In little over a year, Clare Davis’s brother died, her house burnt down, her young child went missing and she was diagnosed with skin cancer.
The last three events took place within a fortnight of each other – testing the mum-of-four’s resilience to the core.
Clare, who has worked as a corporate trainer for over two decades, said she had lived a relatively blessed life and then her world was turned on its head.
She said: “I hadn’t understood the pain and loss of grief until my brother died, which was heart-breaking.”
Loss and grief
Clare’s brother, Chris, died of a brain tumour in 2007 – just five weeks after diagnosis and at the age of 35.
Clare, who was one of seven children growing up near Sydney, Australia, decided to move back home from the UK, while pregnant with her third child at the time.
A few months after settling, the family home burnt down and destroyed most of their belongings.
Clare, her husband, and three children – aged between eight months and six-years-of-age – were lucky to escape unharmed – as the house exploded minutes after they got out.
Clare said: “My husband, Jonny, stayed calm and found a safe way out. We were lucky as the firefighters couldn’t smash the windows and we could have been trapped.”
The wall with the photo of Chris and his family was the only part of the house to remain undamaged.
The family, who had just had their belongings transported, lost most of them in one fell swoop.
Clare said: “I learned then that we can experience grief for many things – loss of a loved one, sentimental items, a home or a way of life. I don’t take good times for granted anymore.
“I’ve learned that some things are out of our control – but we do have a choice over how we respond to them. I believe it has made me stronger and more empathetic towards others.”
The community rallied round to help the family out and a week later a friend organised a party to thank them.
Clare’s four-year-old son had played with the friend’s dog outside as usual. But then stray dogs led the pair out into the 100-acre land where they got lost.
Police cars and helicopters launched a search party as night was approaching. Fortunately, their boy was found unharmed five hours later by a contractor working on a nearby property.
Clare said: “I was scared that I was going to lose my little boy and was so relieved when he was found.”
A few days later she decided to get a growth melanoma on her leg checked out by her father, a practising GP, after putting it off for a couple of months.
It turned out to be skin cancer and could have proved fatal if left unchecked and untreated for much longer.
Clare said: “I had felt like I was being attacked on all sides, but these events were a wake-up call about what really matters in life.
“This included looking after my own emotional wellbeing so I could better face challenges.”
Two years later Clare’s dad, Dr Joseph Gangemi, died suddenly from a heart condition at the age of 75. The family decided to return to the UK and settle in Longwell Green.
Clare, who heads Nova Associates to help build healthy relationships and teams, discovered in her management training that people need help looking after their team’s wellbeing.
The international coach, who now lives in Bristol with her family, then trained to become a Mental Health First Aid Instructor – a nationally recognised qualification set up to support the workforce.
Clare, who runs free Mental Health Chats on YouTube and Podcast to raise awareness of difficult topics such as anxiety and suicide, said: “We all need to work on our emotional fitness as it doesn’t come naturally and it’s not wise to leave it until hard times to test it out.”
She has now released a book called Emotional Fitness: A-Z for Positive Mental Health – a practical guide to maintaining wellbeing and preventing downward spirals.
Clare, who was a governor for St Augustine’s of Canterbury Primary School to help protect children’s welfare, has delivered training at schools across Bristol.
She said: “Positive mental health is like a muscle, which we can work on. It helps us to cope with difficulties and improves performance, relationships and our physical health.