Walking In Their Shadow

Last week it was our privilege to host an event entitled ‘Walking In Their Shadow‘ which served as the launch of a new resource of the same name which has been developed to educate and equip anyone who might need to support children & young people who have suffered a bereavement. The event started with Lex Bradley sharing some heartbreaking statistic which highlighted how common bereavement is among children & young people andwhy the resource is so necessary. She went on to share a little of her own experience of bereavement as a young person & how many of the people around her desperately wanted to support her, but simply didn’t know the best way to go about it.

Lex’s research revealed that Youth Workers feel poorly equipped (by their training and/or their life experience) to work with bereaved children & young people and their families. As a professional Youth Worker/Minister, and as someone who was bereaved at a young age, I still don’t feel fully confident when supporting young people who have suffered/are suffering a bereavement. So I found the presentation of the resource to be a huge challenge personally & professionally, but, more importantly, a huge encouragement too. Lex challenged the accepted ‘five stages of grief’ model, critiquing its linear progression and failing to take account of repeating or re-experiencing stages. Instead she presented her own model which she felt better represents the grieving process – a bold claim, but one she made confidently and convincingly.

Lex used the analogy of shadow, around which the name of the resource is based, to explore the nature of grief. She said that ‘love & light create grief & a shadow’ and that ‘grief is not the absence of love, it’s just that love isn’t reaching those dark places’. Which well described the task of those whose responsibility it is to work with those grieving children & young people: to help love reach into the dark places once again. She pointed out that ‘it’s OK [for grieving children & young people] to feel abandoned & to let others fulfil their needs’ during their grief, and challenged us to never again use the clichéd phrases ‘it’s normal/expected for you to feel that way’ as it seriously devalues what the young person is feeling.

Our role as people working with grieving children & young people is not to make everything OK again, to help return things to normal. In Lex’s words:

‘[grief] is not a little feeling that you lose and then get over… in fact, life as you know it ends and a new form of life begins which is very different. It’s not about dealing with their grief so it goes away, but rather it’s about helping them learn to live with it, cope with it as part of their new reality; […] their grief must be expressed in some way; hope is important but it can’t be forced or rushed; we have hope, but hope doesn’t make it all better’.

In addition to presenting the reason she felt led to undertake this project, and the research which informed & guided it, Lex presented some parts of the resources which she’s designed to equip adults to work with grieving children & young people. I mean no disrespect when I say that much of it was really obvious stuff, but which had never occurred to me (a comment Lex hears frequently). It was evident that much of this resource flows from her own experiences & frustrations as a bereaved teenager. The resource recognises the importance of story in the grieving process; rediscovering the freedom and ability to tell their own story and the story of the person they’re grieving, and so Lex has written a series of studies which walk the young person through the story & themes of Holy Week and apply it to their own situation. In addition, the resource also contains a section entitled ‘some things to do’, which is full of really practical activities you can complete with a young person to walk with them through their grieving process. Included in this section were a number of worksheet which give children & young people an easy way to reflect on and communicate how they feel, how things might be improving (acknowledging that it’s OK for things to improve too), words/phrases relating to their bereavement which they’re comfortable/uncomfortable with (dead, lost, no longer with us, etc), favourite memories, last events, questions. The best tools Lex presented (in my opinion, and seemingly the opinion of most of those gathered) were the ‘I need to tell you…’ cards. Pre-printed postcards which young people can fill in with enough structure to encourage honesty, but enough flexibility not to limit what they want to communicate. There were three different age-appropriate card designs, ranging from tick-box options for the youngest through to free-text areas for the oldest.

Overall it was a great evening. Wonderful to finally have the resource & some of the research presented to us, as many people present have travelled the journey with Lex (bereavement, study & dissertation) for months & years. The next stage for Lex & the resource is to find a publisher interested in supplying this much needed ‘field guide’ to the workers on the front line (you and me).

For more information please contact Lex Bradley on 01908 270670 orlex@mkbt.org.uk

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