For any couple to lose their first child at an early age is utterly devastating. But for your second to be still born is beyond what most of us could ever comprehend.
Yet this happened to husband and wife, Mark and Rachel McDonald, with Erin dying in her sleep at the age of 9 and Comghan being still born at 23 weeks.
They now have Aoife (aged 7) and Eoghan (18 months), but the loss of their first two children was so unbearable that they both struggled terribly. What made matters worse was that Mark was trying to be strong for Rachel, and she could see the burden that was placing on both him and their marriage.
“Our relationship was becoming strained,” said Rachel, “because we were both suffering but Mark was a ‘man’s man’ who would just bottle his emotion up and adopt that attitude that as long as I was ok, then he was ok.
“But he clearly wasn’t OK, and because he would never truly tell me, or anyone else, how he felt he was like a ticking timebomb. Something small would escalate to something big but he continued trying to protect me by not sharing his feelings.”
It was while on Facebook one day that Mark spotted the StrongMen charity and felt very drawn to it – taking it upon himself to get in touch. According to Rachel, this was the moment when things began to change for the better.
“Everyone was so supportive and thought Mark was really brave for contacting StrongMen,” continued Rachel. “There was an overwhelming feeling of pride because we could see what a huge step this was for him to take.
“In fact, when he found out he’d been accepted onto one of StrongMen’s weekend retreats you could physically see the weight coming off his shoulders. He was naturally nervous as it was something new, but he was also upbeat – there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
“When he came home from that weekend, he didn’t stop talking. It was a turning point and he was buzzing, which lifted the mood for everyone.
“Since then he has been a different person, focusing on his health by running three times a week – in fact he’s even done some marathons.
“In terms of our joint wellbeing, he brought techniques back from StrongMen giving us a ‘toolbox’ which we both use, and because he’s part of the StrongMen community neither of us feel that sense of loneliness anymore. In fact, if I have a wobble he now approaches it differently because he is more in control of his own mental wellbeing.
“All I can say is that I feel I’ve got my old Mark back after StrongMen and I can’t thank them enough. If anyone can get half of what Mark got out of it then it really would not be time wasted.
“You can never get back what you’ve have lost, but we have now been able to build our lives differently and StrongMen has been a turning point for that.”