Denise is a paediatric nurse who works at Glasgow Children’s Hospital. She was supported by Child Bereavement UK following the death of her niece Rosie, aged seven. Here she talks about her experience of working with bereaved parents, and colleagues affected in their work by the death of a child.


If you’ve been involved when a child dies, you can feel a bit hopeless at times. You think: ‘Could anything I’ve done have made it any better?’ So many people hold on to that for quite some time afterwards.

I am a paediatric nurse at Glasgow Children’s Hospital, working in an area where children often come in and die suddenly. I have experienced death from that point of view, in terms of watching parents grieve. But before my niece, Rosie, died, I’d never personally experienced grief like that, although I had lost people.

Whenever I have to deal with anything like that, I feel so devastated for the families. I recognise that it’s their life and their grief and not mine. I always feel that it is something I deal with fairly well in a supportive aspect because the thing that I feel is how brave the family are to leave that hospital without their baby. They walked in with a baby, albeit that child is very sick or had already died in many cases, but I always think: ‘How do you do it?  How do you find the strength to leave without your child?’ I don’t have any children but that’s what I’ve always thought, and still think to this day. I think they’re amazing human beings that can do that. That’s probably the overriding thing I’ve felt when I cared for these children.

I’ve always believed the best thing you can do for a child when they die in those circumstances is to look after their parents. My feelings go towards the parents rather than the child because they’re the person who needs me at that point. You can’t do anything more for their baby.

I suppose you just find a way to just deal with it, you focus on what you can do. Often, it’s not much, often it’s just sitting there being a silent person available to answer questions. You sit with the family and the child, You need to be invisible but there, they need to know that when they need you, you’ll be there without them having to ask.

You’re constantly questioning what you can do to make that situation easier for the family, but really there’s nothing that’s going to make it easier.

When they want you not to be there, you have to step out quietly because it’s such a private and personal thing. It’s really hard because you feel a bit hopeless. You’re trying to do your very best, but you think: ‘Am I doing the right thing or am I not doing the right thing?’ You’re constantly questioning what you can do to make that situation easier for them, but really there’s nothing that’s going to make it easier.

I had a student nurse who came into the resuscitation of a child who hadn’t survived, she was absolutely devastated. I had a chat with her and said it was OK to be upset because it is awful. But I said the good thing is to talk about it and get support from colleagues and to recognise that, though this is a horrific thing that has happened, you’ll do far more good in your career. It wasn’t your fault that it happened, there was nothing else you could do. In my work we have a debrief, we talk about what we could have done better, what we did well, whether we could have done anything different. We talk it out and work through that process. In the case of the student nurse I contacted Child Bereavement UK and asked them, with her permission, to come and talk to her. It made a big difference.

Often, it’s our nurse supports that end up in the situation and it’s intense. And it’s often first thing in the morning or early hours of the morning, so there’s not access to services at that time. So, you can’t phone, apart from a chaplain and that’s not everybody’s thing. I don’t know how you deal with that one.

If you’ve been involved when a child dies, you can feel a bit hopeless at times. You think: ‘Could anything I’ve done have made it any better?’ So many people hold on to that for quite some time afterwards. There are children that will live in my head forever, but I try not to make it part of every single day apart from it makes me try to be kinder, more patient and more understanding with families.