This isn’t going to be a particularly jolly post but I think it’s an important one. Years ago, teaching part-time in a school, there was a boy in my class called Eric. Eric’s mum was diagnosed with cancer and she died three months later – it was a short, brutal illness. Eric was 8 years old. He lived with his mum and two sisters and had never met his dad. His sisters were older than him, one of them was in her twenties and she took on responsibility for Eric and his other sister.
I only taught Eric a few times a week but it became clear to me, very quickly, that he had no idea or understanding of why his life had suddenly been turned upside down. He was a quiet, well-mannered, well-behaved child and because he didn’t cause trouble he was more or less left to get on with it. It didn’t take long for him to become withdrawn and anxious. His shoulders drooped, the light went out of his eyes.
Several times I asked his class teacher and the head of special needs if he was having any counselling, if he had anyone to talk to, anyone to help him through his loss, and each time I was told that they were looking in to it, trying to get him some help, making enquiries, but it just never happened.
My new book, TANGLED SECRETS is about two children, Maddie and Kieran, who have both suffered a sudden and shocking loss.
They each react to the loss in very different ways…one by withdrawing, the other by hitting out. One by becoming silent, the other by telling the whole world to get lost. They are both angry and confused and most of all frightened. Luckily for them, their form tutor organises weekly counselling sessions, a ‘nurture’ group – and their counsellor, Vivian, helps them navigate a way through their grief.
The idea to write TANGLED SECRETS actually came from my own experience, as an adult, not a child. A few years ago my dad passed away after a short but very distressing illness. At that time I was working more-or-less full time as a teacher and I remember finding it SO difficult to go back to work and carry on as if everything was normal and nothing had changed. I remember it being a very lonely and isolating time. Nobody was mean or thoughtless, they just weren’t experiencing what I was experiencing.
I have dedicated TANGLED SECRETS to my big sister, Paula. She is a child and adolescent psychotherapist and although I didn’t need help writing about Maddie and Kieran’s loss, she helped me to make all the therapy’ parts of the book, as realistic as possible. Every time I wrote one of the ‘nurture’ group scenes I rang her to check I was getting it right.
In a funny sort of full circle, on Tuesday this week, my sister and her husband met a little 8 year-old boy who they are hoping to foster long-term. He has suffered terrible losses in his short life and we’re all keeping everything crossed that he gets the chance to experience a happy and settled family life again.
We all suffer losses in our lives, whether it’s a pet we really love, or a grandparent or other family member we’re very close to. I just hope if it’s happened to you, you were lucky enough, like Maddie and Kieran, to have someone special to help you through…