By Dianne McKissock OAM, Co-Founder/Clinical Director
National Centre for Childhood Grief ‘A Friend’s Place’
I first learned about the painful and lonely experience of childhood grief from my mother and her siblings. Their experiences touched me and filled me with compassion, later proving to be a valuable source of understanding to draw on as I worked with many other bereaved children. Working at ‘A Friend’s Place’ has been one of the most rewarding parts of my long counselling career. So many children and their families now live in my heart and memory and are part of all that I am, all that I do.
Alice’s mother and father and Sam’s mum and dad were like most loving parents. The first time they felt their newborn child’s finger curl around their own, their hearts filled to bursting and liquid love rolled down their cheeks. They looked at each other and knew without words, the dream each held for their child’s future. They wanted them to grow up in a secure, loving family, protected from the harsh realities of life, fulfilling their potential at every milestone. They would be strong, passionately loving, fun parents, who set appropriate boundaries. A long, happy and challenging life stretched far into the future.
But dreams are fragile and easily broken. Alice’s mother Jayne died from breast cancer when Alice was five and in her first year at school. Sam’s father Henry died suddenly while training for an amateur boxing match when Sam was six. Grief stricken, lonely, and feeling different to their friends, they came to ‘A Friend’s Place’ when a caring teacher gave them a pamphlet and the gentle advice to “Phone this number as soon as possible. They will help you learn how to live with this, how to manage your grief.”
Both children and their surviving parents saw counsellors at the Centre for individual sessions for some months, and later joined a support group. In these groups they felt ‘normal’, not different to their classmates, and were surprised that it was possible to have so much fun when their hearts still felt so heavy and sad. They learnt to say important words like “my mother’s name IS” and “my father’s name IS” rather than WAS – the way everyone else described them. They learned to make ‘first aid kits’ to help them manage their grief, to rehearse responses to kids who teased them about their dead parents, to find things to look forward to, to make friends with experiences just like theirs, and most important of all, to use memories to keep their connection to their parents ‘alive’ in their hearts and minds, to take them with them into their changed future.
Sam and Alice, along with many other bereaved children and adults, came to ‘Remembering Hearts’ at Pirrama Park last October. My eyes filled with warm tears as I watched them float memorial hearts in Sydney Harbour, their young faces poignantly earnest. They will come to this inspiring family event again this year on Saturday 11th October with members of their extended family, friends from the Centre and the teachers who first referred them.
We would love to extend an invitation to all members of the public to join us to remember anyone you love who has died, and any other significant losses that have had an impact on your life.
For more information on this upcoming event or the work of the NCCG or options to make a donation visit our website www.childhoodgrief.org.au or direct deposit NCCG:BSB032545 :A/C 152908