Rowans Meerkat Service Co-ordinator Sophie de Bere meets with a young girl in Meerkat Central.
Try to imagine you’re an eight year-old child whose father has been ill for the past two years; this is a big chunk of your life. Recently, Daddy looks more poorly; he’s not eating very much and he’s always tired. You miss spending time with him and the adventures you shared together.
Imagine you’re the parents of that eight-year old and you’ve just been told the disease has progressed and time is short. One of you is going have to say goodbye to your family and the other will soon become a widower and single parent. You’re both physically and emotionally exhausted, trying to manage your own grief, and desperately trying to protect your young child from what is happening.
Imagine you’re the teacher of that eight-year old child. The other children in your class having been asking questions about their friend’s poorly Daddy. You want to support the eight-year old and the rest of your class too but you’re not sure how best to do this and you’re worried about saying the wrong thing.
What would you do?
Trying to find the ‘right’ balance of involving and supporting a child through the loss of a loved one, alongside wanting to protect them, can feel impossible to manage. Even when family members encourage open conversations about what is happening, children might hold back due to worrying that asking questions will increase their parent’s distress or sometimes, children simply can’t find the words to explain how they’re feeling.
Talking about illness and dying can feel frightening and uncertain for everyone.
Aided by funds from BBC Children in Need, Rowans Meerkat Service provides support to children who have a significant adult (like a parent or grandparent) with a life-limiting illness or who have been bereaved of an adult close to them.
We work alongside parents to provide crucial reassurance and information about bereavement and offer support to schools too. In some cases, talking with someone outside the family and providing the opportunity for a child to share their ‘story’ can offer comfort, understanding and validation. We carefully assess with parents when individual therapeutic work with a child is needed.
I started at Rowans Hospice almost nine years ago; my post was created to develop a service for children but at that point, there were many unknowns about what this provision might look like. However, from the very beginning, I believed the success of the service would be dependent on giving children a voice to share their experiences of bereavement. Children’s views have been integral to the development of Rowans Meerkat Service.
Young people often describe how, as a result of bereavement, they’ve developed personal strength and increased self-awareness.
Promoting a child’s resilience is a key part of our work. Whilst children are perceived to be naturally resilient, the death of someone close should never be underestimated. We strive to equip children with personal resources to develop a ‘resilient mind-set’ in managing their loss and future life events. Young people often describe how, as a result of bereavement, they’ve developed personal strength and increased self-awareness. They value life and relationships with loved ones in a unique way. These young people offer insight into what helped them and show other children that although their grief remains, they survived and for many, are pursuing their dreams and aspirations.
Five such incredible young people are Emily, Amelia, Megan, Ellie-Mae and Georgia, who each accessed bereavement support from Rowans Meerkat Service. They have subsequently chosen to share their experiences, to try to help other children facing the loss of a loved one, by becoming Meerkat Mentors. As well as sharing their stories online, they will be supporting our group events and work with schools to provide the tools to help pupils coping with loss.
As children continue their journey in life, we hope that bereavement does not define them
Sadly, we cannot prevent what is happening for families or take away children’s grief, but we believe that being alongside to offer the appropriate support and guidance can make a significant difference to how children make sense of events, grieve and ultimately, grow to achieve their full potential. As children continue their journey in life, we hope that bereavement does not define them; it simply becomes a part of who they are.
Sophie de Bere
Rowan’s Meerkat Service Co-ordinator