Stefan’s Memory Stones in Thanet

“Losing a child is the most horrific experience you can ever imagine, it changes you so much and totally destroys your life. I just miss him so much.”

 

CommunityAd Exclusive - Stefan’s Memory Stones in ThanetLast March, Thanet mum Emma Kluibenschadl experienced every parent’s worst nightmare when her 15-year-old son Stefan heartbreakingly took his own life after being bullied for his autism and dyslexia. A beautiful, kind soul, Stefan loved music and skateboarding with his favourite time of the year Halloween and meeting Emma, knowing full well every day must be like her own horror movie, she is quick to tell me how incredibly wonderful her boy was, often borrowing money to buy sausage rolls which he would hand out to the homeless.

 

Two months after Stef’s death, Emma created Stefan’s Memory Stones; a beautiful tribute and movement to not only keep Stefan’s name alive but also raise awareness of neurodiversity. Having seen so many beautifully decorated stones painted in Stef’s honour, I asked Emma where this idea came from.

“For me, Stefan’s Memory Stones is all about getting his name out into the world. When he was in hospital and we knew that he wasn’t going to make it, I just said to him ‘Stef, no one is ever going to forget you. I am going to get your name out to the world’.

“When Stef first died, I was all over the place and could barely function. Walking the dog every day kind of helped and I would notice whilst out walking that people would write the names of loved ones on the beach but that gets washed away and forgotten about but then I picked up a stone and took it home and started writing Stef’s name and doodling on it.

“The next time I went out I placed the stone somewhere different and then people started asking how they can help me? To be honest, you don’t know what you want from minute to minute, it’s so unbelievably painful. I started asking those around me though if they could take a stone I painted for Stef on holiday with them and then send me a picture? This way people felt included and I had something to occupy my time.

“I started up Stefan’s Memory Stones Facebook page last May with complete strangers putting stones out for Stefan from all over the world. A lady in Australia called Miriam, who I have never met before in my life, paints stones and places them round all parts of Australia!

“We’ve had a group of people put a stone in Base Camp Everest recently! At the moment, we are in 82 countries and around 640 destinations.”

 

Emma is well and truly keeping her promise to Stef keeping his name alive and with so many beautiful stones located all across the globe, I asked Emma what Stef would be thinking of this incredible movement started by his mum? She said: “He would probably laugh and say ‘oh God’s sake mother, what are you like? Painting stones and talking to random strangers!’ but my response would be that we’re getting your name out there and guess what… you’re in Base Camp Everest!

“I tend to place a lot in memory of him in Dane John Park in Canterbury. He used to hang out with his friends there a lot and they used to go up to the top of the mound and chat so whenever I’m in Canterbury I always place one there because I feel a bit more connected to him.”

Every single one of Stefan’s Memory Stones is unique with Emma painting all of Stef’s favourite things that he enjoyed most as well the Facebook (@Stefan’sMemoryStones) and Instagram (@stef_an8796) handles and on some stones Emma has also painted a semicolon, to promote Project Semicolon; a non-profit making movement dedicated to presenting hope to those who are struggling with mental health, and suicide.

 

Emma’s profession as a Special Needs Consultant and Play Therapist has seen her help many parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Unfortunately, though, as a loving mother, Emma battled with the educational system from when Stef was as young as 3 years old so her boy could have the same opportunities as his peers. The system though, as Emma explained, from experience is ‘diabolical’.

“We know in the recent Ofsted (November 2022) Kent got unsatisfactory for the second time in three years in every single area around their SEND provision support. It’s absolutely disgusting there is no support around neurodiversity, especially mental health in neurodiversity. The SEND system is just awful. I actually heard recently there are 9,000 children in Kent on a waiting list for an autism assessment. If you’ve got an autistic child or young person and they’ve got mental health needs, you’re kind of fobbed off.

“Stef was bullied for being autistic so me and my husband want to raise the profile of neurodiversity on being accepted and about the impact of bullying and how it kills. I lost my son because someone thought it was ok to bully him because he wasn’t quite like them.”

 

Emma and husband Tristan are working hard to campaign for there to be more support provided to SEND children and their parents so that no one has to experience the devastation of losing a child.

“I have had loads of people since Stef died tell me how amazing he was. I just wish they did it when he was here because maybe it might have made a difference to him, knowing that he was important to other people. Passing on just that one message could have helped save Stefan. He knew he was important to us but as a teenager you want to be acknowledged by your peers.”

 

An unimaginable soul destroying pain which Emma goes through each and every day, 16 months have passed but there will always be a dark hole in the lives of the Kluibenschadl family. Which is why the movement of Stefan’s Memory Stones is so important, Emma explains “Someone once told me when you die, you die twice. You die when you physically die and then you die when people stop mentioning your name and that really stuck with me so I made it my mission for this not to happen to Stef. I need people to mention Stefan’s name even if they don’t know him. If they paint a stone or they take a stone on holiday and just for those few minutes, wherever they’re placing it, they’re thinking about, not only Stefan, but their own family, their own friends and what’s really important in life.

“There are no words for this extreme pain, but I might be able to paint it and express it in a way that I am able to cope. I am pouring my love that I can’t give to Stefan into that stone and that helps me because they’re about what he likes and what he’s interested in.”

 

If you would like to help keep Stefan’s name alive and place a stone somewhere, whether this be on your holiday or more locally then get in touch with Emma via email [email protected] or you can phone Emma on 07814 056880. Just make sure once you place a stone somewhere you take a picture and send it to Emma as this helps spread the legacy of Stefan.

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