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Heartbroken Scots mum buys school clothes for needy pupils after death of five-year-old son

Daily Record logoDaily Record 11/08/2019 Heather Greenaway
a person smiling for the camera: Brightest Star Charity founder Arlene Smith at their new counselling suite and offices in Linwood. © Provided by Reach Publishing Services Limited Brightest Star Charity founder Arlene Smith at their new counselling suite and offices in Linwood.

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The first week of the new school term is usually a time of excitement for parents and children across the country.

But for Arlene Smith, it is shrouded in heartbreak.

Since her five-year-old son Jack died in 2012, Arlene has struggled seeing fresh-faced pupils returning to school both in person and on social media.

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This year, however, the 35-year-old decided that although she will never buy another uniform for Jack, she will help kit out other kids who have lost siblings or whose parents were struggling financially.

Arlene, from Renfrew, cradled her son as he died from a rare virus just days before his sixth birthday.

a young boy wearing a suit and tie: Jack Smith © Provided by Reach Publishing Services Limited Jack Smith Now, she has bought dozens of uniforms, school bags and lunch boxes, which have all found good homes.

The secondary school teacher hopes the clothes and supplies will spread a little bit of sunshine on what can be a very difficult day for families who have lost a child or find it hard to make ends meet.

Arlene, who runs bereavement charity Brightest Star in Jack’s memory, said: “Since I lost Jack, I have always struggled with seeing new school uniforms in the shops.

“I can’t help but think I should be out buying Jack his. Many times, I have stood crying in shops as I watch mums try school clothes on their children. I have had to walk out of shops because I can’t cope with hearing parents and kids arguing over uniforms.

a person holding a sign posing for the camera: Brightest Star Charity founder Arlene Smith at their new counselling suite and offices in Linwood © Provided by Reach Publishing Services Limited Brightest Star Charity founder Arlene Smith at their new counselling suite and offices in Linwood

“I know it can be stressful but tomorrow is never guaranteed and sometimes I have this urge to shout that out loud. Some families will never get the chance to see their child go to school.”

The big-hearted mum, whose charity runs support groups and counselling sessions for bereaved parents, added: “I was very fortunate that I could afford to buy Jack his school uniforms and that he could pick the latest school bag, shoes or pencil case. But I am well aware that’s not the case for everyone.

“I thought if Jack was here, I’d be buying those items for him, so instead I went out and bought a load of boys’ and girls’ uniforms ranging from an age four up to 16. I gave the majority to families I knew through the charity and the remainder to Women’s Aid in Glasgow.

“Everything was donated in Jack’s memory and in the memory of all the lost sons and daughters who didn’t get the chance to choose their school uniform this year.”

Arlene – who is married to Paul, 41, who she met through the charity – said seeing all the first-day school photos on social media is especially difficult.

She added: “I am happy for my friends but it makes me feel sad for what Jack is missing out on. I got to see him start primary one and two but that was it.

a couple of people posing for the camera: Arlene Smith with her baby Summer and her husband Paul © Provided by Reach Publishing Services Limited Arlene Smith with her baby Summer and her husband Paul

“He would be starting S2 this week. I am a teacher in the high school he would have attended and it was really hard seeing all his wee friends starting last year and he wasn’t with them.

“I don’t think it is going to get any easier as I watch them grow up and see them doing things Jack never got the chance to do. I will always know he is missing.”

Jack had gone to bed in December 2012 with a slight temperature but was found unconscious and not breathing the next day.

He needed specialist care but there were no beds at Yorkhill Children’s Hospital in Glasgow, so an ambulance took him to Edinburgh. He never regained consciousness.

Tests showed he had contracted a virus which attacked his heart. He died in his mum’s arms.

Arlene experienced further heartache, suffering a miscarriage before she gave birth to “miracle” IVF baby Summer last December, just two days before Jack’s anniversary.

She said: “Summer has brightened our lives.

“People think she looks really like her brother. Although she will never meet Jack, she will grow up knowing all about her big brother.

“I feel honoured to have had him for six years. He may not be physically here but he’s in my heart.

“I will always be a mum of two and that will never change.”

Explore the issues faced by the UK’s most vulnerable children and young people this summer and discover what you can do to help.

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