St Richard’s Hospice understands that a life-threatening illness can cause enormous changes within a family and that children have very specific needs to help them through the bereavement process.
Children can have difficulty understanding what has happened to their loved one and that the dead person cannot come back. This can be challenging for parents who are also grieving.
St Richard’s runs a Dragonfly Group which offers help and support to children and young people after a loved one has died. The group helps bereaved children and young people, together with their parent/carer, through professional support and offers an opportunity to share their experiences with others in a similar situation.
Harry Barnett, who joined the Dragonfly Group with his Mum after the death of his Dad, said; “I came to Dragonfly Group because Daddy had died. I had fun and it helped me to be with other kids who also knew what it was like when someone they love has died.”
As part of the process of coming to terms with the death of their loved one, children attending the current Dragonfly Group have been creating memory boxes to help them cope with their emotions.
A memory box can be a way in which children can hold onto treasured memories of the person who has died and the times shared with them. The items in a memory box are a very personal choice and can be anything that reminds them of the person who has died and their special memories.
Items that the children have chosen include photographs, cards, letters, items of clothing, jewellery, perfume or aftershave bottle, lipstick, favourite music, key rings and a special teddy bear.
One child wanted to make the box look like space because she sees Mummy as a star in the sky.
Another put some of her Nan’s favourite things in her memory box, such as a yellow flower and a sticker of a dog. The box has a yellow theme because that was her Nan’s favourite colour.
Oliver Randall, aged 11, has a Worcester Warriors shirt which reminds him of his Granddad, who was a great Warriors fan. The Worcester Warriors emblem is featured on the lid of his memory box.
When Worcester Warriors, which has supported the hospice over many years, heard that they were the focus of this child’s memory box, they offered the families attending the Dragonfly Group the opportunity to attend a rugby match as their guests.
Carol Hart, Head of Education and Social Inclusion at Worcester Warriors, said; “One of Worcester Warriors primary focus’ off the field is to support young people. St. Richard’s Hospice’s Dragonfly Group is a valuable service for young people and works hard to support bereaved families and so we are grateful that we can offer support in some way, and will continue to do so in the future.”When the Randall family arrived at the Sixways stadium, they were given the best seats in their mind.
Oliver Randall said “Going to the match was awesome. We were all given tickets in the Dragonfly group but we had a special connection as our Granddad used to play for the Worcester Colts. Granddad gave us the best seats and we’ve had a wonderful time at the rugby.”
Karen Randall, Oliver’s Mum said: “We had a lovely day at the rugby, which was even better as Worcester won. This added to an already special occasion and gave the children another positive memory of their Granddad. St Richard’s Hospice Dragonfly Group has really helped Oliver. Since coming to the group he has been much more open and able to talk about his Granddad and share memories. He is joining in more with family activities and enjoying helping out.”
The children have also made salt sculpture jars to include in their memory boxes. These special jars help them to talk about feelings and memories when sharing stories about loved ones. There are many layers within each jar, with different colours representing aspects of the relationship for the children.
The children have loved the whole process of colouring the salt with chalks and choosing the colour to describe a particular memory. One child, for example, chose purple to describe the “love shared with Daddy”. For another, purple represents “bruises”. The children can vary the thickness of each coloured layer depending upon what each layer represents and its significance to the child’s memory. To complete the jars each child writes on labels to describe each colour and what it means.
Sarah Popplestone-Helm, Head of Family Support Services, said; “Children and young people can gain much from the process of making a memory box and salt sculpture jars and then knowing that those memories of their loved one are always there to offer them comfort. A memory box does not have to be looked at every day or every month. Sometimes the comfort is in knowing it’s there.”