Today and yesterday Lottie & I lost 2 very special Dad's - within the same two days - 10 years apart.
We all have probably had to deal with grief in some way or another and everyone has different ways of coping. From bringing up a daughter who lost her Father at the age of 3 and a half, to loosing my own Dad last year it reminded me of the ways that grief can hit you and how we process this.
Mark Lemon is an award-winning children’s author, public speaker, podcaster, grief & mental health speaker and bereavement ambassador for children's charity, Winston's Wish
I will never forget Mark giving Lottie the confidence to speak out about her grief when he asked her to be involved in his 'Grief is my Superpower' podcast a few years ago. After chatting with Mark about her own journey with grief it undoubtably gave Lottie the confidence to tell her story in the hope she could help others.
We asked Mark a few questions on grief & how schools are supporting bereaved children and know that his wise words from his experience with his own loss will help others.
Please can you tell us about your experience of grief?
When I was 12-years-old my father was murdered and my world changed forever.
Can you tell us a bit about your connections with Winston's Wish?
In 2017, I discovered children’s bereavement charity, Winston’s Wish. After fundraising for the charity through sales of our children’s books, I was invited to be an ambassador. Winston’s Wish
is an incredible charity that supports thousands of bereaved children and young people across the UK.
How do you remember your father? Do you have any of his belongings?
My father and I had a very special relationship. We used to play sport together and this mean’t that we spent a lot of time travelling to football or tennis matches. I will always carry the special memories of my father throughout my life. I’m extremely fortunate to still have a few items that belonged to my father. I still have my father's barber wax jacket, which still smells and feels the same.
We know that Music is a big memory shaker are there any tracks that remind you of him?
My father loved his music, especially jazz or classical. I’ll always remember listening to Abba on family European holidays or Carlos Santana in the car.
We know that covering grief is now in the school curriculum - but not compulsory - What do you think schools could do better when it comes to educating children of all ages in this subject?
Schools across the UK are improving when talking about the difficult subject of grief, but there is still a long way to go. With the added impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic, young people are now having to navigate their grief in isolation, and this is affecting their mental health. There needs to be better funding to support schools with training and bereavement support. The government education system must improve when offering bereavement resources in all schools. Thankfully, there are wonderful bereavement charities that families can call upon outside of the school environment.
What advice would you give a parent who’s child had lost a family member or loved one?
Firstly, I would say that there is no set rule for supporting a bereaved child. Everyones grief is individual and we all grieve in our own way and in our own time.
It’s vital that you build strong communications with the child’s school. The feeling of returning to school after a bereavement is a hugely traumatic and difficult time. So, reaching out to the school before the child returns is extremely important when building a support network that the child can trust. Arrange a meeting with the school and explain what has happened so all teachers and teaching assistants are aware for how best to support the child.
Ensure that the child knows how loved and supported they are. More often than not the child can be left feeling isolated, due to the friends and loved ones around them struggling to know what to say or do practically. From my personal experience, children want to talk and share the memories of the loved one that’s died. Perhaps put together a memory box of special items that belonged to the loved one, including photos or special items.
Acknowledge the key dates across the year i.e. anniversaries, birthdays or Christmas. Communicate with the child and ask them if they would like to do anything special on these dates. They might just want to have a quiet day of reflection, but it’s important that you communicate first, before making any decisions.
It’s important to understand that the feelings of grief never leaves you, but it does become easier to wear in time. The child will find their own coping techniques that work best for them and they will go on to live fulfilled and happy lives.
There are a number of charities and organisations that can help support children and adults cope with their grief.