Update September 2021: Our Head Office in Hanley is starting to re-open, with Covid-19 safety precautions in place for the protection of our staff and our clients. We are currently seeing children & young people face-to-face and hope to start to open to our adult clients in the next few weeks. Our Dove Buddies groups are starting back up in several locations, please call our office or check our Facebook page for more information.

CHILDREN’S GRIEF AWARENESS WEEK

CHILDREN’S GRIEF AWARENESS WEEK UK IS FROM 15-21 NOVEMBER 2018

The theme for the week is #RememberWhen – encouraging families to share memories together of the person who has died. Whether it’s a place, a joke, a food or a story, we’re giving children and young people a chance to talk about their loved one, and to find out more about them from friends and family. Organisations supporting bereaved children can use the Week to showcase some of the memory work they do with families.

To help raise awareness, members of the Staffordshire Children’s & Families Bereavement Alliance have submitted articles reflecting on their experiences and memories during Children’s Grief Awareness Week.

#RememberWhen

The sudden or unexpected death of a child is something that no one can ever be prepared. It is a reasonable expectation that parents and families will see their child grow and develop and experience life, developing memories as they go. The death of a child of any age is a death out of time and devastating for all families and wider communities. Children, like adults grieve the loss of someone important to them. How they do this is unique to each child and will very much depend on the age, understanding and the relationship they had with this person. Children have a limited way of reacting to feelings and as such can display their grief in their own way, through behaviours or actions. Although we want to protect our children and take away any pain and heartache there is no magic formula therefore it is important that we help children express their feelings and this can be done through talking, a shared activity, or developing a memory box or memory workbooks.

In the event of a sudden death it is imperative that each family is offered support to create memories. The use of memory boxes, chosen by the family enables the family to remember that child. It is also an opportunity or tool that will encourage families to share memories together of the person who has died #RememberWhen.

The memory boxes can contain anything that the person wishes. But straight after the death the family are offered Hand print(s) / foot print (s), Photographs and a lock of hair. The box can then be added to, at time that is right for that person and family.

Remembering memories and stories, and sharing feelings – is one of the most important things you can do to help your child as they journey through grief.  One of their greatest fears is that they will forget the person who died. When they are missing that person remembering can help provide comfort, although this may be hard at first and painful for all involved, nobody can take your memories #RememberWhen.

Rebecca Sage
Nurse Practitioner for the Child Death Overview Process (South Staffordshire)

My Baby Sister

I remember meeting my baby sister, so beautiful yet so still.
I did not know where I fitted in right then, or what to do until…

Mummy suggested I help to bathe her and put her in some clothes,
A pretty dress and a knitted hat were the items that I chose

The Midwife gave me a little box to keep my memories within,
The photographs, the lock of hair and the inky hand prints all akin

When it was time to say goodbye, with the treasured memories that I keep,
I read the little one a story, to ease her in her sleep.

The memories do not fade from my head or from my heart
And have kept me feeling close to you, though we are far apart

#RememberWhen

Sam Evans
Bereavement Midwife

On the Death of a Pet

For many of us the first real experience we have of grief is losing a pet, which, as hard as it might be, does provide an opportunity to open up a conversation with children about death, dying and grief.  You can use this time to talk to them about what happens when pets get very old, what being dead actually means, about what happens when someone dies i.e. burial or cremation, what your family believes happens when someone dies i.e. your religious/cultural beliefs, or maybe even about funeral services and why we have those.

The concept of having a pet ‘put to sleep’ can be confusing and anxiety provoking for younger children who can be quick to form links between a pet being put to sleep but being dead, and them being put to sleep in bed and being alive.  Though words like dead and died may seem harsh to us as adults, it is always better to be very clear with children and not to use metaphor.

As parents, modelling behaviour around being bereaved of a pet by allowing children to see you upset and talking to them about your feelings can give them the permission to grieve, and a context in which they can start to understand the grieving process so that they are able to apply that knowledge to future bereavements.

There are loads of great books available to help you to talk to your child about the death of a pet, from personal experience I would recommend ‘Goodbye Mog’ by Judith Kerr, ‘Tigger and Friends’ by Dennis Hamley or ‘Saying Goodbye to Lulu’ by Corrine Demas.  But if you search for books around pet bereavement you will find a lot of options for different age groups.

You can help your children to #RememberWhen for their pet in lots of ways, for example, by talking about funny things your pet did, having a plant in the back garden in their memory, looking at photos of your pet together, or putting together a memory box of their collar/favourite toy/food bowl and other bits.  Most important is sharing memories together as a family and supporting each other to #RememberWhen.

Charlie O’Dell
The Dove Service

Families in Grief

At a time when partners need each other most and children need their parents, they are often unable to be emotionally available to each other because they are consumed with their own grief.  For a lot of men, talking about feelings can be awkward, exposing, and risky leading to vulnerability. There is a cultural expectation for men to be a certain way.  One bereaved dad said “my wife was treated as having lost someone she loved… I was treated as having lost someone I was responsible for”

Therefore, when a man is having to talk to his children about the loss of a loved one, his feelings can easily become a stumbling block, and empathy for his partner and his children becomes difficult.  However, most children and young people appear to deal with death very well, especially if we as adults understand how they think and if we can give them space to explore their feelings.  You may find these points helpful:

  • For bereaved teenagers, grief comes on top of all kinds of developmental issues as they struggle to find a new identity and a new balance between dependence and independence
  • This is the struggle. What you see in front of you is not necessary what is going on inside.
  • Children know and understand much more than we give them credit for
  • One of the biggest impediments to children’s healing after death is …adults
  • Grieving children don’t need to be fixed
  • Don’t need to be “taught” as much as “allowed”.
  • Be creative to help them make sense of their changing world

As a dad showing how you feel about difficult situations is the key to your child’s emotional development.  There is no shame in asking for help in this area.  Hear what men have said about a men’s group (Journey for Men) in Trentham:

“Journey for men” is a group of men who have either lost a child or are on that journey. We meet once a month for chip butties, and then have an opportunity to explore feelings around our journey. This painting describes how often through our journey we feel knocked down. What makes us get up when we have been knocked down is what we often discuss. If you look closely at the painting, you will see the imprint of a boxing glove. We applied paint to the gloves and punched the canvas.  The colours represent our children, the dark colours represent what we are fighting, the illness, our deepest fears or even the professionals”

“We look at each other in the hope that we can bring ourselves from the brink of despair and cling on to the hope that we as fathers will fight from the very beginning to the very end”

“For every round of this epic struggle we go about doing our absolute best to prevail. We do this with a heavy weight on our shoulders, and the weight we bear is for the love of our children through the good times and the bad with no matter what punches life throws at us, we have to take a deep breath and carry on the fight.

“We try to reclaim what is ours and that is the belief in us not only as human beings but as fathers”

Kevin Benson
Donna Louise Trust

Supporting Children with the Truth, Not protecting them from the Truth.

At the Douglas Macmillan Hospice we try to work with parents and significant care givers to support the children within the family unit.  We work alongside parents or significant care givers to enable them to be open and honest with their children. This is the current philosophy in the work of Childhood Bereavement. Those children who have been given information at the appropriate time and where communication within the family unit is open and engaging, appear to have less psychological difficulties when a death occurs and cope better with their bereavement.  Children of all ages cope best with loss and death when they have time to adjust, are included in family discussions/events and are allowed and encouraged to ask questions and to get clear answers.

Tips for parents and significant care givers;

  • Not wanting to upset children is often one of the main reasons why they are not informed. This is a natural response as we try to protect our children. However, children are likely to get upset at some point and there is no getting away from this. Being upset is a natural response.
  • Open communication with each other about feelings and the needs of the children enables a healthier position within the family unit.
  • Honesty is the best policy. You are not going to harm your children with the truth.
  • Give enough accurate information and in an understandable manner.
  • Begin talking to your child about what they have experienced or noticed about the person who is ill. This gives the child permission to trust their own observations by working with what they have seen and understood. Give them the information and respond to their emotions.
  • Sometimes children can have a tendency to blame themselves when their parent or significant care giver is ill or has died. Give a clear message that it is not their fault.
  • Always use simple truthful words like dying/ dead – using euphemisms for example ‘gone to sleep’ can lead to confusion.
  • Communicating Bad News – Telling a child that a close family member has died is a difficult task. If possible a parent or family member should break the news to the child.

Finally – Things to Remember.

Remember that ‘Super Parents’ don’t exist, just do what you can, when you can. Accept that some things just can’t be made better in a short space of time but supporting children in the ways described here can help children to cope better with their bereavement.

Tina Forrester
Douglas Macmillan Hospice

Children’s Grief and Crafts

The death of a parent or significant person in a child’s life can be a traumatic event.  Children can have difficulty expressing their grief with others and can sometimes verbally and emotionally shut down.  Younger children can lack the coping skills that life experiences bring, and they don’t often understand the functions necessary to express their emotions in a way that adults can clearly do.  For the adults in the life of a grieving child, this can make it difficult to help the child cope with grief.

We can become so involved in our own grief that sometimes do not give our other children the time to help them come to terms with their loss too.  They may not also know how to navigate the grief they witness and sense from adults.

Allowing children to be open and honest about their feelings can help them understand and cope with their grief and help make memories.  Likewise, encouraging them to remember and honour their loved one through creative activities can help ease their pain.  These activities serve to both encourage children to talk about and express their pain as well as to remember their loved one.

We have found that engaging in creative arts can have an incredibly positive impact in a child’s grief. By using arts and crafts as an emotional outlet, children can begin to express their grief and open up about their thoughts and emotions with others, it provides a distraction and makes it much easier to talk about their feelings and keep those special memories alive.

We run groups for both younger and older children who love their crafting activities. We encourage parents to work with the child to produce something special to keep in memory of their brother or sister. We are getting regular feedback from parents that the results are already showing that this method is having a positive impact on the children’s emotional wellbeing, which is fantastic.

#ChildrensGriefAwareness #RememberWhen

Gayle Routledge
A Child of Mine