I felt a duty to write this blog after attending the funeral of the six week old child of one of my friends, #Heartbreaking. It’s incredibly difficult and very soul-searching to mourn one so young. I felt a need to put together some helpful strategies that, although will not ease the pain (can anything ease that type of pain?), will make coping slightly easier. If your “Family Team” is experiencing anything very difficult like this please remind yourselves that you are strong (stronger than you may feel you are) and you will find a way to cope; this is what I want this blog to provide.
I have to be honest and say that I initially had no clue about what on Earth I could say; I just knew I had to write something. The brain is a very amazing organ and throughout the funeral and the days following certain things started to come to me without having looked anything up. The first thing that I started to think was that it’s not just the pain of losing a child, however old they are, it could also be the pain of losing a mother/wife, or father/husband. Young child really struggle with the loss of a parent because they’re at a stage where they really need their parents. Plus, for the parent who is left to cope on their own this can be very difficult, particularly if parenting is something you don’t feel naturally adept too; this may be the case if you are the main bread-winner.
I did extensive research for this blog as I wanted to really do my best for all “Family Teams” feeling the heartache of loss and bereavement. I did have a few initial ideas about what I could write about, and after doing my research I realised this blog would be a lot longer than I had initially perceived. The reason I decided to include everything that I have is because everyone who this is relevant for will have a different situation and I want to make things as easy for you as possible so you can see what charities/ websites/ books/ strategies will suit your individual situation the best so you are not having to do the same extensive research that I did that would probably only bring about a whole manor of different feelings. I have done separate sub-headings to make it easier to see which section is most relevant for you and all the books are in bold and I have told you the important information about each book and website/ charity so you can immediately know whether it’s right for you.
I’ll start with my own initial ideas, so you can see the journey I went on whilst writing this blog, and then I’ll list the charities, websites and books and conclude with a short summary at the end.
I found losing my Grandad during my early twenties difficult and that is more of an expected loss. He was the only Grandparent I knew and so charismatic – like Winston Churchill – he was like four Grandparents in one. I can definitely see parts of his personality in me (the best bits of course!), which I find a helpful coping strategy in itself, because it’s seeing how parts of him, through genetics, are alive in me.
The first thing I thought of when thinking about what I would write in this blog was a story I learnt in a “Buddhism lecture” where a woman was distressed about the death of her baby so she speaks to a “wises old man” and asks his advice. He tells her to bring him one grain of rice from every family who has never lost anyone. Well of course she doesn’t bring him back any grains of rice because everyone has lost someone. She also realises on her journey that talking about her feelings and sharing in grief with others, listening to what they have to say and how they coped had enable her to deal with her own loss more effectively. I want this blog to be for everyone of every culture so I felt it necessary to include this story.
There were two coping strategy ideas I came up with. The first was to create a shrine in the memory of the loved one lost. I would suggest if it was a parent that you have the shrine in a communal room that everyone uses to physically show the child/ children involved that their parent was loved and will be openly remembered even if there came a time that you find new love (if you’re fairly young you may well do several years on). If it’s a child then perhaps the child’s bedroom is a good place for the shrine as you may want to grieve more privately – anywhere, as long as it works for you. A shrine doesn’t need to be elaborate if you’re uncomfortable with that. Just something with a few photographs of the loved one, may be one, or two items that were special to them, any notes or pictures they did for you (NB this could be in a drawer if you chose a table with a drawer section for the shrine) and a candle, or two to light in their memory (remember fire safety and put the matches somewhere out of reach of children) every time you chose to go an remember them.
This is a physical way of keeping the memory of your loved one alive, plus it gives you a special designated area in the house where you can go and positively remember them either by yourself, or with other family members. You can also use the whole family’s creativity when “designing the shrine”. This would be another way to help family members positively deal with all the emotions that grief bring about because it provides a positive focus to channel your energy.
Winston’s Wish Young Ambassador Liv Kyte, who lost her mother to cancer in 2007 puts forward that in addition to spending time and talking about happy memories with family, especially on days like mother’s day, that they also have a memory box full memorabilia such as old cards etc. to help the memories live on. You can even add a mother’s, or father’s day card each year post losing them to the memory box and write in it things you’d want to tell them. I think this compliments the idea of a shrine very well as you could keep a memory box with the shrine and really make remembering your loved one very active and visual, thus it will feel extra special every time. One thing that also came to mind here was it would be a lovely idea to make a memory box look like a treasure chest to symbolise that there are treasured memories inside.
The second idea that I came up with is to set up a charity relating to the disease, condition, or circumstance that you have lost your loved one to in their memory. This is a way to simultaneously remember them whilst helping other people in the same situation. This would especially help any children involved as children enjoy helping other people. It helps them to feel valued and needed and provides a sense of purpose (isn’t that what we’re all looking for?). This is what Bob and Megs Wilson did in 1999 when their daughter Anna died of a progressive form of cancer. They set up the Willow Foundation in her memory to help bring quality of life (fitting with Anna’s own philosophy) in the form of special days out for young people between the ages of 16 and 40 with serious illnesses. So they have created a positive way in that Anna’s memory can actively live on, whilst helping other people in the process. To me this demonstrates how something good can come from something sad and that someone only really dies when all memory of them is lost. So keep the memory of your loved one dancing on in your heart. As Charlie Chaplin puts it; “A day without a smile is a day wasted.”
If you don’t feeling setting up a charity is right for you why not do something special every year to raise money for an existing charity? The obvious choice being one relevant to the circumstance in which your loved one died.
Anyone feeling the pain of bereavement right now please know that support is at hand; please get in touch if you’re really struggling to cope, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interestingly during the writing of this blog my Mum was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. It was revealed that the tumour was at the level, TX. This means that it was at the very beginning stages and hadn’t even progressed to a T1 yet, (secondary tumours are called T2’s etc.). Lovely as she is my Mum is the biggest worrier you’ll ever meet (and not the type with a sword and shield). My sister worries too and my Dad takes everything internally which cannot be good for his health. Thankfully I’m an optimist and have done my best to support my Mum and show her everything from a positive perspective. I even created some positive affirmations complete with illustrations and put them in her bedroom telling her to say them every day to remind her that she is strong and to keep a positive outlook.
It’s the people with the positive outlook who focus on every reason they have to live that survive/ live the longest. My Mum has been told by the leading surgeons at the #Churchill Hospital in Oxford that they are “going for cure”, so I feel she is very lucky. I created a positive way to view the situation as I didn’t want to give any attention or energy, to the “C” word, (where attention goes, energy flows – it’s worth remembering that). Have you ever seen any of the Terminator films? Well in Terminator 3 the “Bad Terminator” is called a TX! So I view it that my Mum has a TX and the surgeon, the T100 (that would make him Arnold Schwarzenegger!!) will “blast” it away; “hasta la vista, baby”!! – A note here; nothing is silly if it helps you to remain positive. I will support my Mum whole-heartedly throughout everything. If, by sharing this with you it help just one other person to have a more positive experience of what they’re going through then I’ve done my job.
These were all my personal thoughts about what to write before my research. I have included “Bereavement Poetry” first as I think it follows on well. Then I have listed the charities, support groups, websites and books all under clear headings so it’s very easy to go straight to the section that is relevant for you.
Poetry can be a lovely way of putting your feelings into words, then having a good cry and realising that it’s okay to do so. When looking for bereavement poetry online I found a couple of good websites such as, www.muchloved.com however, I would say that the best results here were from “images for bereavement poems”. A broad selection of very moving poems framed with beautiful illustrations. One that stood out to me as simple, yet lovely for children is:
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,
Are you Who I Think you are?
Up Above the World you fly,
Watching Me as Night goes by.
I Feel you Close though you’re afar,
Twinkling Bright – My Angel Star.
Written by Mary Jac.
Naturally most of the websites that I found after doing a simple Google search are based in England. I really want to reach out to everyone feeling at a loss from bereavement so please read on as I’m sure they’ll be something you can utilise. Just a helpful note; I simply typed into the search engine; bereavement websites, bereavement charities, bereavement support, bereavement poetry and bereavement books. – A wealth of information was at my fingertips – although it looks as if I’ve included a lot I have only selected what looked like the best – that took me long enough!
Bereavement Charity; Winston’s Wish:
www.winstonswish.org.uk/ This is put forward as being the leading charity for bereaved children. Four of the books I found are sponsored by this charity. It has support and advice for every type of family bereavement. If you’re in doubt about what site would provide the best for you I would recommend you going straight to this site.
One of the reasons this blog is much longer than originally perceived is because upon visiting this website I realised exactly how many different circumstances there are that put families in a situation of bereavement. I really wanted to write this blog for everyone so no one feels upon reading it; “there’s nothing here that can help me”. Winston’s Wishes provides support for families bereaved through every type of circumstance. In addition to the types of situations we may initially consider such as a parent, or sibling with a terminal illness; Winston’s Wishes also provides support for families bereaved through Suicide, Homicide and Bereaved Children of Military Families.
A Note on Suicide: Winston’s Wish is a member of the Suicide Bereavement Support Partnership who’s vision is to ensure that families bereaved through suicide have access to appropriate support services. Families bereaved through suicide have described it as, “grief with the volume turned up”. As in addition to dealing with the loss you also have to deal with the circumstance and all the questions and feeling that it evokes. Please do not despair; as there is help at hand from trained professionals who can provide both emotional and practical support for you. I would also like to say that anyone feeling a level of despair to the point you are considering suicide; please pause, and get in touch, email@example.com If you can’t talk yourself out of how you’re feeling, please allow me, or someone else too. You’re so much better than what your present “state” is telling you that you are and there are many people who do care. One such person is my mutual Twitter Follower, @AgainstSuicide. She is a young girl, Carrie, (about 20 now) with wisdom beyond her years. She would definitely want to help you.
A Note on Homicide: Bereavement by homicide also has the added trauma of how a loved one died and the questions and feelings it evokes in addition to the loss. There is also any media coverage of the painful circumstance to deal with too. Sadly you are not alone as government figures suggest that a family is bereaved through homicide every day. A booklet entitled, Hope Beyond the Headlines provides useful information, advice and practical ideas to help you move forward and remember the person’s life rather than the way they died.
Part of the support given to families in this situation is advice about how to tell children about the circumstance in which the loved-one died. Parents find this the hardest part; so please know that professional help is at hand to sensitively enable you to appropriately explain this to a child.
A Note on Military Bereavement: Help from people who “understand the context of military life” and are thus able to support the families through all the complexities surrounding the circumstance that only someone with military understanding would be aware of. The support also includes help with explaining a military death to children in a sensitive and appropriate way.
Other military bereavement support is available from Help for Heroes and Scotty’s Little Soldier; both of whom are collaboration with Winston’s Wish. All aim to enable you to move forwards positively and help you find the means to achieve this. Winston’s Wish is also a member of Cobseo, the Confederation of Services Charities that aims to represent and promote the interests of the Armed Forces Communities.
Other Fantastic Bereavement Charities With More Focused Support:
www.bliss.org.uk/ This is put forward as being the leading special care baby charity. As it suggests it’s specifically for babies born premature, or sick.
www.lilymaefoundation.org/ This site is aimed at helping parents and families after a still birth, or neonatal death.
www.rainbowtrust.org.uk/ This is put forward as being the leading organisation for providing both practical and emotional support for families who have a child with a life-threatening, or terminal illness. From reading a lot of the information on their website, in addition to terminal illnesses, they provide support for families where a child has be born with a life-threatening condition and needs to have regular hospital visits and assessments etc. They have many extremely grateful testimonials from families who have utilised their help and support.
www.macmillian.org.uk As most of you reading this will know, this is one of the UK’s most esteemed cancer supporting charity that I know provides excellent, unconditional support both during and after to families who are experiencing someone going through cancer.
www.freshwinds.org.uk/ This is aimed at providing support for families and children living with life-threatening and life-limiting illnesses. Plus they also support people from “socially excluded backgrounds” and provide a range of services including; “the provision of integrated complementary therapy, advocacy, employment advice, debt counselling and community based initiatives on HIV, substance misuse and crime.” They aimed to provide a person-centred, fully integrated model of care. Their motto is very encouraging; “Solutions Enable Hope”.
As you can see there’s a wealth of charities (but to name a few) that all cater for different types of bereavement. If you’re in any doubt I would recommend that you go straight to Winston’s Wish as I was very impressed with the diverse and extensive amount of support that they provide. Also, if you want a charity that deals with other specific illnesses/ conditions such as children born with heart conditions just type this into Google and you’re certain to get a wealth of results.
Online Support Groups and Affordable Bereavement Counselling Websites:
In my online research I also found several websites that put themselves forward as being affordable online counselling. If you’re really struggling to cope it is definitely worth at least checking them out:
www.facingthefuturegroups.org/ This organisation was developed by the Samaritans and Cruse Bereavement Care and is specifically for people bereaved by suicide. I will touch more on this latter as a few facts came up whilst doing my research that I feel are important to share. I would also like to put forward here that if you have been bereaved by suicide I would really encourage you to seek support – you are not alone.
www.betterhelp.com/ This was founded by someone experiencing what he refers to as “one of life’s challenges” and it is aimed at providing anyone experiencing a “tough situation” (whatever it may be) with easy, discreet and affordable access to professional licenced help. They value human-to-human contact and have over 2000 councillors on their data-base. There is also an App for easy access.
It is also worth noting here that in addition to bereavement they provide counselling for stress/ anxiety, depression addiction, eating/sleeping disorders, trauma, self-esteem, anger, family conflicts and much more. Families work best as a “Team”, so if your family is finding this difficult at present then it’s definitely worth knowing that help is at hand. Alon Matas, the founder of this site is aware of the stigma that can be attached to these types of family situations, hence why help with discretion is a priority.
www.childbereavementuk.org/ This is aimed at supporting families, plus educating professionals when a baby, or child of any age dies, or is dying, plus for when a child is facing bereavement.
www.prioritygroup.com/bereavement This is a UK based organisation designed to give immediate support from a “medical professional” and “expert in bereavement”. The contact number provided for bereavement is: 0808 256 5972. They are also the leading organisation for dealing with behavioural care that they split into four categories; healthcare, education, children’s services, and adult/older people’s services. They help over 30,000 people every year.
Books Sponsored by the Charity Winston’s Wish:
A Child’s Grief – Designed to be a Helpful Tool for Adults who are Supporting Children through Bereavement – by Di Stubbs, Julie Stokes and Katrina Alilovic. This book is designed to help answer the many questions young children have when going through bereavement. It has been described on Amazon as a good book with lots of useful advice.
Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine: Your Activity Book to Help when Someone has Died – by Diana Crossley. This book has mainly good reviews (the “poor” review was due to waiting-time for Amazon to send it) and is specifically designed to be an activity book for young children to express their feelings. One Amazon review puts forward how she bought the book for three different families and they all thought it was wonderful and the children ranged from aged 2-9 years. What I personally like about the title is that sometimes through bereavement you feel completely at a loss and in a muddle, sometimes you cry to the point you feel you’re creating puddles everywhere and other times you just want to be happy; so it describes feelings of bereavement very well just in the title.
As Big as it Gets: Supporting A Child when a Parent is Seriously ill – by Julie A. Stokes, Diana Crossley and Di Stubbs. This book was written to help families support children who have a seriously ill parent. Therefore if your family is having to cope with this I would encourage you to get this book as it provides specific support for the stages of a parent being seriously ill. This will obviously affect any children, and you want to make things as easy for everyone as possible. This book has great Amazon reviews and has been described as having a number of good ideas.
You Just Don’t Understand; Supporting a Teenager Through Grief – by Helen Mackinnan. All the Amazon reviews on this book are very good. It’s specifically for teenagers as oppose to young children, so if you have a teenager experiencing grief this would be a great tool for you. The main challenge according to the author is working out what is happening due to developmental changes and what is happening due to grief. In addition to being put forward as an excellent resource, this book has been described as very clear and written with real people in mind – exactly what you need for teenagers who would see through anything wishy-washy.
Beyond the Rough Rock: Supporting a Child who has been Through Suicide – by Di Stubbs and Julie Stokes. This book has some good reviews on Amazon and has been described as an excellent resource that is simple and straight-forward to use. The mother of an eight year old whose father committed suicide put forward; “the way it answers questions we have asked is such a relief as we were dreading this conversation.”
Other Books For Children on Bereavement:
I Miss You – A First Look at Death – by Pat Thomas. Pat Thomas is a trained Psychotherapist and Journalist, plus she’s also a parent. She has written a section on how best to use the book with children. The reviews on Amazon for this book are mainly very good; it’s put forward as being “child-friendly” with “soothing water-coloured illustrations. One point made is that it has a “religious idea” (indicating a Christian idea) about a person’s soul going to Heaven after death; this is the main point to consider when deciding whether this book is right for you.
Are You Sad Little Bear – A Book About Learning to say Goodbye – by Rachel Rivett. This book had a couple of very good reviews on goodreaders.com. It is “warm” and “soothing” with some “great comparisons”. It focuses on the death of “little bear’s grandmother”, so may not be the ideal choice if it’s a parent, or sibling who has died.
When Dinosaurs Dies – A Guide to Understanding Death – by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown. The first appeal about this book is that most children (especially boys) love dinosaurs; so you “won” their attention already just with that! This book had very good Amazon reviews, putting forward that it is “comprehensive, yet subtle”, with even a touch of humour (young children do need this; it can’t be all about doom and gloom). Also, without “beating around the bush” it covers everything from various different reasons people die, actually what death is and the feeling if grief it brings about and also what “logistically happens with funerals”. One of the reviews was from a student who was taught on her university course to use this book as means of teaching death to young children. She praises it heavily.
Badgers Parting Gift – by Susan Vailey. The reason I picked this is because it was the book that my Montessori Lecturer used as her nursery if she ever needed to talk about death to a child. This book has had 127 “5 star” reviews on Amazon. It is described as beautifully and sensitively written with content that could “help people of all ages – not just children”. A couple of the reviews are from adults who have put forward that as a children they were read this book and it helped them enormously and they have very fond memories of reading it. What I would say is that the character “Badger” was very old and knew he would die soon and he tries to prepare his friends. If it’s a younger person, who has died, especially if the death was unexpected then a different book may be more appropriate. Saying that, one of the reviews mentioned it was extremely helpful when an eight year old’s best friend died.
Tell Me About Heaven Grandpa Rabbit – A Book to Help Children come to terms with Losing Someone Special – by Jenny Alburn. This book was the winner of the 2015 Gold Prima Baby Awards for best Children’s Book. It has extremely good reviews on Amazon and seems to go down particularly well with girls. It’s been described as “sensitive and straight-forward” and sets the right tone for children. One review even puts forward that it helped her child “visualise” and thus “come to terms” with death. Visualisation is an important means to understanding pretty much anything.
Always and Forever – by Alan Durant. This book was short-listed for the Kate Greenaway Awards a few years ago. It has good reviews and has been described as a great resource for if a loved one has died. The character who dies in this book is “like a father figure”, which is a helpful comparison if a child has lost a parent. One review puts forward how it seemed a great book for boys and her son, who was “fed up with books about feelings” really loved this book. She then goes on to say that it deals with everything with mentioning anything directly.
When Someone has a Very Serious Illness; Children Can Learn to Cope with Loss and Change (Drawing Out Feelings) – by Marge Eaton Heegaard. This book is designed to help communicate and evaluate a child’s understanding and feelings about family change whilst teaching basic concepts of illness and healthy coping strategies. It has very good review on Amazon and there is apparently space for children to draw their own pictures, or write down their feelings (whichever they’d prefer) which a number of parents felt was very helpful. This book would probably be best suited for children aged 6 -12.
When Someone Very Special Dies; Children Can Learn to Cope with Greif (Drawing Out Feelings) – by Marge Heegaard. This book has been designed for young readers to illustrate, because people express their emotions differently. For example, through art, poetry, music; the reader is encourage to write down and discover the best ways they express their emotions. This book is designed to follow on from the above book written by the same author. It has equally good reviews on Amazon and is aimed at the same age-group (6-12). There is also space for children to draw/ write their thoughts that a lot of parents put forward is particularly helpful.
What Does Dead Mean? – A Book For Young Children to Help Explain Death and Dying – by Caroline Jay, and Jenni Thomas. This book is aimed at guiding children gently through the 17 most common questions that they often ask about death. This book has very good Amazon reviews including one from a Hospice Councillor who has found it helpful when answering children’s questions about death.
The Secret C: Straight Talking About Cancer. – When someone you love has cancer, this book provides a good guide and is useful tool for helping a family, especially the children, to cope. The forward to this book was written by HRH The Prince of Wales and it has some lovely reviews on Amazon. It has been described as approaching the subject simply with clarity and sympathy that is definitely what you need on this subject. It will help you explain all the treatments a person goes through more easily. Plus, one review puts forward that it helped her and her son realise the little things they did that would have made a real difference to her partner who died from cancer. This is extremely important to know that you were able to make a real difference and provide true comfort to a loved one experiencing something like cancer. The reviews also suggest that this book is better for children aged 6-12. However one person put forward that a great way of using it with younger children is to let them look at the pictures and uses your own words to speak to them about what’s happening (the words in the book can help you here – just simplify them).
When Someone You Love has Cancer: A Guide to Helping Kids Cope – by Alaric Lewis with contributions from R.W. Alley. This book has several very good reviews and it would appear to be a better book for 8/9-14/15 year olds as opposed to younger children. One review states how her two older children, 11 and 13 years old, preferred to actually quietly read the book themselves as opposed to asking her questions – it part of an “Elf-Help” series, so it is designed for this very purpose. The illustrations have been heavily praised, so as with The Secret C, if you did want to use this book with young children you could use the illustrations as a guide whilst discussing what’s happening in your own words. One final point to make is that it does make a connection between cancer and smoking; so I would encourage you to decide whether this is appropriate for your individual circumstance.
NB I would just like to say a little something about the Elf-Help series here; if you go to www.elfhelp.com/ you will find Elf-Help books for both children and adults on many different topics. They have beautiful illustrations and cover topics such as helping children understand anger, forgiveness therapy and bereavement. If you are feeling at a loss with a child who’s going through something you’re struggling to help them with, this could be a great first (positive) step to take.
This is an Adult Book, because it’s important that you feel theirs is something for you too: You Can Heal Your Heart – Finding Peace After a Break-up Divorce, or Death. Written by Louise L. Hay and David Kessler. David Kessler is put forward as being one of the World’s foremost experts on grief and has created powerful coping strategies. He also has a website: www.grief.com – because love never dies. On his website you can find the five stages of grief, (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance) and his “Healing Grief” Card Deck – 55 Practices to Find Peace.
One important factor that I feel I must make note of for you here is that more than one of the charities/ website’s highlighted the importance of elaborating exactly what you mean to children when explain things to them. Children are very literal, especially very young children. There has apparently been more than one incident where the families were unaware of the need to elaborate more and the child/ children involved became confused and upset when told about choosing a “headstone for the grave.” In turned out that they thought their loved one’s head would be put on the grave; we talk about “burying the body”, so this is an understandable misconception that a child would have. So please remember to elaborate exactly what you mean to eliminate even the smallest probability of any misinterpretation.
I had to include all the different forms of bereavement so no one is left feeling as if there is no existing support for them. Until I did my research I hadn’t quite considered all the different ways that people are bereaved.
As you can see there is a whole host of existing support that comes in many different formats, so you can choose the one that works best for your needs. It’s also worth drawing attention to the fact that everyone is different and therefore has different ways of dealing with grief. This could mean that more than one book, or more than one website is right for you – go for it if it’s helping. It may also mean that different “activities” work best for different people. For people who don’t like talking about things, drawing and creativity may be a better way for them to express their emotions. Other people may find a form of exercise like dance helps get them through their difficult emotions.
One thing that helped me at the funeral of the six week old child is the though; “what would he do with/ how would he use (when older) today?” This to me demonstrates how each day is a blessing to be used with wisdom. It also occurred to me at the funeral that “living on, is not moving on; it’s learning to live life whilst the memory of your love one dances on in your heart.” – Can you see the difference? As it suggests, you may not be able to hold them in your arms, but you can always hold them in your heart.
I once wrote in a sympathy card:
“I may not know what to say, I just want you to know I’m here;
I can be a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear.”
So please, if you’re feeling desperate for someone to talk to, do get in touch; firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll tell you now that I probably won’t know exactly what to say; that doesn’t matter, no one does in this type of situation. I can listen to anything you need to say and sometimes, that’s all that’s needed. There are people, including me who understand/ want to understand and help you.
To get in touch please use the above email, or find me on Twitter/ Instagram @FamilyTeamCoach, or LinkedIn/ Facebook at, Paula-Elizabeth Jordan, thank-you for your time.