Prince Harry first met the Smallman family during the WellChild Awards in 2015
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
Credit: PA Images

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle sent a personal letter to a family in Liverpool over the recent loss of their daughter, who was terminally ill.

Hayley and Gary Smallman were only able to invite up to 10 people to the funeral service of their 18-year-old daughter Holly Smallman on March 27 in Aintree, Liverpool, due to the circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Holly, who died peacefully in her sleep following cardiac arrest, suffered from a number of complex conditions since her birth, including cerebral palsy, epilepsy and chronic lung disease.

Her parents, sister Ruby, 12, and brother Josh, 21, were struggling to come to terms with the loss, especially amidst a nationwide lockdown. When Hayley finally decided to sift through the hundreds of unread emails in her inbox one day, she was taken aback to stumble upon one from the Duke of Sussex.

Prince Harry, Ruby Smallman
Prince Harry and Ruby Smallman during the WellChild Awards in 2015
| Credit: Justin Tallis/WPA Pool/Getty

During the annual WellChild Awards in October 2015, Prince Harry spent some time with the winner of the Most Caring Young Person Award — a then 7-year-old Ruby Smallman, Holly’s little sister. He also had the chance to meet and chat with Holly, as well as their parents Hayley and Gary.

Prince Harry, 35, began the letter by stating how upset he was to hear of the tragic news of the loss of their daughter Holly.

“I feel so fortunate to have met Holly in 2015 when her sister Ruby received a WellChild Award. Holly was evidently a very special and happy girl, despite her significant challenges, and she clearly had an extra special relationship with her siblings,” Harry said in the message.

“It was a great privilege to spend time with you all, particularly Holly,” he continued.

Holly Smallman, Rob Norbury
Holly Smallman
| Credit: David Munn/WireImage

At the event, Ruby gifted Harry a handmade ceramic penguin (complete with a crown and even bright red hair!), which the prince still remembers to this day, mentioning it in the letter.

Harry then turned to commend Holly’s mother Hayley and how grateful and inspired he’s been by her continued work with WellChild, of which Harry is currently patron.

“Hayley, I know since then you have been an avid WellChild supporter and ambassador; it’s been a pleasure to see you again on a few occasions,” Harry said in the letter. “I’ve heard just how much you’ve done for other parents caring for children with complex needs, helping to push forward programmes and campaigns that provide support to these families.”

Prince Harry, Ruby Smallman
Prince Harry and Ruby Smallman
| Credit: Justin Tallis/WPA Pool/Getty

He continued, “Given everything you have both dealt with personally, this is truly selfless and inspirational. I am so grateful to you, as I know many other people and families will be too. Huge respect for juggling so many plates and always being able to put a smile on people’s faces.”

“I imagine words cannot really hope to provide much comfort to you and your family at this most difficult of times, but I wanted you to know that you, and your daughter Ruby and son Josh, are all in my thoughts and prayers,” the email continued.

He concluded by saying, “Meghan and I send our deepest and most heartfelt condolences,” before signing off with “Harry.”

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex
Archie, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
| Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Despite officially stepping back as a senior member of the royal family on March 31 and relocating to a secluded compound in Los Angeles with his wife Meghan Markle, 38, and son Archie, who turns 1 next month, Harry is still keeping up with his patronages, including WellChild.

The prince recently took part in a virtual meeting with two parents, a specially-trained nurse and the head of WellChild, which provides care for seriously ill children and young people in the U.K.

“There’s a hell of a lot of positives that are happening at the same time and being able to have family time — so much family time — that you almost think, ‘Do I feel guilty for having so much family time?’ ” he shared. “You’ve got to celebrate those moments where you are just on the floor rolling around in hysterics. Inevitably, half an hour later, maybe a day later, there’s going to be something that you have to deal with and there’s no way you can run away from it.”

Prince Harry on a call with a charity, WellChild.
Credit: Courtesy WellChild

Harry, who has been patron of WellChild for more than a decade, said, “It’s very nice to see the familiar faces on here.” He went on to praise the families, calling them “super-parents” for their grace under such pressure.

Can’t get enough of PEOPLE‘s Royals coverage? Sign up for our free Royals newsletter to get the latest updates on Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and more!

“The resilience and the strength that you guys have is absolutely incredible,” he said. “You must never, ever, ever, ever forget that. Of course, there are going to be hard days – I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it is for you guys.”

“Having one kid at 11 months old is enough!” he said of his son Archie.