More than 41,000 children in the UK suffer the loss of a parent every year, according to the charity Winston’s Wish which supports thousands of youngsters through bereavement and is marking its 25th anniversary this year.
It has begun its silver jubilee year with a newly-launched website, help2makesense.org, providing bereavement support in the form of a virtual toolkit for children and teenagers struggling to make sense of their loss and cope with grief.
The charity says studies have shown that if childhood bereavement is not dealt with appropriately, it can have a deep and lasting effect on a child’s emotional well-being and potentially cause problems later in life.
“Making sense of bereavement can be extremely difficult”
Sacha Richardson, who is director of family services at Winston’s Wish, says: “It was really important for us to update our services for young people and to make ourselves more accessible for them.”
The charity’s newly-launched toolkit features moving real-life accounts from young people coping with grief, as well as readings lists, tips and an A-Z of the manifestations of bereavement and how to accept and manage them. Touchingly, it also reassures young people that, when they are ready, it’s okay to let go and just have fun with their friends – this doesn’t mean they loved their parent any less.
“Making sense of bereavement can be extremely difficult and confusing for young people, so we hope that our new campaign not only highlights this but makes it easier for them to access the support they need,” adds Sacha.
Help 2 Make Sense is also a useful guide for other young people, most of whom won’t have experienced the death of a parent or close family member, but who want to reach out to a friend. It offers teenagers advice on how to express sympathy and support and has also produced a mini-magazine, You Just Don’t Understand, for them to download, print out, photocopy or share via social media.
The colourful literature includes poignant quotes from among the 40,000 young people that the charity supports annually through its helpline and advice centres. Among them are words from one young client, who said Winston’s Wish had helped them understand more about the confusing feelings they endured through their grief.
They said: “I didn’t know what was normal after mum died and thought I was really bad for feeling I hated her for leaving us behind. I learned that some feelings are very difficult to bear and almost impossible to describe. But don’t suffer alone – find someone to talk to.”
Supporting a support network
Another important priority for Winston’s Wish is to provide guidelines and advice to professionals supporting bereaved children and families, including funeral directors, parents, teachers, carers and social workers. Corinne Mason’s role within the charity is to liaise directly with funeral professionals and crematoria in its outreach work and says that it’s established close relationships with many, over the years.
She explains: “Funeral directors can call us for advice if, for instance, a family comes in and says: ‘I haven’t told the kids yet. What do I do?’ Most have a good sense of what to do and say, but we are here for them as backup.”
The charity also encourages funeral directors to signpost its services, which besides the helpline, include drop-in sessions, e-mail based support and residential and day groups, to fellow-professionals and clients who might benefit from its support.
This year to further boost its mission, the charity is calling on young people, carers, parents and professionals to share stories which will help children in coming to terms with their own experience of bereavement, for a planned series of podcasts to be launched in coming months.
Like every charity, Winston’s Wish depends upon the fundraising efforts of supporters to raise its annual administration expenses, with every hour spent on the phone to a young person, carer or professional seeking advice costing it around £20. It is there for children whether they are newly bereaved, or have become overwhelmed by emotions triggered years later.
There’s a host of ways to get involved in fundraising, from bake-offs and charity fun-runs, to community coffee mornings and sky-dives. In this special anniversary year for Winston’s Wish, it hopes that more people than ever will take the plunge and join in, to help support as many children as possible through the heartache of a bereavement – however long that takes.