This week is Children’s Grief Awareness week, a week founded by childhood bereavement charity Grief Encounter and is designed to raise awareness of bereaved children and young people in the UK.
As you all know I was bereaved at 15, which is very young to lose a parent but did you know 1 child in every UK classroom under the age of 16 has been bereaved of a parent or sibling?
I felt very alone at that time because I didn’t know many people my age that had lost a parent, my friends around me didn’t know what to say because why would they? I wouldn’t have known what to say if it was the other way round. This is why I feel it is so important to get death, grief and bereavement spoken about to and around children and teens. To raise awareness so friends and family feel they can support them and so bereaved children don’t feel so confused and alone.
So, this post is firstly to keep spreading the word and raise awareness for a wonderful charity Grief Encounter and to add to my mission about getting grief spoken about in a more open and less awkward way.
Let me introduce you to my niece Lily, she is only 4 years old and has sadly never got to meet her Nan (my mum) or her Grandad (her dads dad). However, my sister has always taken her to the graves ‘nanny and grandads gardens’ as she knows it. So, from a young age she has seen photos, she has heard us talk about them and she has visited their graves, it was only in the last year that lily has started asking my sister questions.
‘Who is your mum’
‘Why is your mum in the sky’
‘Why is your mum dead’
‘Why do we go to nanny and grandads’ gardens’
When these questions first started my sister didn’t know how to answer and that is because as a society we don’t talk about death, we feel not talking about the dead protects children. However, I now feel this can do more damage than good.
Not answering a child’s questions can leave them confused, if we as adults find it hard to talk about the dead and grief then how can we expect children to?
My sister approached me with the questions lily was asking, time I was starting this blog so I have taken time to do some reading and research on how best it is to explain to a child. From this point I have made a conscious effort to talk to lily about mum and answer her questions as honestly as we can, we make sure she see photos and hears stories of her nan because her nan would have been so proud of the little girl she is, her laugh comes from my mum as well which is rather comforting at times. I think it is important for lily to understand that not everyone lives forever and people can get sick and die, there can be an accident and someone be taken from her.
Raising awareness around grief and death to children will teach them to think of others and be grateful for who they have in their life. There’s only so many times in school that children are talking about what they done for mothers/Father’s Day or what they brought there sibling for there birthday, to a child that has lost. That child may not know how to respond, so if I can make lily aware that some of her friends may not have mums/dads/brother/sisters then she will be able to understand and be a friendly face and that’s all I want from her, not to allow any of her friends to feel alone.
Let me take you back 20 years, I was 5 and my cousin Sadie only 4 years old. We were back round my nan and grandads house, after being flown round to a family friends while our parents went to the hospital to see my grandad. I remember we was all sat round and our parents must of broke the news to us (I can’t remember clearly how but anyway). Lauren and Danielle were a little older so they were upset straight away and then I soon started crying all while Sadie carried on collecting mars bars from the fridge. She returned from the kitchen and saw me crying when she said ‘why are you all crying for his only gone to sleep.’
So, this sparks a question why do we shy away from telling children that when someone dies, they don’t come back? Instead as a society it has become normal to tell them ‘His gone to sleep’ ‘Nanny’s gone on a long holiday’ or somewhat similar.
My personal opinion is because we worry about upsetting them but I feel confusing them can upset them a lot more. What if there still thinking that person is going to return one day and months go by and they are left confused and abandoned because we as adults was to scared or worried to explain to them that when someone dies, they don’t come back.
So, to answer the title of this blog I feel we should stop shying away from talking about death to children because they might frankly prefer to know, however sad it can be. I feel leaving a child confused and with questions in their own mind can do more damage. Talking about death can help them feel supported, they will feel more comfortable to ask more questions, they may have fears around the subject, they may want to know how to support a friend. Death is an inventible part of life and the more we talk about it the less awkward the conversation around it will be.
For anyone that wants to discuss anything in this post my email is always open but I am not a professional so for anyone that knows of any children or young people struggling to deal with grief or if you yourself as an adult need advice on supporting a child please guide them to the following charity’s: Grief Encounter, Child Bereavement UK, Childhood Bereavement Network, Winston’s Wish and Cruse Bereavement Care.