As we move into Children’s Hospice Week - the only weekin the year dedicated to raising awareness and funds for the 49,000children across theUKliving with life-limiting conditions, and the lifeline services that support them - we look at the vital work ellenor does in supporting young people through the trauma of bereavement. Here, Laura tells her story.
“You never know what’s going to come your way – but there are certainly some situations you don’t imagine you’ll have to face as a teen. One minute I was your usual fifteen years old – friends, family, studying and having a great time with friends; then the rug was pulled from under my feet. Within the space of two years I’d lost three incredibly important people in my life – first and foremost my mum. I’m really not sure I’d have got through the turmoil and bewilderment of grief if it hadn’t been for ellenor’s ongoing help, which is why I’m so keen to make sure people know just how important hospice-care support is for young people facing bereavement at such a key stage in their lives.
ellenor looked after my mum when she was dying and I’ll never forget the care they gave her and me, as her then-teenage daughter. Towards the end, one of her carers said to us, ‘Rather than focusing on what’s to come, let’s help you as a family use the time that you have together as fully as possible’ – words that really helped me shift my mindset.
On a practical level, my mum was determined to stay as independent as possible, but when she was in the hospice, I was able to stay in the relatives’ room upstairs – something that was really helpful as I didn’t live nearby. I saw first-hand how safe my mum felt at the hospice, where the staff were able to alleviate her pain and anxiety round the clock, and give her much-needed morale boosts, too. My mum was always very glamorous, so having her nails painted by the healthcare assistants, for instance, was something she really appreciated. Staff went the extra mile and made her know how important she was.
“After mum died, my dad and older brother went back to their jobs, but I felt without a role. Even though I was just a teenager, I’d been supporting her in so many ways and that had gone. I had to find a way to fill my days. First, I got a job with ellenor in the Darenth Valley hospital shop, then I did the charity’s ‘Explore a Career in Care’ course – an 8-week placement aimed at 17-19-year olds, where you work alongside patients, nurses and healthcare assistants. This proved to be a turning point.
“The carer’s course helped me confront a lot of issues around my mum’s death – and that of my grandfather who’d died while mother was ill, leaving me with a double dose of grief to deal with. What I learned was that you can’t support other people in coping with their feelings if you’re unable to cope with your own. We heard in training that almost 80% of ellenor staff have lost someone or are grieving - we’re ‘wounded healers. Grief is incredibly lonely, and at times I felt very isolated. Yes, I have my dad and brother – but we were all dealing with our grief differently, and in many ways, as the only woman left in the family, I was expected to take over my mum’s role. Practically and emotionally, this was all very new to me. To be around people at ellenor – and particularly women - who understood what I was going through was so helpful. There was no need for explanation: the ellenor team just got it. They made it clear it was perfectly ok not to be ok.
“I completed the course with a better understanding of myself and what it takes to be a carer in a professional capacity. I was also able to explore from a different angle all the options that ellenor offers for young people in terms of bereavement counselling – from music, play and talking therapies to GEMS, ellenor’s group for bereaved children. Whatever your needs – and whatever form, as a child, your grief is or isn’t taking – ellenor has a whole range of services to help.
“I’m still deciding what I want to do ultimately with my career, but I’ve started my own blog www.webereave.co.uk where young people can discuss the impact of grief and find tools and resources to help them. Starting it has been part of an ongoing healing experience for me and I wanted to share what I’ve learned with others in similar situations and to flag up that they’re not on their own. I’ve tried to incorporate plenty of advice and useful tools, tool. For instance, there’s a ‘Let’s Talk’ section, where people can sign in and do just that – simply start a dialogue with other people.
“Not only have I lost my mum and my granddad but my uncle died shortly after we lost mum, too. I tried to rationalise and control my grief, but you can’t – you just have to go with whatever you’re feeling. Now I’d say to any young person, all you can do is give yourself time and as far as you can, surround yourself with the right people to support you. Losing a parent is traumatic enough when you’re an adult but if children and young people are to adapt and move forward, great support is essential, whether from family and friends or via professional services – ideally, all three.
ellenor is 100 per cent unique in the support it offers young people and, in its recognition, that family members need as much support as the patients themselves. They know that carers can be any sort of age and carry out any sort of role within a family – and that young carers need as much support as they can get. That’s why I ask anyone who finds my blog useful to donate to ellenor – that way, we can all keep supporting one another”.
Bereavement counselling is more important than ever for our families and we are continuing to deliver this service via telephone and video calls whilst it is not possible to meet face-to-face. We are providing counselling to families every day, supporting them with their grieving process and helping them to feel less alone.
£44 could help us to provide one session of virtual bereavement counselling.
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