Bereavement and Loss
For many young people the death of a parent, caregiver, sibling or grandparent is an experience they are sadly faced with early in life. It is easy for us to presume that a young person who is bereaved at a young age will not be greatly affected, as they are too young to understand the full implications of death. We know that this is not true. Even babies experience loss. A baby cannot process the implications of the bereavement but that does not mean that they do not feel the loss, and it doesn't mean that that same baby will not grieve during their teenage years.
We know that our young people need to be given the opportunity to grieve as any adult would. At The King's, we know that trying to ignore or to avert a child’s grief, whilst it might feel really kind 'in the moment' is not protective and it can lead to poor mental health. Young people need to be encouraged to talk about how they are feeling and supported to understand their emotions.
Grief is ok; grief is natural
It is important that our young people know that grief is ok. Grief is acceptable. Grief is normal. There are so many reasons that a young person may need to grieve (and not all of these are associated with a bereavement, although the emotional impact and trauma is similar, if not identical):
the death of a close family member
the death of a friend
the death of someone within their community
the death of someone by suicide
the death of someone as a result of ill health
the death of someone as a result of a tragic accident
a change in relationship - family breakdown, moving care placement, change in adults living in the family home, the departure of an older sibling to a new address (university, independent living)
an illness of someone close to them, ie cancer, dementia
the loss of a relationship
the loss or death of a family pet
Importantly, young people (like adults) need to know that it is totally normal to grieve, no matter what the circumstances. Young people often need reassurance and validation that their feelings and emotions are ok - they may seek this in a range of ways.
There is no handbook for grief; there is no "right way" to grieve. People grieve differently. Some of us travel through a broad range of emotions when grieving: anger, upset, wonderment, disbelief, numbness, guilt, sadness, relief, 'different', lost … the list is endless.
Grief is usually a very long process. Anniversaries and "big days" are often reminders of our grief: birthdays, Christmas, family or friend get-togethers, events you used to do together, Ramadan - the absence of a lost one is just another reminder of a bereavement and a loss.
As a church school, we know that many turn to God when experiencing grief. The Word of God can provide comfort and reassurance in difficult times. Hope is incredibly important, and we know that the hope matters when we many think about death. We can learn from Jesus' compassion towards those dying and towards those who have experienced grief. We know that children of all faiths and children of no faith can find reassurance in God's love during difficult times.
What support is available at The King's for children who are bereaved?
We are proud of our pastoral care at school. All members of staff have accessed accredited training about bereavement and loss; all members of staff have accessed training about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the impact that they can throughout life. Amongst the team of dedicated pastoral staff, we have staff who are trained as emotion coaches and some who have additional training to support young people who have experienced bereavement and loss. In addition to in-house support, we know that some will need to be referred to specialist charities for bereavement counselling - for this, we usually need to seek parental consent.
Our team can work with our young people (amongst many things) to create memory boxes, to write poems, to explore their feelings and emotions, to create memory books, simply to listen...
Our chaplain is always on hand to support our school family. She will talk with, listen to, pray with or pray for anybody who would like to access that element of our school's support. Letty, our chaplain, is keen to support the young people in school through any time of challenge. She is compassionate and she is gifted with incredible talents of calmness and composure in times of trial.
Letty leads an annual memorial and remembrance service for all of our school family - staff and students alike - who have experienced bereavement or loss. The service is always well-attended and is seen by many as an important part of the ongoing support offered by school and the pastoral team to offer time for reflection, a period of fellowship, a time for prayer and a time to share in each other's important journeys through life.
Collective worship and prayer at times of national mourning and remembrance are really important to us at The King's. It is important that we stop to remember. It is important that we let our students know that this isn't "just 2 minutes because it's the done thing", but that they understand this is part of grieving, part of showing respect, part of collective worship, part of fellowship. We gather together as a whole school community and focus on those lives lost together. The symbolism of this being together throughout the school is something that demonstrates our core Christian values and our core British values. We are together as Christ's family; as brothers and sisters in Christ we stand. We pray as a school community. We think as a school community. We grieve as a school community. We stop as a school community. We are stronger together.
Our Footprints group meets half-termly. The group meets together at a common time, in a common place and spends time where they know that they can talk openly, sit and enjoy stillness, engage with others across the school who have experienced loss of someone important in their life. This group is loosely-structured. The nature of the group is to offer them fellowship with one another and to know that they are not alone. It offers our young people reassurance in corridors as there is an 'unwritten appreciation and understanding' of their unique, yet common, life experiences.
Materials that may help you to discuss bereavement and loss at home
Some websites that you may find helpful
Our local bereavement and loss counselling service. You can contact them on 01782 683155.