A mother-of-two has told revealed how it feels like her family is cursed after the deaths of three of her sisters, all in their 40s, and the daughter of one of her late siblings.
Natalie Cribb, 45, from Seaford, East Sussex, was born the fourth of five sisters. But between 2011 and 2017, her family was devastated by the loss of all her older sisters, Yvonne, Jane and Mandy, and the death of her niece, Megan, aged just 17.
Megan was the first to pass away in May 2011, from a heart condition she had been born with.
While Yvonne, 45, and Jane both died of breast cancer in 2012 and 2017, Mandy died of pneumonia in 2014, aged 43, after battling addictions. Natalie welcomed Mandy’s daughter Chelsea into her home and brought her up as her own.
Today, with the only two sisters remaining – Natalie and her youngest sibling, Rebecca – the mother-of-two is raising awareness for You Raise Me Up, a bereavement charity her sister Jane set up before she died.
Natalie told Femail: ‘At times it has felt like our family is cursed, as one tragedy has followed another.
Natalie Cribb, 45, from Sussex – pictured with her daughter Ruby – had to watch her beloved elder sisters passed one after the other
Megan (pictured) was Jane’s daughter and passed away suddenly in 2011 due to the heart condition she was born with. Jane created You Raise Me Up, a bereavement charity following Megan’s passing
Mandy, the third sister to die, suffered of substance abuse and addiction and passed of pneumonia in 2014. Her daughter Chelsea, pictured here as a child, grew up with her aunt Natalie and is a mother herself now
Younger sister Rebecca with Natalie and Jane before she passed in 2017. The Cribbs sisters were always close
‘But out of our great sadness, some good has come – because one of my sisters started up a charity to support families who lose their young people, and since she died I have been helping to keep it going.’
Natalie, who is a single mother to two children aged 19 and 15, said that she used to be inseparable from her older sisters, Yvonne, Jane and Mandy.
‘Growing up, we were all so close – we were known as the Cribb girls,’ she said.
Natalie (left) pictured with her sisters Jane (centre) and Yvonne before they passed in 2017 and 2012. The three sisters were close and stayed united through Yvonne’s breast cancer diagnosis
Megan with her brother before she passed. You Raise me offers counselling for the relatives of young people who’ve died suddenly
Chelsea, went to live with Natalie after her mother Mandy’s passing in 2014, and is now a mother herself. Pictured with Natalie and her grandmother Gill
Yvonne pictured with her son Leon. The eldest of the Cribb sisters was diagnosed with cancer in 2007
‘Yvonne was our oldest sibling and the heart of our family, like a second mother to us all.
‘As a child she’d insist on holding me and feeding me. In fact that was how she came to drop me on my head when I was six months old, giving me a hairline fracture of the skull. She never lived that one down.’
But in 2007, Yvonne was diagnosed with breast cancer, which she fought for the next six years.
Mandy, with her daughter Chelsea and her ex-husband in the nineties. Following the split, Mandy turned to substances to cope with the end of her marriage
Natalie recalled: ‘Yvonne dealt bravely with her cancer but it was very hard for her. Once the cancer spread to her back, she was in constant pain.
‘Jane and I used to take her to our gym in her wheelchair, to shower her in the disabled shower cubicle.
‘After 2010, Yvonne knew that her illness was definitely terminal, and she used to joke to us: “When they put me in my coffin, at least I won’t have any wrinkles”.’
Pictured: Young John and Gill Cribb pictured with Mandy (left), Yvonne (centre) and Jane (right) as young girls
John and Gill now, on John’s 70th birthday with Natalie and some of the children and grandchildren of her sisters
But the family was heartbroken when Jane’s daughter, Megan, who was born with a heart condition, died unexpectedly on May 3 2011
Natalie says: ‘Megan was born with a narrowed heart valve. It never caused her any problems, but she had to go for regular checkups every so often, all her life.
‘Then when she was three, we found out she was profoundly deaf. But as she grew up, her speech was good and she was a very sociable person. Jane ran a rugby club – Megan was always there with her mother, helping out.’
On the day Megan died, Natalie was working alongside Jane for a property business, when they got a phone call to say Megan had collapsed, at the rugby club. An air ambulance was called and paramedics tried to resuscitate her, to no avail.
In February 2019, Natalie ran Brighton’s half marathon in order to raise funds for her sister Janes’ charity (pictured)
Natalie with sisters Rebecca and Jane, who was first diagnosed and treated for breast cancer in 2012, but whose cancer came back in 2015
Jane pictured with her daughter Megan who died suddenly in May 2011. Jane died six years later. Jane named her bereavement charity You Raise me Up because her late daughter Megan was a Westlife fan (pictured at a concert with a friend)
Soon after the sisters arrived at Eastbourne General Hospital, to be met there by Yvonne, doctors came to tell them Megan was gone. She died just nine days before her 18th birthday, which she was due to celebrate with a party.
Afterwards, grieving Jane and her husband Fraser set up a charity to support parents of young people who died between the ages of 16 and 25.
‘After losing Megan, Jane and Fraser felt very alone. They wanted to speak to someone else who had lost a young adult, like them. But they couldn’t seem to find any support groups suitable,’ said Natalie.
Yvonne during a holiday. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, the eldest of the Cribb sisters passed away, aged 45, two years later
John and Gill Cribbs survived three of their daughters and one of their grandchildren before they reached 70
‘So they launched their own charity, which they called You Raise Me Up, in September 2011. They gave the charity its name because Megan always loved the boy band, Westlife. Jane told me, that they were doing it because they never wanted anyone else to feel as alone as they did, at that time.’
Since then, the charity, which offers counselling and supports funeral costs, has helped over 100 families.
However, more heartache awaited Natalie and her sister following the death of Megan.
‘In 2012, Jane found a lump in her breast, but because she was grieving, she couldn’t face going to the doctor, for a very long time. I only found out about it when she said to me one day “Can you feel this?”,’ Natalie said.
Proud grandfather John with Natalie’s son Evan. The Cribbs are a close-knit family in spite of the tragic deaths they’ve endured
John posing with some of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren on his 70th birthday
‘There was a lump the size of an orange in her armpit.
‘I was horrified and told her she must go to the doctor straight away.’
Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer – brought on, she always believed, by the grief, stress and shock of losing her daughter.
She had a breast and lymph glands removed, and initially made a good recovery.
It was thought the family might possibly have a faulty gene, but in fact genetic testing proved that they did not – it was just pure bad luck that both sisters had contracted the same disease.
In 2013, Yvonne passed away, aged just 45. Natalie said: ‘It was a devastating loss, even though we’d known for a long time that it would come.’
Then in 2014, Mandy, died from pneumonia at the age of 43. She’d had a difficult life, losing a child at 15 months, and afterwards turned to drugs to numb the pain, struggling with addiction for many years.
Megan was death but helped at Jane’s work and was beloved by her family. Her passing preceded her aunt Yvonne’s death by a few months
Natalie and Yvonne. When she got the news that her cancer was in fact terminal, Yvonne joked she would die without wrinkles
Mandy’s daughter, Chelsea, came to live with Natalie at the age of nine-years-old. She is now 29 and a mother herself, whose two girls call Natalie ‘Nanny Nat Nat.’
From five sisters, there were now three left. But in 2015, Jane’s breast cancer returned, and she was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer tumours in her liver, lungs, chest wall, and bones.
And in December 2017, Jane, too, lost her life to breast cancer.
In 2018, Natalie was signed off for six weeks, with stress due to multiple bereavements.
Natalie says: ‘After Jane’s death, I became more involved in the charity. I knew how much it meant to her and how she wanted it to go on, after she was no longer around. In fact, as I grieved for my sisters, the charity helped me – giving me something positive to pour my energies into.’
The sisters were survived by their younger siblings Natalie and Rebecca and their parents John, 71, and Gill, 70.
‘The deaths of my three elder sisters have left it down to Rebecca and me to support our parents as best we can. I’ve become an expert at helping to arrange funerals,’ Natalie explained.
Natalie and her beloved sister Jane were close and saw Yvonne through her cancer treatment before Jane passed in 2017 from recurring breast cancer. Natalie is now bringing awareness for Janes’ charity
‘But I always try to remember that no matter how hard this has been for me, it has been even worse for others. For my sisters’ partners and their children.
‘And for my parents, who have been together since they were teenagers, and who’ve always lived for us girls. They’ve had to grieve for one daughter, after another, after another.
‘Thankfully, I have a wonderful circle of friends who have really been there for me since my sisters passed away,’ she added.
After losing Megan, Jane took up running and now Natalie too has turned to the sport and found it a comfort.
‘I have never been interested in sport – it used to be that I couldn’t so much as run for a bus. But Jane often told me that running had helped her a lot. So I decided to try and run a half marathon, in her memory,’ she explained.
‘I started training in January 2019, and loved it. I ran three half marathons last year – one for each of the sisters I’ve lost. I also did a 10,000 feet tandem sky dive and entered my first triathlon!
‘I have also signed up for my first full marathon this year, 2020.’
The money raised from her challenges will go to You Raise Me Up.