Explaining the inexplicable: Third part of campaign to support child bereavement charity Nelson’s Journey
PUBLISHED: 08:26 12 December 2012
Child bereavement worker Lorna Vyse has helped children touched by death in every way from lingering illnesses to shocking accidents and even murder.
And she describes helping them on their life’s journey and sharing their most personal information as a “privilege”.
She said the starting point in moving forward was accepting that “when someone dies your life changes for ever”.
However, in some cases, that tough first step had become even more challenging due to today’s world of instant media coverage and social media sites. “Everything has become more magnified,” she said.
Lorna, 42, a volunteer with Nelson’s Journey before she joined its small team of dedicated full-timers two years ago, said her first task was often to convince adults that their instinctive reaction to shield children from death was not the best way.
She said: “There is a natural reluctance to give open and honest information about death.
“Typically, I will be told, ‘little Johnny wants to go to the funeral but I don’t think it is right’.
“That can even be the case before the person has died if they are in palliative care. They have not told the children – and the next thing is that person dies.”
She said children often did not understand what death meant and telling them that someone had gone to heaven or was a star looking down on them could be confusing – and in some cases frightening.
“Children sometimes think the person in the coffin can still see and hear them,” she said.
“We explain that children can be quite resilient and it is better to give them all the information and facts to help them move forward.”
Lorna said her job was to support children on their journey through grief – and it was difficult when a lost loved one had been such an integral part of their life.
“Someone comes to mind whose mum died when she was eight. She is still going to feel that when she is 18, 28 or 48,” she said.
“I try to help children talk about their lost loved one and remember them – to give them permission to freely open up.
“In the case of their dad dying, they might feel unable to talk to their mother about it for fear they will upset her.”
Lorna said that in the case of a sudden death, children often regretted that they had not had a chance to properly say goodbye.
She would suggest ways of children coming to terms with the death such as writing a goodbye letter and putting it in the coffin or visiting the loved one in the chapel of rest.
She said: “In our society, there is often an instinctive reaction not to let children see dead bodies. However, it can sometimes help them. Every case is different and even siblings can have different views about whether they want to go and see the loved one. Before they go, we explain exactly what they are going to see.”
Nelson’s Journey has produced a series of information leaflets to help bereaved children, covering everything from what to expect at an inquest, and what it is for, to how to cope with their emotions.
Lorna said: “Children can experience a wide range of emotions but anger is very common.”
One of their leaflets gives tips on anger management, from punching a pillow and scribbling on paper to writing down feelings in a diary and bursting a balloon.
Another gives stress buster advice from thinking positive and smiling to sharing a hug and eating healthily.
Nelson’s Journey also provides a memorial book which children can fill in with details about their lost loved one, answering such questions as: What were they good at? What did they do that made you laugh? What did they do that made you sad? If you could send your special person a message what would you say?
The festive period is a particularly difficult time and to help children cope with it, there is a leaflet on 12 ways to remember someone this Christmas.
Lorna said Nelson’s Journey’s residential weekends at Hilltop outdoor centre in Sheringham were uplifting in the way children were able to support each other.
She said: “There is a light bulb moment when they realise they are not alone. It is heartwarming. They probably find more support from each other than from us.
“They are complete strangers at the start of the weekend, but often go on to keep in touch with each other. For example, one group of teenage girls go out together in Norwich.”
She said children were sometimes cruelly bullied over the person who had died and coming together at a residential weekend helped them cope with that.
To help it further develop its service, Nelson’s Journey has set up a youth panel with 12 young people on it, some of whom have received support from the charity themselves.
Their input was helping them refine the information in their leaflets; the young people on the panel were also active in fund-raising and marketing.
Lorna said of her time with Nelson’s Journey: “No two days are the same and things come in on a daily basis which make us think about our role. Each case is an individual story.”