An Unexpected Lesson in Loss

Bryony Freestone was young and beautiful, with a contagious smile. She was part of a team of six university students we met during our stay with Marine Conservation Cambodia.

The past tense in the first sentence gives you a clue to what this post is about. Bryony died a week ago, and everyone who knew her is trying to cope with the tragedy of a life full of promise cut short.

Less than a month ago Miss M and I spent a wonderful day with Bryony and Arjin, a sweet Dutch schoolboy, zipping around Kep on hired scooters. Arjin driving, Bryony on the back, music blaring from speakers hanging from the handlebars. Both of them grinning like idiots.

Arjin and Bryony

We visited a disappointing local market, full of tired almost-rotten fruit. Then up a bumpy track to visit Gibbon Valley and the crazy Australian lady we’d heard about who rescued monkeys.

Arjin geting up close and personal with Kiri the rescue monkey

Arjin geting up close and personal with Kiri the rescue monkey

We stopped in at the Kep Butterfly Garden, where we marveled at the butterflies and horsed about on giant swings.

It was one of those perfect days, a jewel of a memory that you take out every so often to shine on your sleeve and smile at how great life can be.

Miss M and Bryony

We met Bryony on the first day of our Cambodian MCC experience. The FXCambodia team of were on the island making a documentary about sea grass conservation in Cambodia. They were there for five weeks. We were there for three.

We were at Koh Seh during peak season. Every bungalow was full, and meal times were like a scene from a Harry Potter movie.

The FX team spent a lot of time having meetings in the main bungalow. Their plummy English accents made the meetings sound so refined. I was worried they were spending too much time talking, not enough time filming. But they managed to wrap up their filming on schedule, and I followed their progress on Facebook, as they left Cambodia for a short holiday in Thailand before heading home to the UK.

I was expecting to keep in touch with all six members of the team on Facebook, and maybe meet up with them some time in the future, somewhere in this wide and wonderful world of ours.

From FX Cambodia's Facebook page

From FX Cambodia’s Facebook page. Henry, Ollie, Katya and Bryony.

Bryony drowned in Thailand on August 14.

The full team had broken up: Ollie had flown home already and Toby was in hospital with an infection. Bryony, Ellie, Katya and Henry were together in Koh Chang. After a big night out, Henry went out in the morning to find some food. Ellie and Katya had a sleep in, and Bryony went to the beach.

Henry told me in a Facebook message that no one saw what happened. “A man told us later that he was eating breakfast when her body washed up.”

In an instant, Bryony went from being a vivacious fun-loving carefree person to “a body”. Henry, Ellie and Katya, all so young, had to deal with doctors, nurses and embassy officials in a foreign country. Henry said they had to call Byrony’s mother from hospital to tell her what had happened. I can’t imagine how horrific it was.

Back in England, Bryony’s friends were learning of her death. The messages posted on her Facebook page are heartbreaking, especially the tribute from her twin sister. The posts show how much Bryony was loved. She was a spark that burned bright and shone light into so many lives. We only met her briefly, and it seems impossible that she is gone.

Miss M cried when I told her the news. She is only six and I’m not sure she understands the concept of death, even though she knows Big Jim, her grandfather, died when she was very small.

We looked at some photos of the day we spent with Bryony and talked about her lovely smile. We also talked about how sad her friends and family would be.

This is not a World School lesson I was expecting.

Where ever you are in the world, take a moment for Bryony. Hug your children, pets or partners. Call your parents. Make sure your loved ones know they’re loved, because life can end in an instant.


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7 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.


  1. Heather says:

    I’m so sorry, Barbara. What a tragedy.

  2. Julia says:

    How awful, and unexpected. It’s one of those things that you always think – or hope – that will never happen to you, and if or when it does, nothing can really make it any easier. You’re right though, we should definitely all embrace life as fully as we can while we have it.

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