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Picture drawn by a child with stomach cancer
Picture drawn by a child with stomach cancer

Press Release - 12 September 2005

Children and young people and death

‘I wish I could have said goodbye’: involving children in funerals

There is a tradition in English culture that children have no place at a funeral, but many children are supported in their grief when they are involved in family meaning-making and ceremony. Children too need to be able to say goodbye and to be validated in their relationship with the person who died. Children and young people benefit from being given information about what will happen, understanding what death means physically, for example that the person will not get cold and lonely in their coffin, and having choice about attending the funeral.

Jo McAndrews has now started a funeral company which specialises in involving children and encouraging choice for the family of the person who died, and will offer more creative ideas for including children in funerals.

Jo McAndrews (Gloucestershire, UK)
Tel: 01453 750181

"No - You don't know how we feel!" Lessons learnt from a collaborative inquiry with children facing the life-threatening illness of a parent

Researchers describe the outcomes of a project in which nine children (aged seven to 15), who each had a parent seriously ill with cancer, worked with palliative care social workers to produce a film aimed at other families in the same situation.

Gillian Chowns (Oxford Brookes and Southampton universities)
Tel: 01252 542376

The black colours died and the happy colours won - drawings by children with cancer

The core of the traumatic experience in a life-threatening disease is the feeling of intense fear, loneliness, helplessness and loss of control. Working with art materials can give the child an opportunity for creative functioning, for actively doing something. Art can be used as a metaphor for the inner feelings without being overwhelmed by them, since artistic creation takes place on the borders of consciousness. Artistic expression can be used as a nonverbal form of communication to reflect issues that are difficult to talk about.

The researcher will present drawings that signify the beginning of the voyage, describing how children draw their own illness (sometimes even before the medical prognosis was made) and the progress of the disease. They will also examine drawings that reflect feelings of fear, anxiety and loss when the children cope with the treatment, the doctors and the side effects. It will deal with the loneliness of the sick child and the familial relationships in light of the life-threatening disease. The paper will discuss at length the children’s drawings that deal with coping with death and parting, describing their varied attitudes towards the subject. In many cases being able to “talk” in drawing gave them a greater sense of calmness and acceptance. As they approached death, some children express their feelings of what lay ahead, some show the profound sorrow of saying good by to their loved ones, some describe the better future they believe awaits them – a future they can address only in pictures.

Nurit Shilo-Cohen (The Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
Tel: 972-2-6708036
(See picture resources)

Stories of hope and inspiration: young people's experience of coping with the death of an important family member

Encouraging young people who have experienced the death of an important family member to record their experience as a narrative can be an empowering and transformatory act that can also provide a cultural resource which can be drawn on by other young people who have experienced the death of someone important to them. These narratives can act as a source of inspiration and of hope revealing that it is possible to negotiate this existential journey.

Emma Snelling (Macmillan Centre, Plymouth) , Jacqui Stedmon (Plymouth University), Joanne Anning (Macmillan Centre, Plymouth)

Children’s experience of bereavement and their use of childhood bereavement services

Bereavement isolates many children from their family and peers, and they also find it difficult to burden their parent or parents with their feelings, according to a new UK study. Researchers looking at childhood bereavement services found that despite initial anxiety, bereaved children found the service helpful. Being with other bereaved children was an important aspect for those who attended group activities, helping them feel less isolated.

Those who had attended individual sessions valued talking about the things they were worried about to someone who would not get upset. Using the service helped all children talk about their feelings within the family, from which they got relief. The bereaved parents felt the service had helped their child by providing a safe place in which to speak to someone who was not going to be upset, and it took some of the burden of parenting from their shoulders.

Liz Rolls (University of Gloucestershire)

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