Friday, 18 April 2014

What not to say to a bereaved student - plus what you can say and do to help them.

As somebody who lost both parents while I was still at school I am not ashamed to say that it was only the help of other people – those people who were prepared to share my stress and sadness and figuratively or actually hold my hand - that got me through the last 4 years.

Please don’t say, “It was God’s will” or “You must think positive thoughts” or “I’ve no idea how you must be feeling” or “They are in a better place now” or “Everything happens for a reason”.

What you can say is “Would you like to talk about your Mum and Dad”. Or you could give me a hug or invite me round for tea or do your very best not to look uncomfortable if I suddenly start crying in the middle of a lesson.

I have had a small handful of deliberately hurtful and quite a lot of thoughtless things said and done to me and I’m sorry but I cannot find it in me to forgive and forget all of them.

In no particular order –

There are the people at the funeral who went on and on to everyone who would listen about how upset they were at my Mum and Dad being killed.
There the people, mainly Mum and Dad’s former friends, who still avoid me.
There are the people who look shifty and uncomfortable when I say my Mum and Dad’s names.
The teacher who said “I will never understand when people go on and on about things like this for years” when I was clearly upset on the anniversary of the accident.

I also get people saying "I hope you are feeling better now". Actually I haven’t had a cold or toothache. My Mum and Dad died and I will never feel better about my parents dying so please don't say that.  

The awful thing is, is that even in the most desperate of circumstances, school work needed to be done, food needed to be brought, lawns needed to be mown and clothes needed to be washed and ironed. When you can hardly manage to get out of the bed someone coming over to do a chore or to drive you to school means a lot.

The best people – and I will love them all and I will be grateful to them for ever – are those who ask me questions about Mum and Dad. What were they like, what funny things did they do or what characteristics of theirs have I inherited? 

Sooner or later we all have to deal with death. It might be a parent or a sibling or a close friend but eventually the Grim Reaper will come knocking on your door. How you cope with it will be up to you and those you chose to have around you during the dark days. Those people who currently cross the road to avoid having to speak to a bereaved person or who act as if the deceased person never existed are in line for the most horrible of surprises when grief and mourning happens first-hand to them!

Friday, 4 April 2014

What happens now - my #1 source of support is leaving?

As readers will know by now I am currently a final year university student. The university has been wonderful in the way they have supported me through a number of crises. Right from the start I was identified as a vulnerable student because I was an orphan – I hate that word so much, but it was the category that they used. Mum and Dad had died about 18 months before I went up to university and I was still very “raw” emotionally. In those crucial first few months, before firm friendship groups had formed, having a trained counsellor to talk to about all the jumbled emotions that used to come visiting me was wonderful.

I reckon I have had four different counsellors. One was highly skilled and highly experienced but we never clicked. I didn’t like her, so I didn’t trust her as much as I should have, so I didn’t always tell her the whole story. This pretty much invalidated the entire process. There was a male counsellor I saw a couple of times in my first year. He was nice but some of the abuse I suffered from my Granddad after Mum and Dad were killed was rather “gender specific” and I didn’t want to talk to another man about it. He passed me to a female colleague who was equally good – until she left after only three sessions. So I ended up with J**** who has been a total star.

I have moved on such a long way since those early days at university. I have been so lucky with the people who have come into my life. J****, my boyfriend, my house-mates, my Dad’s brother and my Mum’s sister have all been lifesavers at different times and in different ways.

But now J**** is moving on. She has been promoted to a senior position in the National Health Service and she is leaving her current job at the end of April. I am overwhelming pleased for her but sad for myself. I don’t want to start with another counsellor for my final term as an undergraduate or for my year doing the PGSE. But I guess I don’t have a choice!

I would love to be able to buy her a present as some tiny thank-you for all she has done for me. Have you any helpful thoughts as to what might be a suitable gift?

In all the meetings J**** and I had the only time I can remember a disagreement between us was on the value of bereavement groups. I attended a local group she used to run a few times but never found it to be even slightly useful to me. We laugh about it now but back then I thought I was going to “get into trouble” for not attending!