Woman turns tragedy into inspiration – instilling resilience in others

A woman who lost both her brothers and father in separate and tragic circumstances – within the space of just two years – is using her experience to help leaders develop resilience.

Fenella Hemus lost her youngest brother to bowel cancer after several months of illness. A year later, her eldest brother was killed in a road collision. They were both in their 30s.

A few months later, Fenella’s dad died from lung cancer at the age of 69 – 15 years after he had given up smoking.

Fenella, 53, from Bristol, said:

“Their deaths came as a great shock and I was left reeling from the grief.

“But in time, the key thing I was able to take from their loss was a real appreciation for life. It instilled resilience, which keeps you going and helps you to bounce back from tough times.”

Fenella’s brother, Aksel had had severe stomach pains and went for – but refused doctors’ advice to get more tests.

By the time he got help, nearly a year later, he learned he had bowel cancer and the tumour had grown to the size of a grapefruit. In March, 2001, he was told it was terminal.

Aksel was cared for in a hospice during his last months and died in July, 2001, just months after his diagnosis, at the age of 33.

Then Fenella’s brother, Angus, a 36-year-old sales director, died in hospital after he was trapped under a car during a horrific smash.

His motorbike collided with a car in October 2002 and a passerby held his hand until help arrived.

He suffered multiple injuries and was taken to St George’s Hospital, where he later died from bronchial pneumonia.

Fenella’s father, Andrew, had a cough for many months and also initially ignored advice to get it checked out. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2002 and died the following January.

Fenella, a former UWE sculptor student who lives in Windmill Hill, Bedminster, said:

“Within two years I had lost most of my family and it took its toll, both physically and emotionally.”

Fenella, who had been working as a play-worker at Windmill Hill City Farm in the Adventure Playground, remembers being physically unable to move the Christmas after her – and then suffering burnout.

She said:

“Grief and burnout sneaked up behind me and one day I lost my cool with a teenage girl. I had locked my pain away and tried to carry out regardless.

“I don’t think grieving necessarily has to be long or hard, but I do think you have to acknowledge the hurt before you can more on.”

She took some time out and travelled to Cali, Colombia, where she did voluntary work with street children. She was held up at gun point on a bus on one occasion but still stayed on.

Self sabotage

Fenella returned to the UK and, inspired by her late brother, Angus, who had been a keen advocate of self-development, looked for ways to help others.

She said:

“When we lose someone we love, it’s understandable to focus on the loss. But I believe we can remember the good times and pay homage to them by living life to the full.”

The keen climber trained as a personal trainer and nutrition coach, while continuing to work in the field of children’s development and play.

But Fenella noticed many of her clients self- sabotaged their own success and suffered from anxiety of some form – and she wanted to understand the mindset behind it.

Angus had shown a keen interest in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), which shows a connection between the neurological processes, language and behavioural patterns learned through experience.

Fenella, spurred on by his memory, has gone on to qualify as a Master Practitioner and Trainer in the field – and now also trains people in NLP so they can coach others.

In 2017, Fenella set up AboveBeyond – with the name reflecting her mission to help others achieve a different perspective.

Fenella uses a range of techniques to work help business owners and their team to develop their emotional intelligence, self-awareness, self-belief and resilience.

She said:

“People can become blinkered by past experiences and habits, but by working together we remove their limiting beliefs and unhelpful behaviours and take positive action.

“We work together to develop leadership skills, while increasing confidence and foresight. I believe everybody can change and is capable of amazing things.”