Concluding our series about bereaved children and teenagers with examples of initiatives from Greece, Romania and the UK
In the final part of this story, Judy Debenham describes how the support that Rachel is receiving from the Candle team is beginning to take effect. The Candle Service is 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. 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. In the previous post, Judy describes the first two sessions with Rachel: a sad but very busy little girl who does so much practical work to support her mum that she does not have time to grieve properly for Grandma Tracey . . .
Over the next three and a half months, I meet with Rachel four more times. At the beginning of each session, I ask whether she would like her mum, Janine, to be in the playroom with us and she says she would.
Rachel seems happier. She again plays with the dolls and consoles them when they are hungry. The three of us talk together about what life was like when Grandma Tracey was well. I encourage Janine to fill in the gaps in Rachel’s memories and to share her own experience of Grandma Tracey as a mother. It’s abundantly clear that Janine needs this space, not just to talk but also to show her feelings to her daughter. When she gets upset, I notice an immediate stiffening in Rachel who drops what she is doing and runs to console her mum. I want Janine to show her feelings but also to reassure her daughter that she is not falling apart while she does this; that being sad needn’t be dangerous or threatening. With difficulty, Janine holds herself together and says to Rachel that she needn’t worry about the tears, they’re normal, she’s still her mum and is OK. This happens several times over the four sessions but I notice a growing confidence and emotional fluency develop in both of them. Janine seems more confident as a mother and Rachel can be a little girl.
In all of this, we continue to remember Tracey. Mother and daughter laugh together, remembering happy family holidays in the caravan and share sad moments as details of Tracey’s illness emerge and we talk about the funeral. We decorate a photo frame, make a salt jar of memories of Tracey and make a birthday card to put on her grave. Sometimes Rachel plays and Janine and I talk; sometimes I observe Rachel’s play and wonder with her about what is going on in the play.
In the penultimate session, I ask about Danny, Rachel’s dad. What has happened there? Janine tells me that he was staying at his sister’s because ‘he couldn’t cope with all the grief.’ It turns out that he also experienced a much-loved grandma dying when he was a child, and, as Janine says, ‘It hit him like a ton of bricks, he just hadn’t dealt with it at all.’ However, Danny is missing his family and Janine is confident he will move back soon.
Meanwhile at school, things are looking better too. Rachel is having some individual sessions with a mentor and her behaviour and grades have improved. Janine has attended the monthly support group and found it helpful and I tell them both about Candle’s annual Children’s Day for eight to 12-year-olds, which is coming up soon. Both agree they would like to come.
Our six sessions feel just about right; a lot has changed for both Rachel and her mum. They can communicate and show feelings better. Both feel more confident in their respective roles. They leave, still grieving Tracey but better able to bear the feelings and adjust to the changes that have ensued. We all look forward to catching up in a couple of months’ time at Children’s Day.
Read the earlier posts about Rachel’s Story, and other posts from Romania and Greece in this series on the EAPC Blog.
St Christopher’s is organizing a Moonlight Walk on 8 October 2016 to raise funds for the ‘family bereavement services’ (ie the adult bereavement service and Candle). More information here.