Date published: 14 November 2018 by Anna Jackson
In every classroom across the country there will be at least one bereaved child and for many of them it will be a sibling that has died.
At Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity, we have the privilege of meeting and supporting families during a child’s illness, so we know just how important creating special and positive memories for the whole family can be. When a child is unwell life can be full of hospital stays and medical intervention and it can be very challenging to spend time just being together as a family doing fun things. We always encourage families to try and spend some time in focusing on creating those memories that will form such an important part of the continuing bonds that they will want to have when their child is no longer here.
Every relationship is unique and any sibling who has lost a brother or sister will have their own story to tell. Storytelling and sharing memories is so important for us to try and make sense of what has happened. Naturally some of the story will be sad, unhappy or frightening for children, but it is just as important to help children talk about those aspects as they too form part of the whole picture. Children will take their lead from the adults around them so if grief is hidden and not spoken about children will feel inhibited to share their feelings. Having specific #remember when ideas will help find a way to talk when the grief is overwhelming.
One family whose child was entering the final stages of life made every effort to both talk to their other children about what was happening to their sister, and to create times with her that they hoped would comfort them when she died. Things like having the same Saturday night dinner (at home or in the hospital) #remember when the pizza came, and we shared it with the nurses? Having a holiday away together #remember when we all went swimming for the first time in ages? This has all helped family to keep the child present with them and has provided a structure for them to share their grief and celebrate their family. Although the child is no longer present at the pizza night, it is a small act of remembrance every time they do it.
Some families choose to have specific acts of remembrance beyond the funeral, the child’s birthday, anniversary or just including them in events throughout the year. Siblings can really engage with this type of thing and it will help them tell their story by being creative and by putting feelings into action.
Photographs, film clips, things that siblings have made together as well as memory boxes that record the simple things that made a child special will all really help children process their loss. This will be especially important for younger siblings who may not have fixed memories of their brother or sister, or indeed for those children who are born after a bereavement. The child who has died will always have a place in the family and it is through the making of memories and sharing them with each other that life can grow around the loss in a positive way.