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From grieving to giving – How one woman turned a personal loss into a huge gift for others

In 2016, Bethan Jones lost her mother to cancer. Despite her grief, she managed to find the emotional and physical strength to turn her greatest personal loss into an incredible gift for others, through a project called ‘The Big Fifty’ which she recently completed. We spoke to Bethan to reflect on her incredible achievement and find out more about her inspirational story and

What is the Big Fifty and what inspired you to do it?

The Big Fifty is my attempt of saying thank you to Nightingale House Hospice. In 2016, we sadly lost our beautiful mum, Lindsey to pancreatic cancer. The last two weeks of her life were spent in the hospice. It became our home. The nurses are heroes. Because of the hospice, Lindsey was able to pass away peacefully and in a dignified manner, surrounded by her loved ones.

Lindsey would have turned 50 this year. I thought fundraising for the hospice would be the ultimate way to celebrate her big birthday. But equally a chance to spread awareness of our local hospice and the wonderful services they provide. But why do one fundraising event? So I decided on 50. 50 events. A year-long fundraiser.

I understand that you’ve managed to do all this while still working full time as well as running a household – what’s your secret?

I’m very much a believer in “If you’re passionate about something, you’ll always find the time to do it”. I’d set out to do the challenge, months prior to 2019. I recorded a video explaining The Big Fifty and posted it to Facebook on my Mum’s 2nd anniversary. I had to go through with it. 

I’ve had to remember to take time for myself on the weeks that I’ve been exhausted and had to realise there was no shame in asking for help along the way.

What was the most exciting challenge?

Ahhh! This is so difficult to answer. I’ve always been a thrill-seeker, so naturally skydiving and white water rafting were the most “exciting”. However, I was equally excited about completing the colour run again. I originally tackled the vibrant 4K run, the morning that I received the call to my mum’s deathbed in 2016. I knew from the start that I had to include Nightingale’s colour run in the 50 events. But this time I got to run alongside my friends and family! It was a lot of fun. Go Team The Big Fifty!

Which one was the most difficult?

Emotionally, the party we held for my mum’s birthday was the most difficult. I was running on adrenaline for weeks. When it got to the night, I finally broke. But it was a lovely evening!

Physically, the Erddig 10k trail run was the most demanding! I trained really hard. I’m in no way a runner. I knew when I signed up to the challenge, I was going to have to work really hard. I did and it was still the most difficult. But that didn’t stop me taking part in 4 running events in total… One of which dressed as Santa, in gale force winds up Moel Famau. 

Which of the challenges took you most out of your comfort zone?

The Voicebox Spoken Word event really took me out of my comfort zone. We took the evening to celebrate life and death through poetry. I’d never shared anything I’ve written before, let alone something so personal, open and honest. But the lovely people of Voicebox were so supportive, I felt very welcome and I can’t wait to take part again in the new year

Was there any moment when you were at the point of giving up?

Honesty, yes. Not many people know this but two months before the end, I was ready to throw in the towel. I was reaching the point of exhaustion and life doesn’t stop just because you’re having fun taking part in all these events. I became quite emotional and fed up. I finally planned the last chunk of events and once that part was over I could start to really enjoy the challenges again.

How did you stay motivated in the tougher moments?

Ultimately the reason I spent the last year fundraising was because my mum went through something unimaginable. She went through her cancer journey without complaining once. She fought to the very end. Lindsey went through much worse than the stupid things I was going to put myself through. As are the experiences of the other patients that enter the hospice. 

I also often stopped and thought about those supporting me. Everybody who knew about The Big Fifty pushed me to finish. I’ve met some incredible people along the way, friends for life, they’ve been my biggest support network. I couldn’t be more grateful for having them around this last year. 

One of the challenges involved you writing and performing a poem. How would you describe this experience?

Surreal, completely and utterly surreal. I knew that Wrexham has a brilliant poetry scene (We’ve got a very talented town). To be accepted by Voicebox as soon as the event went live made everything come together. The Big Fifty was starting to involve the local community and that was the whole point! When it came to the night – the atmosphere was simply, special. We heard experiences from each other that ordinarily we wouldn’t have spoken about in our everyday lives. 

The poem I’d written, just came to me the day I knew the event was going to happen then I didn’t look at it until the time it came to reading it. I got a buzz from reading my work in front of strangers and it being well received. 

How much have you raised to date?

We’ve raised just over £4000! I’m keeping my JustGiving page open until the end of February and then a final total will be announced. 

How do you feel now that you have completed your mission?

The last week of events was emotionally the hardest. I was starting to feel sad about it coming to an end. It was a time where I was looking through photographs of the year. Seeing what I’ve achieved has made me feel so proud of myself. I remember the night I recorded my podcast and it was the first time I’d felt or said that I was proud. 

I haven’t come to terms with the fact it’s over just yet. It took over my life for 18 months. 

I’m just starting to use the free time I’ve suddenly acquired, I’ve read more this year than I did the entirety of 2019. I’ve tried to keep busy to fill the void and maybe to avoid how it really feels now it is over. But this just means that I’ve got to start something else!

Now that you have completed the Big Fifty, do you have any charity plans for 2020 or do you have any other big plans that you would be willing to share?

I’m going to try and do at least one event a year to raise money for Nightingale House Hospice. Whether that be an event of their own or one I decide to plan myself. But nothing to the extreme of The Big Fifty! 

Other than that I’m hoping to work towards becoming self-employed this year. Long term plan – I want to become a freelance animator again. Alongside that I have an idea to create books for children surrounding the theme of coping with the death of a loved one. Children are expected to be ok after losing somebody close to them because “children are resilient”. But often this causes problems later in life because the loss hasn’t been talked about or dealt with in the initial instance. As a nation – we don’t like to talk about death. In my opinion, death positivity from a young age would prevent the sudden shock of losing somebody. Not just for children, for adults too. 

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to raise money for a charitable cause?

Make sure you’re passionate about the cause. That passion is what will drive your motivation through the roof! Having that emotional connection with a charity is also what encourages people to donate. People can see when you’re doing something because you genuinely care. If you get to a dead end and start to lose your drive, try and remember the reasons you started fundraising in the first place. 

If you could do it all over again, would you do it?

Absolutely. In a heartbeat. 

The last year drained me. But in return I met the best bunch of people, I raised money and awareness for Nightingale House Hospice, I completed 50 challenges that I probably wouldn’t have done in a lifetime and most importantly I got to dedicate a whole year to my beautiful, lovely mum, Lindsey Cranston Jones. 

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