Children's Hospice Week: This is...Dianne's personal story about how we supported her family when she became a parent to her grandchildren.
“As a family, we know that ellenor’s support will be there for the boys for as long as they need it”
When their beloved daughter, Kerrie, died from breast cancer at the age of 36 in September 2017, Dianne and her husband George didn’t just have to find a path through their own grief – they had to help Kerrie’s young sons cope with theirs, too. Throughout the process, we were there to support the family, both practically and emotionally.
The family’s relationship with ellenor began as soon as Kerrie – separated with sons Charlie and Dylan then aged 11 and 5½ respectively - knew her situation was terminal. Recalls Dianne, “Kerrie would come to the Dartford Centre for everything from counselling and financial-planning advice, which was really helpful in enabling her to get her affairs sorted and feel she had some sort of control and Northfleet for alternative relaxation treatments, like massages.”
Although Kerrie had originally thought about transferring to ellenor’s hospice when the time was right, in the end – after treatment at Darent Valley Hospital - she decided she wanted to die at her parents’ home, with her family close to hand. “The care was ongoing,” says Dianne. “Ellenor’s nurses came in to look after Kerrie at home when we needed them to, day or night. It was a massive relief to know they were there and the peace of mind, plus the fact that we were able to sleep, meant we were able to regain some of our own strength.”
It wasn’t just about practical support – it was about emotional back-up, too.
“A lot of Kerrie’s anxiousness was about what was going to happen afterwards, to her boys and to us,” says Dianne, “And to have that reassurance from ellenor that they’d support us once she’d gone for as long as we needed them.
The boys’ father is still very much on the scene, but the whole family was in agreement that Dianne and her husband should bring the boys up – as Kerrie had wished – upon Kerrie’s death. “We’ve always been a second home for the boys, so it made sense to give them that stability. It’s tiring at times, the house is messier these days, but this is what Kerrie wanted and we wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Dianne. It’s undoubtedly a challenging situation, though:
“The hardest thing is having to wear two different hats: sometimes, we’re the grandparents who like to spoil the boys, but we also must remember we have a parental role too.We’re trying to bring the boys up in the same way we brought up our own children. It’s not always easy, but they are a joy to us.”
Of particular support in helping the boys to cope with their mother’s death has been GEMS [‘Grief – Every Memory is Special], the group that ellenor organises for children. “The boys get to chat openly and to spend time with children in similar positions to their own, all with the support of trained counsellors – everyone there really understands what they’re going through. It reassures me that they’re part of something that’s helping to keep them mentally healthy, helping them to express what they’re feeling. Dylan, who, as the younger of our boys, had less time with Kerrie, has also had some play therapy to help him process his emotion, and that’s been really helpful too.”
Dianne and her husband keep Kerrie’s memory alive with the boys by talking about her, looking at photos and discussing happy memories all the time. They are also keen not only to fundraise in Kerrie’s memory for ellenor, but to spread the word that ellenor supports entire families – with services that are ongoing, even once a beloved relative has died. Says Dianne, “We’d urge anyone going through what we’re going through to embrace ellenor’s support – it’s offered so much in helping us to cope both physically and mentally with death. ellenor is there when you are at your lowest and when you need it most. It’s given Charlie and Dylan support, friendship and the warmest of welcomes. When they go to GEMS at ellenor they are remembered, Kerrie is remembered – and knowing that they haven’t been forgotten is a real help to them. As a family, we know that ellenor’s support will be there for the boys for as long as they need it.”
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