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A listening ear for parents grieving the loss of a child

Volunteer listening on the phone to a grieving parent who needs support

The pain of losing a child never goes away, but in the 15 years since Carol Crane’s daughter Rosie died, she has channelled her loss into supporting other bereaved parents.

Two years after Rosie died of leukaemia aged just 23, Carol set up a charity helpline especially for bereaved parents – and it’s still going strong today. Every call to the Rosie Crane Trust is taken by a volunteer who has experienced their own journey through grief, after the loss of a child.

“Everyone asks, does it help? But I needed to do something useful with what had happened,” says Carol, an interior designer who has run her own soft furnishings business in Somerset for 20 years.

“I’d always planned to train as a Samaritan, but this seemed like the right thing to do. We are always here for other bereaved parents, not counsellors – but listening ears.”

Rosie, the youngest of Carol’s four children, had been training to be an accountant when she was suddenly diagnosed.

Out of the blue

“Her leukaemia came out of the blue – it was such a shock,” says Carol.

Although Rosie was given a bone marrow transplant, it was not a success. Doctors broke the news to Carol that her brave daughter, so full of fun and life, was not going to make it.

“I got the doctors to tell her; I couldn’t find the words to tell her myself,” remembers Carol, who was no longer in a relationship with her children’s father.

Rosie Crane and her mum, CarolRosie Crane, above and her mum, Carol

Carol can still remember how it felt when Rosie died. “At the time, it was as though I was watching a film about it, with someone else playing myself,” she explains.

Unbeknown to her, Rosie, who’d become engaged to her long-term boyfriend during her treatment in hospital, had been talking with staff about her funeral wishes.

Floored by Rosie’s death, while also caring for her dependent father, who had dementia, a supportive local funeral director and her older children helped Carol to organise the funeral.

She underwent some private counselling sessions after Rosie’s death, but a call out of the blue six months later proved a milestone moment.

Age doesn't matter when you mourn the loss of a child

“I was contacted by someone whose daughter had died and had been at the same school as Rosie,” she remembers. “They had died three months apart.

“That was a big help, talking to someone else who really understood and had been through it, too. I had nothing to lose in talking to them and it really was a tremendous help. It was a catalyst to start the Trust.”

The Rosie Crane Trust launched on October 31, 2006 and is there to help any parent who is grieving the loss of a child, whether they were children, young adults or in middle-age. “My experience is of losing an older child, but it doesn’t matter how old you are. You could be 80 or 90 and they are still your child,” says Carol.

Many bereaved parents are referred to the Rosie Crane Trust's 24-hour bereavement helpline (01460 55120) by a health or bereavement professional. Calls to the centre are relayed on a mobile phone system, so that there is always a volunteer to respond, night or day, to parents coping with the death of a child.

Some people make first contact with the Rosie Crane Trust via email, before mustering the courage to call in. Knowing that the person listening to them is another bereaved parent can be the ‘permission’ they need to open up and talk about their loss.

“A call can take two or three hours,” says Carol, “and will last as long as someone needs. Some people call until they don’t need it anymore, while other people drop in and out.”

Every parent who volunteers as a listener receives training before they man the phones. Yet conversations can still be emotionally challenging, when someone calls to talk about the death of a child.

“Sometimes you need a few minutes grounding to get back into your own life,” says Carol. “It is very moving and you know the depth of feeling they are experiencing. It’s hard, but as time goes on, you find ways of coping more easily.”

Helpline and face-to-face support

Besides running a bereavement helpline, the Trust also holds two monthly meetings for bereaved parents in Somerset. Previously, there had been nothing available in Carol’s local area that offered parents coping with the loss of a child the opportunity to meet and talk.

“We laugh together quite a lot and some weeks we’ll meet and not even talk about the loss of our respective children,” says Carol, who runs the entire charity on a shoestring budget. Needless to say, although it doesn’t have big financial overheads, donations are hugely appreciated.

Carol has often been asked whether the Trust would open out its listening service to other people coping with bereavement. While it’s been decided to maintain the focus on bereaved parents, she’s more recently become involved in a separate support initiative for individuals coping with grief.

After Rosie’s death, Carol discovered some “extremely helpful” literature by Dr Bill Webster, a Canadian widower and counsellor. He devised his own model for people coping with bereavement, to help them journey through their grief.

Months after his wife and mother of his two young boys died, Webster had found himself subsumed by grief, despite apparently “doing very well” after the initial shock of his wife’s death.

Grief Journey

He pioneered a six-week support programme, Grief Journey, which Carol has begin to establish over here, in her role as its director of bereavement care in the UK.

“I train facilitators in the UK and also volunteer locally to run the six week programme,” she explains.

“It is two hours a week and takes the bereaved through the feelings they are experiencing and helps them find ways of coping with their grief. As with everyone, grief is an individual thing and some people keep it to themselves, while others benefit from sharing.”

After going through the Grief Journey, people coping with bereavement can maintain contact with each other through regular and more informal meetings over coffee. Carol has been providing training to course facilitators, including funeral directors, who sponsor free Grief Journey courses to support the bereaved in their local areas.

“Even when you are anticipating someone’s death,” says Carol, “it’s still nothing to how you feel when someone dies.”

Read more about coping with grief after the death of a child, or contact the Rosie Crane Trust to talk to a volunteer.

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