joy comes when she hears that her Horseshoes of Hope have connected with someone who needed them. Someone who needed the love.
‘I’ve had wonderful feedback that they’ve got to people who needed them. Who’ve been struggling and found them helpful,’ she says. ‘That really made my day.’
It is only towards the end of our time together that she falters.
‘Brodie defined me,’ she says quietly. ‘She was my only child. My purpose. So while I have all this love, I don’t feel I am really a mum any more.’
But of course she is! To Brodie, to all those other children she’s looking out for, to anyone she can help. Because Emma is amazing and inspiring – the sort of person who brings out the best in everyone around her.
And I have no doubt that, while Brodie’s life was cut so tragically short, she could not have felt more loved or cherished.
- To donate, to learn more about Papyrus or to find out how you can join Emma and Miles on their walk, visit doitforbrodie.co.uk.
For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or go to samaritans.org
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