A couple of weeks ago, I had a referral regarding young children whose father had died quite unexpectedly while their Mum was out. The older child had recognised that Dad was dead and had kept the younger occupied till Mum came home. I phoned Mum to talk about the referral and we agreed that it was better that the children went through an appropriate grieving process but that Mum would talk to me if she felt she wanted to discuss things. We have since spoken twice, she phoned today. She is amazing and intuitive, helping the children to hold on to normal bits of their lives while adjusting to an enormous change. She talks to the children together and separately and is acknowledging that, at their different ages, they have different needs and understanding.  She had already tried to clarify for the children exactly what had happened, so that they would not be left with misconceptions or misunderstandings. Children often take blame, and feel they should have been able to do something even in quite catastrophic circumstances. They need frequent reassurance that nothing could be done.  They also need the chance to discuss different ideas about what happens after death – I personally tend to imagine people I loved sitting on clouds and observing what happens down here, obviously some pragmatic children might point out that they have not seen people when flying on holiday. Other people point out stars as ‘Grandma’ or ‘Daddy’, others explain that we do not know, but that as long as we remember and benefit from all we learned from the deceased, they will never really die. This is the sort of discussion done well by people who are close to the children, with whom the children can take the risk of saying something that might sound silly.  The children were being quite clingy – they had discovered that people die, and can die in a second. Mum was allowing them to sleep with her but encouraging them to separate, and going in to school when there seemed to be the need. We talked about her giving the children something she valued so that they would believe that she would always come back if she could, if only to collect her special ear-ring!!! We also talked about explaining exactly what would happen to the children if , say, she had to go into hospital for a while. They need to be clear about who would look after them, to know that they would be safe. Our most recent conversation was about sending messages to Daddy on helium balloons. By writing messages for them on tags on the balloons and then releasing them into the sky, they can ‘talk’ to Daddy. It’s important that they feel they can continue to dialogue with him, even if his replies aren’t spoken out loud.  This is a wonderful woman, and it might be that helping the children is enabling her to cope also. I am pleased that she feels comfortable about phoning and it is probable that I will never need to meet with the children; this would seem the best way. Obviously if things go pear-shaped, or she feels out of her depth, I will be delighted to help.

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