Jane Weekes who lost triplets to Qatar mall fire channels grief into counselling

After the death of her three young children in 2012, a New Zealand mother is channelling her experience into helping others deal with grief. 

Jane and Martin Weekes lost their two-year-old triplets - Jackson, Willsher and Lillie - to a fire at a Qatar shopping mall, the Italian-themed Villagio complex, in May 2012. Ten other children and four teachers also suffocated. 

The Villagio's chairman and manager, a municipal employee and the co-owners of the mall's Gympanzee daycare were all convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2013 and sentenced to six years. But that conviction was overturned on appeal in 2015 in a controversial decision.

Nevertheless, Ms Weekes says she tries not to let her thoughts linger on anger, telling The AM Show on Thursday she's chosen to channel her emotions and experience into helping other people in New Zealand deal with their grief. 

Life hasn't been all bad for Ms Weekes and her husband in the years following the death of their triplets. In 2013, the couple welcomed twins - Poppy and Parker - after returning home to New Zealand from Qatar where they had lived.  

Since surviving the loss of her triplets, Ms Weekes has completed a Bachelors of Counselling, working alongside people experiencing difficulties in their lives such as trauma, grief and loss, postnatal depression, relationship difficulties and addiction. 

Martin Weekes holding his newborn twins Poppy and Parker in 2013.
Martin Weekes holding his newborn twins Poppy and Parker in 2013. Photo credit: File

"To go back after six years of spending time working with other people and helping them through their grief, and studying as a counsellor, it was really interesting to look at what I've taken from that and how I acted and responded, what was helpful, and what wasn't."

She will be holding half-day workshops with Vicki Culling Associates starting in September, exploring the topics of trauma and grief, and focusing on how health and caring professionals can support parents and families struggling in a "happiness-obsessed" culture.  

Ms Weekes says she "absolutely" finds it difficult to talk about her grief six years on, telling The AM Show it's "not something that ever 100 percent goes away, but rather than get over it it's something you can carry with you."

"Some things are harder to talk about than others," she adds, "and I find talking about the day the kids died much harder than talking about their lives."

But dealing with her own grief and showing vulnerability to others is important, Ms Weekes says, because "if you're just going to sit there and look like a machine and not be affected by it, then you're not really giving the respect to somebody else's experience."

However, she said she is fully aware that grief-stricken people are coming to her for help in her role as a counsellor, and she is required to be strong for them: "It's not about me being upset; it's about them being upset."

In the first year after the death of her triplets, Ms Weekes said she found practical information on how to get back to life very helpful, and appreciated those people "who will just be with you when you need someone to be with you, but also understand when you need a bit of space."

"Both Martin and I have different ways of coping, so as a couple you've really got to give each other space," she added, talking about how their relationship strengthened over time through mutual understanding of giving each other space and time to heal. 

The convicted mall bosses in Qatar were ordered to pay $80,222 in 2016 for each deceased person in the fire that claimed the lives of 19 people, following a further ruling from Qatar's highest court. It was ruled the judge who exonerated the men had applied the law incorrectly, and the blood-money payments were ordered. 

But Mr Weekes said at the time the payment was "irrelevant", because the family had spent much more than that on legal and medical costs. The trial was also criticised for having no witnesses called to provide testimonies. 

Ms Weekes told The AM Show it is "only natural be really angry and to think about the unfairness of the whole situation," but said anger can "stop you from connecting with things that are important for you further down the track, and that is where it becomes a problem."

The Interior Ministry said the rescue effort at the Qatar mall was hindered by malfunctioning sprinkler systems and a lack of floor plans for the shopping complex.