A few years ago, when I worked for a service for school leaders, we received many queries about how to support bereaved children. It struck me what a difficult question this was to answer. After all, every child’s experience and circumstances are so different. Plus, with news coverage of teachers’ ever-rising workloads, it got me thinking how impossible it was for them to offer the dedicated support that a grieving child might need.
It had been many years since I’d lost my own dad while at secondary school, but I wondered whether much had changed. At the time, I was lucky enough to have an incredible group of supportive friends, and a couple of teachers who went out of their way to check in on me. But I didn’t know anyone who had gone through the same experience as me, nor anyone who I could regularly talk to outside of the school and family setting. I felt keenly that I needed more support, but I wasn’t even sure what to ask for.
Everyone has their own ways of dealing with grief, and for the first few years, mine was avoidance. I threw myself into my school work, trying to keep my mind occupied at every waking moment. I went through a period of not speaking and avoiding people in general. But things got better with time. I finished school, went to university. Life continued. And yet, I would go through periods in which the grief came when I least expected it, and it affected me deeply, because I hadn’t dealt with it properly.
All of this was running through my mind as I read the resource that we’d produced for parents at my workplace. And that’s when I found out about the brilliant work of Grief Encounter - a charity which I wish had been around when I was at school. For me, it was immediately obvious that it forms that crucial, missing piece of support. It provides counselling, a Grieftalk helpline, workshops, retreats, and family days.
Having spoken to members of the team, I was blown away by the impact of their work. One young boy, who hadn’t spoken since his mum’s death, had opened up when singing in the Grief Encounter choir. Perhaps most importantly, the charity brings together people who have been through similar experiences and can truly empathise with one another’s situation. There’s a real relief in that.
When I started to write The Dragon in the Bookshop, which is about a boy who loses his dad, I immediately decided to raise awareness for Grief Encounter through my book. Why? Because I want every reader to know about the charity’s existence - it just might be that invaluable source of support for them or someone they know.