A new short series about bereaved children and teenagers with examples of initiatives from Greece, Romania and the UK . . .
Today, Judy Debenham introduces us to Rachel who has just been referred to the Candle Service, part of St Christopher’s Hospice in London, UK. The story is typical of the kind of thinking and work that go on before the Candle team meet the children. Around 200 children and young people aged three to 18, who are experiencing loss through death, are referred each year from five south London boroughs.
It’s a Thursday morning and I’m looking at a new referral sent by a primary school head teacher, about an eight-year-old girl called Rachel. Her grandmother, Tracey, died five months previously. Since then, the little girl has reportedly been ‘in trouble’ almost every week, her attendance and grades have dropped and she has been caught hoarding food taken from the canteen at lunchtime.
I wonder what the relationship with grandma was, whose mother it was who died. Is there a Dad around? How was Rachel prior to the death?
I start as we always do, by calling Mum, Janine. Over the course of the day and the following week, I leave three messages and end by writing to Mum to invite her to contact me. I don’t know if she wants to go ahead, it’s starting to look difficult Eventually, and with some help from the school, I manage to arrange an initial meeting with Mum who sounds very low and rather non-committal.
The appointment time comes and goes and I call Mum; what happened? She had to fetch Rachel from school as she was excluded. She sounds very fed up and speaks in monosyllables. We arrange another time and I share my feelings of frustration in supervision. Eventually, four weeks after I pick up the referral, I meet with Janine.
During a meeting that lasts over 90 minutes, I hear the story of a family who were organised around the care of Tracey (the grandmother). She lived with them and died from COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and was also diabetic. Nevertheless, she adored her only granddaughter, Rachel, helped her with reading and was there every mealtime. Rachel loved riding on her grandmother’s mobility scooter, spending time at her caravan and loved her dog, Lucky. Where is Lucky now I wondered? Janine tells me he died three weeks ago; the week of our missed appointment and Rachel’s exclusion.
Janine is bereft without her mother: she can’t adjust to the empty house. Danny, Rachel’s Dad, ‘walked out’ just after Tracey’s death. Janine has now started antidepressants and admits sometimes she ‘can’t be bothered’ to cook or get up.
I listen, I empathise, and I think how Janine herself needs support in ‘growing up’ at 36. I describe to her how her daughter might be feeling; angry, resentful, wanting her Mum to be a Mum, anxious and worried, wondering why everyone she loves ‘disappears’ and who will be next. And also she is missing the kindly presence of Tracey, who held them all together and who loved her so much. I give the number of the local adult bereavement service to Janine and we make a time for me to meet Rachel.
Look out for the next instalment on the EAPC Blog when Judy will tell us more about her meeting with Rachel . . .
Read more posts in this series on the EAPC Blog . . .
- Marinela Murg on ‘The Morning Star Camp’ run by Emanuel Hospice in Romania.
- Danai Papadatou on the Merimna project in Greece.