According to the Winston’s Wish website, a service which provides support for children and young people who have been bereaved; every twenty-two minutes a child in Britain is bereaved of a parent. What this means is that over 24,000 young people experience the death of a parent each year (in Britain).

Losing someone close to you, a parent, a sibling, a grandparent or a friend is one of the exceedingly challenging times in life regardless of how old you are; however, experiencing the death of a loved one at a young age has an impact on the rest of your life. As a young person, you are learning about yourself, with the support from a huge variety of people: parents, teachers etc. Growing up in today’s society is hard enough as it is without having to face losing someone you love dearly. Unfortunately, bereavement in young people is alarmingly common.

The death of a loved one can happen in many ways and in some cases, you may have time to ‘prepare’ for the event – examples include, if someone has a terminal illness. However at other times, the death can be sudden and unexpected, for example in accidents. Either way, bereavement is a tough time for any young person.

I was seventeen when my father passed away in March 2012. He’d been ill with cancer for quite a long time so while I knew that his life would be short, it shocked me at how suddenly his death seemed to come around. It is important to mention that everyone’s ways of coping with bereavement will be different, therefore this article will draw on my personal experiences of bereavement and the things that helped me to cope after losing my dad to cancer. However, other young people may have different ways of coping. That’s okay because we were all created to react uniquely to a range of events which life may throw at us.

You may experience an array of feelings and emotions when you have been bereaved, either all at once or one after another. When my mum told me that my dad had died, I didn’t feel anything or even think anything for at least an hour afterwards. I was seventeen at the time, in my final year at sixth form, in the middle of a UCAS application. The understanding of what had happened didn’t hit me until I was on the bus on my way to school. Then I felt as if I was in denial, I just wanted a normal day. Looking back, even now, I didn’t think at the time that this was the normal way of coping after being told that my dad had died only a few hours earlier. But I’m starting to accept that it was my way of dealing with it.

Everyone’s experience of grief is different. There are no rules about what we should feel, and for how long. But many people find that they feel a mixture of the following:
• Sadness
• Shock, particularly if the death was unexpected
• Relief, if the death followed a long period of illness
• Guilt and regret
• Anger
• Anxiety
• Despair and helplessness

It is also compulsory to remember that there is no time limit on grief. Even three years after my dad died, I still have days where I feel hopeless and helpless, upset, recalling the events of that day and the weeks and months afterwards. Only recently have I started to really open up about how it’s affected my life and how I’m worried that it will affect my future. I have found it difficult to talk (because I’m a naturally shy individual, I express myself better through writing), simultaneously I have found it really helpful to speak with a professional because they are not paid to judge people but to help and guide them instead.

What prompted me to seek support was that I started to feel angry about my father’s death, and anger is not usually an emotion I am used to feeling, so it scared me a lot that I had no experience of dealing with my own anger.

I would encourage any young person who has been bereaved to speak to a counsellor when and if they feel ready to because it really does make a huge difference. A counsellor told me that there is no time limit on grief and that my thoughts and feelings were completely natural. They also explained how my dad’s death would have an impact on the rest of my life, on important moments in my life, like my graduation, wedding etc. I found that I just needed to hear this from a professional in order for it to mean something to me. It was reassuring.

Other young people may feel that they don’t need to speak to a counsellor. Some people prefer to talk to someone else whom they trust such as a friend, a teacher or a relative. Some people don’t feel the need to talk at all but express their grief in other forms, such as through writing, singing, art, or by channelling their emotions into a sport. One of the main points is to take care of your own health and wellbeing: physically and emotionally. I know how hard this can be but in the long term, it helps.

Finally, it is necessary to remember that if you do lose a loved one, there is no right way to cope, you just naturally find out what helps you. There are many charities in the UK which help young people who have been bereaved, such as Winston’s Wish, Cruse and Daisy’s Dream (my family had a lovely woman from Daisy’s Dream come and speak with us both during the final months of my dad’s illness and for many months after his death). I would also say that you will have good days and bad days for years afterwards and that is normal too,  as I’ve learned. Finding your own way to cope with bereavement is the most important piece of advice I can give from my own experience.

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