young

#YoureNotAlone

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Today is the beginning of Children’s Grief Awareness Week UK (16th-22nd November 2017) with the focus on acknowledging the painful impact the death of a loved one has on a child and giving an opportunity to make sure the children receive the support they need. #YoureNotAlone.

Bereaved Children Support York was created nearly exactly 18 months ago, for that reason. So that bereaved children could come together and realise they are not alone and that other children have experienced a similar loss. Our aim is to support children and their families living in the York area, so they are better able to cope with the impact of bereavement on their lives. We do this in 3 ways.

1. Monthly Peer support Drop-in sessions

This is how it all started, with toys, crafts and resources and an opportunity for bereaved children and families to come together in a relaxed and friendly environment knowing that everyone there has experienced something similar, because losing a significant person in your life, especially as a child, can be incredibly isolating.

This year we have moved to a bigger venue, with better facilities and more space for the children to play. Oh and it has an Xbox! This has definitely meant that the children are interacting much more and have been able to be more creative in their play.

2. Therapeutic Support

We are delighted that we are now able to offer one to one therapeutic support provided by experienced Bereavement Practitioners for those children who need it. Not every child who has been bereaved needs additional help outside their existing support network, but some do and we want to be able to offer this service. This is running as a pilot project initially to gauge demand, but we anticipate this will be high and the service will expand according. Anyone can refer a child, but we do ask that parental consent be obtained. (Please contact us at info.bcsy@gmail.com for more information).

3. Training

We also wanted to be able to offer training for schools on how to best support the bereaved children in their care. We know from the families we have met that some schools do a fantastic job in supporting their bereaved children, but others not so much. We hosted our first training day in October led by a great facilitator from Child Bereavement UK. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive so we are putting the finishing touches to a second training day to be held early next year. Children spend so much time at school and the normality and routine can really help those who are grieving, especially in the early days, but it is so important that schools realise the impact of grief and that it is an ongoing process. Not time limited. In fact often as a child reaches a new level of maturity they will experience their grief in a new way. It’s not all done and dusted after the funeral or once the first anniversary has passed.

It is all made possible because of some wonderful people and fundraisers

We are now an officially registered charity (no: 1171422) with Lisa and Yvonne joining the team as trustees and we have received some fantastic grants and donations from various organisations and individuals. Our initial grant was from the Ed de Nunzio Trust, which enabled us to establish the Bereavement Practitioner pilot project and host the first training day. Since then we have received generous donations from Ambiente, The Phil Curtis Annual Fun Day, Bel’s 10K, Sally and Wayne’s wedding gift and Kathryn’s dad as well as other individuals and the ’round pound’ collection! We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people and we are so very grateful. Thank you!

So what’s next?

We are planning to keep doing what we’re doing…but try and reach more bereaved children, young people and their families. We are starting to arrange get togethers for the adults and in the process of writing a new leaflet to distribute to schools, GP surgeries and other organisations outlining the support we offer. We will be running another training day for schools and also looking at ways to develop support more specifically aimed at teenagers and young people. We are also delighted to be the official charity partner for the mini and junior runs at the York 10K in August 2018.

These children and young people have all experienced the most devastating losses in their young lives. We can’t take the pain away, but if we can help them and their families find a way to feel better able to cope with their grief then we will have achieved our goal.

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Reflections

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Following on from the amazingly positive feedback I received from my first blog post, I am approaching my second attempt with some trepidation. It’s like that tricky second album after the debut one goes platinum!

So here goes! Please be gentle. 

Just as I hadn’t anticipated retiring from work at 28, neither had I expected to become a widow at 39! My husband sadly died of a heart attack in September 2013 aged 51.

I know it sounds a bit of a morbid topic, but hopefully it will give a bit of an insight into what it’s like when widowhood is thrust upon you, especially at a relatively young (!) age. These are a few of my reflections on those early days. 

I couldn’t make a decision

My husband died suddenly and I was in shock, getting by on not much sleep and quite a lot of adrenaline and caffeine and had the daunting task of organising a funeral for what turned out to be nearly 300 people. You only get one shot at getting it right and I wanted it to be so right, but in the midst of the shock and grief I seemed to lose the ability to make a decision! Which is a bit of a problem when there are so many decisions to be made! My dad suggested I try and make decisions in the mornings when I was less tired. It was good advice, so I tried to make sure I left decisions until the morning where possible.  Wise man, my dad. 

You’re so young

Everyone is always surprised I am a widow, even the funeral service providers. My amazing mum and dad came to stay in the early days after my hubby died and one or both of them would come to appointments with me. Whoever I met with always assumed it was my mum or dad they should be dealing with. The best example was when me and mum were called in for our appointment with the registrar early, while dad parked the car, and mum asked the receptionist if she could tell her husband where we were, when he arrived. There was a brief look of horror on her face as she assumed it was mum’s appointment, not mine! A reoccurring theme that people are always surprised by a young widow! I understand why, but it can lead to some difficult and sometimes upsetting conversations.

Have plenty of tissues 

I ended up with a box of tissues in every room of the house. The tears would come frequently and without warning. My son, who was 8 at the time, would bring me a box of tissues whenever the phone rang! Every time I opened a card with kind words in, read a nice email or a friend called, that would set me off! Or an overwhelming wave of sadness would just hit me. It’s so tiring! The grief. The tears. It was a milestone when I realised I’d got through a whole day without crying! It’s a perfectly ‘normal’ reaction, but exhausting. 

Get a good filing system

It’s boring and practical but the amount of paperwork that you have to deal with is immense! It is the strangest thing. You experience this hugely traumatic life event…the death if your husband, and then you are plunged into this world of registrars, funeral directors, cemeteries , death certificates and paperwork that you are completely unprepared for. Yet you’re kind of expected to know what to do. There are the endless phone calls to companies, financial institutions and government departments explaining over and over again what’s happened. It makes it much easier to deal with if you can keep it all in order. 

Beware the postie

In those very early days, the post would often bring beautiful cards, bouquets of flowers…and brown envelopes with windows! I dreaded those ones! One day a letter would say how much I would be getting and next day there would be another saying how much I owed them! The tax credit system is no more gentle to widows than anyone else! My particular favourite phone call to the tax office was when I rang to repay an overpayment (a joint claim cannot convert to a single claim apparently and they were quick to ask for their money back!) and the chap said, did I just want to pay half and they would get the rest from my ex husband. I explained they’d have trouble as he was my late husband not my ex! A minor detail for them, but a huge detail for me. 

Choose the music wisely 

My husband had always referred to ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd as his funeral song. Every time we heard it he would say ‘This is my funeral song. I want this played at my funeral’. I have no idea why! Anyway, the only thing I knew for sure when arranging his funeral was that this song had to feature. So it was played at the end if the service. I’m sure many of the congregation probably don’t remember, but I do. And as an avid listener of Radio 2 most days, that blooming song gets played loads! I must hear it at least once a week! (You can guarentee at least every couple of weeks someone requests it on Simon Mayo’s show on a Friday!) Music can be so evocative and I only have to hear the opening bars and I automatically think of him. In the early days, weeks and months it would make me cry and I would have to turn it off, but I’m getting braver these days…most of the time!

What now?

So, what now? The funeral was over, but my whole world had changed forever. I was now a widow and a single mum. This wasn’t the plan! My son and I had to begin to try and find our ‘new normal’…