Solicitors across all practices of law help people from all walks of life. But outside of her job, risk solicitor Emma-Jane McNicol helps people who are grieving.
Emma-Jane, or “EJ” as many come to know her, works for Lexon Insurance and travels the state educating practitioners on elements of risk in practice.
And on her travels, EJ has found the need to listen to practitioners’ concerns is important. Her ability to do this may come not only from her professional skills but her life experience.
Sadly, EJ has suffered loss in her immediate family and has written a book covering the loss of two of her children over a period of two years. Both of her sons were lost to different causes. Her youngest Samuel died at five weeks and then her second son Ben died two years later to brain cancer.
She launched the book, Will I Have to Brush My Teeth In Heaven, earlier this year. This week is Queensland Mental Heath Week, and with October 15 the International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, EJ kindly agreed to talk about her loss and learnings.
And as for the book’s title, it is based on a question Ben would ask.
“I had always wanted one of my children to name the book and it feels special that Ben did. He asked me this question one evening when we were in a flat near to the cancer hospital where he was receiving his treatment,” she said.
“He had been protesting about having to brush his teeth as since the start of radiotherapy his taste buds were highly sensitive and now it seemed the taste of toothpaste was unpalatable. I expect he was thinking of his baby brother Samuel who had died only two years before.
“He was wondering if Samuel had to brush his teeth whereas my mind was screaming please don’t make me think about this with you now. Now I think about what a key moment that was with my son and I look fondly on it.”
EJ says writing the book has helped her cope with her grief but more importantly she hopes it will help others – even one person to deal with loss or another person to be able to help someone in their loss.
“I have always struggled with what the purpose of their short lives can be. Samuel died at only five weeks and Ben was six and a half. I wanted to share that their lives were not insignificant they may have been brief but they had purpose and significance. Putting their story through my viewpoint on to paper has helped me achieve that further,” she said.
“In our professional lives we are all exposed to stories. Whether it is a client sharing their history when drafting a will, the background to a crime, the personalities in a family law dispute or the reasons for buying a property.
“We all share stories in a whole range of ways and our different life experience will naturally impact the way we deal with clients. My job has a different and unique client base. I consider it a total privilege to meet with Queensland solicitors on a regular basis to share your stories and work together to improve risk systems.
“The life experience we each have has helps shape us to deal with difficulties and I hope in some way mine helps me to be a risk solicitor who genuinely cares for the solicitors I assist.”
As a novice author and risk advisor, releasing the book was a “huge risk” for EJ.
“This book is not fiction it is a deeply personal account of loss and how I have coped (and at times not coped) with it. I have published to the worldwide audience so that means anyone can now read about my inner struggles and thoughts that is certainly an exposure to me.
“However, I did not write the book for me I wrote it so I could help one person. It may be a person that I may never meet.
“However, if from someone reading this book, they can be more understanding to others who have lost and can be a better family member or friend because of it, then I will have helped that one person to have a ‘better grief experience’ and that was my goal in writing.
“I have already heard responses back from many of my readers who have told me how helpful this book has been; for some they have said it is life changing and that tells me already my ‘one person’ has been helped. So yes, whilst a risk it has been a risk worth taking.”
EJ choose a significant day to launch her day – 26 May 2023 – which was exactly 11 years since Ben died and 13 years and one month since Samuel died.
“Anniversaries can be hard but as I write in the book it can be the random other days that grief can strike you. It can be a passing comment a photo or an image that triggers the sense of loss. There were mixed emotions that day but I also felt strongly that I was now ready for it to be released.
“I had done enough alone time in writing it now it was time to let the readers share my thoughts. The book has taken a lot of writing and rewriting so to get to an anniversary and know that the story of my boys’ lives is now in print is a celebration on an otherwise painful day.”
The launch was held at Hanworth House, East Brisbane, and EJ was supported by friends from two charities she is involved with.
“As a board member of Brisbane-based charity Precious Wings and a volunteer at a homeless charity called Emmanuel City Mission, I felt it was wonderful to have leaders from these charities in attendance as well. Being surrounded by family, colleagues and friends made it such a celebration. As one of my colleagues commented about my speech after ‘You had an audience that was 100 per cent backing you no matter what you said, EJ’. He was right – it really was such a positive and happy event.”
And her reading audience is giving her a lot of feedback and support.
“One reader wrote to me to tell me how the book has been a profound gift to them, and many others have told me that it has opened their eyes to be able to help others better and to know what to do when they come across loss.
“One reader told me that she would normally walk away from a difficult situation thinking that was helping the other person, but my writing has made her rethink that. Another reader said he has never been quite so deeply challenged then in reading this book.
“We talk a lot in the professional world about mental health and helping others. I hope that by sharing my boy’s story I will help others to be able to talk of loss better. If we are more open and ready about loss, then I think we can genuinely help the person who is grieving. One of my readers told me when in a conversation someone shared with her how they had lost a baby many yeas ago, but it still hurt. This reader was able to stop, pause and ask the person more about this child and so began a wonderful conversation that she said would simply never have happened if she had not read this book.”
For more on EJ’s book, visit www.ejmcnicol.com