Yesterday we were talking of brain tumours. A brain tumour is cruel in that it sometime remits, that parents are told that this might get better. Many parents research wildly and find all sorts of examples where people got better, and then pursue everything that seems to offer hope. Some of this involves travel and there are often photos in the paper of bald, smiling children who have a brave look about them. Sometimes they have written a bucket list and people are quite wonderful about making some of this happen – I heard of a boy in the West Midlands who was supported by a Twitter crusade which saw him riding in super cars, courtesy of Chris Evans. Mostly, they are asking for donations to enable them to be taken to somewhere special which might offer hope.
We were talking about two boys who had died, and what happened to their brothers. The families did not know each other. In each case, the boy was ill for several months, while the family coped with messages initially of hope, and then not. Each had an only brother close in age. This makes life even more complicated. How do parents cope with the necessity of hospital visits? And the possibility of losing a child, while protecting the other child and being able to offer him some life of his own?
How does the healthy boy cope with a situation he barely understands? From a very young age, children are aware of emotions around about them – how does this child express his fears and anxieties without hurting his parents further? How can he talk to his brother about something so enormous, and yet so everyday – if your brother is poorly, might it happen to you? If your brother can die, might you die too? Might your mum and dad die?
This seems to be a story of communication. Both these boys watched their brother die. Both attended the funeral [I believe this is incredibly important. Children should be encouraged to go a funeral if they want to, and funerals that are a celebration of life can help to make a little sense of it all.] And then the boys got on with their lives. Psychologists were involved and were able to make sure that schools were organised so that they could support the child, and that there was a safe place for the boy when he felt the need to hide away. One of the boys went to CAMHS and had his own counsellor there gave him the time and safe space to sort out his thinking. After a year, both boys seemed to have adjusted to the experience.
But after three years, things changed. One of the two boys suddenly found he could no longer cope with school. He stopped going to school, stopped studying and hid in his bedroom. The other boy went on as before.
What was different for the two boys? From the outside this looks like an identical problem. I believe both boys loved their brothers; both were significantly bereaved. Both had parents who tried as best they could to support their surviving sons. And both boys went to schools which cared.
But the boys had different temperaments – one was better at talking about his feelings than the other. The parents were different too – one of the Mums just can not move forward, she is still grieving and has little to give emotionally to anyone else. One of the dads finds comfort in religion. One of the dads lost his job in the economic downturn, and has become a house-husband. One of the boys has a host of friends at school who knew his brother and still mention him sometimes. One of the boys grew quickly and stopped enjoying school sports. One boy plays on his Tablet all the time, one of the boys watches horror movies.
The point is that really everything is different, and the same. All that the two families shared was a bereavement and enormous sadness. After that, each dealt with life as they did. For one boy, it has all proved too much just now, but with help he’ll learn to manage and move on.