Keeping memories alive

14 May 2019 | West and South West England

Rainbow Centre

Remarkable centre helps children facing bereavement.

Losing a loved one is devastating for anyone. But children facing bereavement need special care. One charity in Bristol however is doing all it can to support children who have suffered by helping them to open up about their feelings, individually, to their families, and to other children and young people.

The Rainbow Centre, which is a TSB Local Charity, also hold family workshop days alongside one-to-one sessions and play and drama therapy.

There is a story that sums up the impact of The Rainbow Centre, and the difference it can make to children grieving the loss of someone close to them.

A father was helping his ten-year-old daughter make a memory box to hold mementos of her mum during a craft session at one of the centre’s family workshop days.

He drew a picture of his wife on the box, and the little girl told him: “That’s not mummy. She didn’t have any hair.”

Karmen Losey, a therapist and director of the centre, says: “Her mum had been ill for so long, the little girl had no recollection of her with hair.

“That moment sparked a lovely conversation between them about what her mum had been like before she was ill, and what a beautiful woman she was.” Karmen says it is vital for children to be able to talk about loss and grief with people their own age, as well as adults. And it can help prevent mental health issues further down the line.

“At the family workshops, we start off all together, and we talk about the person they have lost,” she says.

“Then we separate the children and the parents. It’s especially important for teenagers at the family workshops. In a small group they can really relate to other people their own age.”

It is a process that works for younger children and adults too. Karmen adds: “For the little ones, it’s being able to talk about death without having to worry about their parents getting upset. The therapists are trained to talk about it with them without getting distressed.

“For the parents, it may be the first time they can talk about their feelings more deeply without worrying about the children. They can be angry about what has happened and that’s an emotion that can be difficult to express in front of children.

“At the end, we all come back together to do a creative activity. For example, we might make a planting memories pot.

“The children write a message - perhaps just the name of the person they have lost, or ‘I miss you daddy’ and place it in a pot. Then they cover it with stones or sand, then fill it with soil and put a plant in. They can take that home, so they know the message is always there.”

The centre, a TSB Local Community Fund winner, relies entirely on fundraising and donations, with no central funding.

It is run by a small part-time team who share a passion for helping others, supported by volunteers, including staff from TSB.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” says Karmen. “The work that we do means our therapists have to be highly trained and qualified, but we rely on the support of our volunteers.

“They help us with things like painting and gardening, they shake collection buckets at events, and do things such as serve refreshments at our family workshops.”

Some volunteers are people who have been touched by grief, or perhaps have previously been helped by the centre, which also works with schools and children’s hospices.

Karmen says: “The service is free, and the whole point is that they shouldn’t feel indebted, so we ask them not to volunteer or raise funds at the time.

“But for some of them, after their family is more stable, perhaps their children have gone through school, they want to give back.”

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