Vivienne’s daughter, Helen, died of cancer when her granddaughter, Shaneeka, was four. Vivienne and Shaneeka, now aged 11, talk about how they were supported by Child Bereavement UK in East London after Helen died.

Vivienne

My youngest daughter, Helen, was diagnosed with an acute form of leukaemia and in just over three weeks she died. It was a bit of a whirlwind. We didn’t have time to get used to what was happening before she was gone.

Helen and Shaneeka lived with me and my husband. Shaneeka was very close with her mum. Helen was one of those mums who felt strongly that her child was her responsibility. She wanted to take Shaneeka with her everywhere, she would have taken her to work if she could have.

One thing we never did was shut down any talk about her mum. We would talk to her about her mum and tell her that, no matter how she was feeling or how sad she felt, she could tell us.

After Helen died, there were times when we could see that Shaneeka was sad. One thing we never did was shut down any talk about her mum. We would talk to her about her mum and tell her that, no matter how she was feeling or how sad she felt, she could tell us. We allowed her to cry if she needed to; if she was upset, we’d hold her and let her cry it through.

Our family are very close. They say it takes a village to bring up a child; that applies to our family. Everybody just came in and helped with Shaneeka. She knows whatever she’s going through she has different people she can talk to.

Shaneeka’s school was absolutely brilliant from day one. She had both a mentor and a family support worker there and we were in close communication all the time. They’d warn me of any signs to look out for and would advise me on what to do. We also had great support from our church family and GP. However, it got too much for me to cope with anymore and I wanted something for Shaneeka as well. I spoke to the family mentor who recommended Child Bereavement UK. She got on to it straight away and then told me they were expecting my call.

I spoke to a bereavement support practitioner, Sharon, and knew straight away that she was the person I wanted to talk to. I came for a one-to-one session and after that went with Shaneeka and my son. Then they told me about Child Bereavement UK’s Group for Families, which was absolutely amazing.

I can’t stress how good it was that we also attended group sessions. Just being among other parents who experienced that deep loss as well, just to be real, to take that mask off.

I can’t stress how good it was that we also attended group sessions. Just being among other parents who experienced that deep loss as well, just to be real, to take that mask off. As much as you have family that understand, they still don’t understand the depth of it. Yes, they’ve lost someone, but it helped me talking to other mums and hearing what they’ve been through. And it helped me to get the tools to manage and get through the day. It was good just to be able to be yourself and know that it’s OK to be yourself. That was absolutely great because at times you want to let go but you feel you can’t.

The activities really helped too. You could write down how you were feeling. One of the activities that was meaningful was me making a mask. You wrote inside it what you were really feeling and decorated the outside. What was on the outside was not what was in the inside at all. Now and again I think about that.

I was always shared my feelings with Shaneeka, I didn’t think twice about letting tears flow in front of her because she appreciated that. She said to me once that she thought we didn’t remember her mum anymore. I said: “No, I still do and I cry” and she said: “But I don’t see it,” because I cried when she wasn’t there. And she said to me: “If it does happen, when I get home will you tell me Nanny so I can give you a big hug”.

I would definitely recommend coming to Child Bereavement UK. Having someone just sitting there and listening, someone who’s not family, was good. When I was going through some stuff, I felt they wouldn’t want to hear it. Coming to Child Bereavement UK was so good for me as I could offload. They excavate but it’s done in such a lovely way. Stuff came out that I didn’t remember and that I’d locked away because I was trying to cope. Afterwards, I’d offloaded such a big weight and I always looked forward to my next session.

At home, I’d think about the things that came up and my responses. I’d think: “OK, I can park that one until the next time it comes up.” I recommend Child Bereavement UK to other people, it’s a brilliant thing to do. You can’t cope with it on your own, you think you can, but you can’t.  Bereavement is journey.

Shaneeka

At the Family Group we talked and we made things. I made new friends as well. It helped me to know that there were a lot of people to talk to. 

At the Family Group we talked and we made things. I made new friends as well. It helped me to know that there were a lot of people to talk to. Although I don’t know them and they’re not that close, they still understand.  I was not the only child whose mother died.

Another thing we did at the Family Group was the Tree of Life Activity.  We have it on our wall at home. It tells me I’ve got different people in my life that I can talk to if I feel sad. I think life is good now and feels better. I feel sad sometimes but it feels nice and I can get rid of my feelings. I’d say to another child that no matter what, you’ve got people to talk to and you don’t have to hide your feelings inside.