Continuing our short series about bereaved children and teenagers with examples of initiatives from Greece, Romania and the UK
Today, we present the second part of a story about Rachel who is referred to the Candle Service, part of St Christopher’s Hospice in London, UK. 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.
The story so far. In last week’s post, Judy Debenham explained the background to the referral: Rachel is an eight-year-old girl whose grandmother has died having been a major part in the lives of Rachel and her mother, Janine. Janine is depressed and Rachel’s father, Danny, has walked out. Today, Judy Debenham meets Rachel for the first time . . .
Despite our scheduled appointment, it takes Janine several attempts to bring in her daughter. Always apologetic, she forgets, is ill herself, has other appointments. I know it’s hard for her to bring herself, literally, to a place where she acknowledges her own mother’s death and so I chase up the referral for her own counselling.
When I finally meet Rachel, I am struck by her busyness and a sense of premature adulthood. She is a thin little girl with sharp eyes that don’t miss a thing. She ignores my suggestion to talk about her grandma and immediately starts tidying up the toys in the playroom. She makes me tea, then feeds the dolls and puts them to bed, telling them they must behave. What are the dolls feeling? What would happen if they were naughty? ’They’re not allowed to be,’ she says firmly. I notice how adult she sounds talking to them. Would they like a cuddle perhaps? She denies they would. Do they have a mummy or daddy? A grandma? She shakes her head.
In the next session, I ask her again about her grandma. She doesn’t want to talk but draws an angry picture. I reflect the anger back to her and say how she must be missing her grandma and how angry she might be for not being here, for dying. She scribbles harder and breaks a pencil. I say, ‘There’s so much more to be done now Grandma isn’t here, and someone has to do these things.’ She agrees. I notice she is dabbing frequently at her eyes. I ask her what she has to do at home and she tells me; getting her own breakfast; getting her clothes ready, washing up, tidying up, waking up Mum.
If she had a magic wish to change one thing, what would that be, I wonder? She scrunches up the paper, says, through gritted teeth; ‘Have my Grandma and my Dad back.’ I look at her, chin wobbling, valiantly trying to hide the tears. I think: this little girl hasn’t got space to grieve her grandma whilst she is doing so much to keep the family going.
I decide to have a meeting with Janine and spend a long time explaining how things seem from Rachel’s point of view. She is tearful and it’s an exhausting session for both of us but she recognises she has to start being more involved. I suggest she comes to the monthly bereavement group we run and she agrees. I check it’s ok to contact school and later that day I speak with the head teacher. Amazingly, the Children’s Centre nearby are starting a Parenting and Healthy Eating group and we both feel this might help support Janine. This may clear some space for Rachel finally to focus on her grandma.
Follow the EAPC Blog next week when Judy will conclude the story of Rachel. If you missed the first instalment please click here.