Charlotte Shaw’s mother opens up about grief in new book

Jennifer Wilkin Shaw with her book, A Testament of Grief, written after the death of her daughter Charlotte Shaw. Picture: Sarah Howells
Jennifer Wilkin Shaw with her book, A Testament of Grief, written after the death of her daughter Charlotte Shaw. Picture: Sarah Howells

The mother of Charlotte Shaw, who died on a training exercise for Ten Tors on Dartmoor in 2007, has written a book about her grief.

A mother whose daughter was killed when she was swept into a swollen river on Dartmoor has written a book about her grief.

It’s been 10 years since Charlotte Shaw, 14, died on a training exercise for Ten Tors in March 2007, and her mother Jennifer Wilkin Shaw has opened up about her experience.

A Testament of Grief is a raw and deeply personal account of Jennifer’s experience losing her husband, and then seven-years-later, her only child.

Jennifer, from Frithelstock, said she can clearly remember cooking a ‘hearty meal of beans and greens with garlic bread’ when two police officers knocked on her door.

“When that happens, it’s every parent’s worst nightmare,” said Jennifer.

“From that moment on, I don’t think I could feel my legs, I was just in complete shock.”

Charlotte Shaw Charlotte Shaw

Charlotte had been with a group of pupils from her school, Edgehill College in Bideford – now Kingsley School – when she was swept into a fast-flowing stream.

Charlotte was airlifted to Derriford Hospital after being rescued from Walla Brook but it was too late.

“She never made it to intensive care,” said Jennifer.

An inquest into Charlotte’s death in 2010 recorded a narrative verdict, and the coroner called for children undertaking Ten Tors to be given more training before taking part.

Police found no criminal charges against the school at the time, and a subsequent legal claim against the school by Jennifer was rejected by judges.

But now she hopes this new book will bring some form of closure.

Jennifer Wilkin Shaw with her book, A Testament of Grief, written after the death of her daughter Charlotte Shaw. Picture: Sarah Howells Jennifer Wilkin Shaw with her book, A Testament of Grief, written after the death of her daughter Charlotte Shaw. Picture: Sarah Howells

Seven years before Charlotte’s death, Jennifer’s husband, Jonathan, died. After losing Charlotte, her world ‘crumbled’.

“When Charlotte died it was so painful,” she told the Gazette.

“The worst thing about grief is when you feel alone; it’s totally overwhelming. You feel like your relationship with the whole word changes.

“I’ve found it very hard to come to terms with it in 10 years, let alone overnight.”

After Charlotte’s death, Jennifer initially went into hospital for respite.

She said: “Having lost her and Jonathan, my world just came crumbling down to nothing.

“I started writing about it because it was so overwhelming; I had to put it down on paper because I was in so much pain.

“But I developed a routine and I began to think, this could keep me alive.”

As she continued writing for her own therapy, Jennifer began to see she could help other mothers and fathers going through similar situations.

“There was a book I needed at the time, that hadn’t been written,” she said.

“I wanted to find something and I couldn’t find anything. I wanted to write a book to help me, and then to help other people.

“This book is so personal; it’s very vivid and visceral, but I have made everything public. That’s the difference between this book and others.

“Grief is something that nobody wants; it’s an enemy, but if you understand grief and know it really well, then somehow, you can have some sort of power with it.”

Jennifer said she hopes A Testament of Grief will bring some form of closure on the last 10 years of her life.

She said: “Somehow, there has got to be something good that comes of it.

“All of Charlotte’s friends are all young adults now and making their way in the world.

“Somehow the publishing of this book tells them I have made something, and it is okay for them to make something of their lives too.

“To grieve, you have to grow and you have to break. But if you repair, that is an important next step.

“You have to make something from it and I like to think that Charlotte would be proud of me.”

A Testament of Grief is available on Amazon, in Waterstones stores nationwide and in Walter Henry’s bookshop in Bideford High Street, RRP £9.95.


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