Today I saw an article about the visit of the Duke of Cambridge to Israel and Palestine, places torn by conflict which has resulted in so many tragic deaths. I wondered if Prince William was reminded of his own experience of bereavement. When he was 15 and his brother Prince Harry was 12, their mother, Princess Diana, died suddenly in a car crash. Her death was reported in the media all around the world, just as Prince William’s historic visit to Israel and Palestine has world wide coverage.
The death of a significant person is a devastating experience for children. It can affect their physical, emotional and mental health throughout their lives. For many years Prince Harry did not talk about his grief and loss, though more recently he has spoken about the powerful impact it had on him. Maybe, because of their personal experiences Prince William and Prince Harry, with the Duchess of Cambridge, set up the charity ‘Heads Together’ which works with children and adults to address mental well-being. The charity aims to change the conversation about mental health and to reduce the stigma still associated with poor mental health.
I’ve written about this in my latest book, Building Continuing Bonds for Grieving and Bereaved Children, which was published in February 2018. I believe passionately in the need to help children and adults through the process of grief if they are struggling. After thirty years working in this field I have learnt so much from bereaved people about what helps, and I aim to share those positive ideas.
One of the ways we make up for the physical loss of someone we love may be by imagining the person who has died and, as an extension of this, dreaming that the loved one is with us once more. Stuart (12) does this: ‘I dream that my grandad, who’s dead, sits at the end of my bed and sings to me.’ This is very comforting to Stuart.
Deborah, though very upset when her grandfather died, found solace in a dream where he told her that he was happy and well and that Deborah and the rest of the family need not be upset. The dream released her, it gave her permission to engage with life and not feel guilty that she was alive and her grandfather was not.
We need to talk about death with children and not to avoid the event especially if children have been bereaved. Charles Darwin, the great scientific explorer and pioneer of his generation, suffered throughout his life from chronic ill health. From the evidence available, it is clear, his poor health was psychiatric and psychosomatic in origin. His mother died when he was only 9 years of age and two of his three sisters would not allow his mother’s name ever to be mentioned. Darwin himself, in later years, said he could remember nothing about her at all. The overwhelming taboo drove his pain into the darkness of the unconscious and its only expression was through continued illness.
I agree with Prince William, who said at a visit to a hospice for children in 2016, that it helps if we can talk about the person who has died and share memories with others. We can improve the mental health of children when we listen, show empathy and not judge them. Compassion and kindness are healing balms.