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How children benefit from extra care after a death in the family

PUBLISHED: 07:00 14 June 2019

Andrew with his children on a day out in the sun. Picture: Andrew Turnbull

Andrew with his children on a day out in the sun. Picture: Andrew Turnbull

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A father has spoken of the support he and his two young sons received from a local hospice when his wife and their mother was suddenly struck down by cancer.

The father and his sons are now looking forward, but will never forget the wife and mother they lost. Picture: Andrew TurnbullThe father and his sons are now looking forward, but will never forget the wife and mother they lost. Picture: Andrew Turnbull

It comes as the annual Children's Hospice Week takes place.

The aim is to highlight the level of support of the unique range of services organisations such as the ellenor hospice and others can offer to young people.

It can cover everything from a full hospice at home service providing oncology, palliative care and end of life care for children facing life-limiting illnesses, a full hospice at home service providing oncology and end of life care within the home, to counselling for young people who have been bereaved.

The Turnbull family is fully supportive of the special week, and the husband has spoken of his struggle coming to terms with the loss of his wife.

With extra support, even children can learn to live again after losing a loved one. Picture: Andrew TurnbullWith extra support, even children can learn to live again after losing a loved one. Picture: Andrew Turnbull

He also talked about the younger members of his family in particular were supported by ellenor staff following the death of their mother.

Shona Turnbull, wife of Andrew and mother of Maxwell and Lucas, was unexpectedly diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and passed away 18 months later in ellenor hospice, Gravesend.

Knowing ellenor could give her and her family the support they needed, Shona chose to spend her final moments with ellenor.

Maxwell was just five when she died, Lucas a mere 18 months.

Andrew was left not only coping with his own grief, but trying to handle the impact his wife's death was having on the children.

From the very start, the support was there.

He said: "The afternoon Shona passed away, the ellenor palliative care team had suggested that when other family members were saying a final goodbye to Shona at the hospice, the children should share this moment.

"At first I thought it was an utterly ridiculous idea, but on talking it through with the team, I realised it would help give the boys a sense of closure and help them understand that she wasn't coming home.

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"They were able to see their mum looking so peaceful, and know that she had died under the care of ellenor, looked after with full dignity and compassion.

"I realised it would help give the boys a sense of closure. For us as a family, it was the right thing to do.

"Ellenor staff enabled us all to understand that Shona was peaceful and that she had died."

Over the next five years, ellenor continued to support the Turnbull family, offering Andrew counselling and advice as their lives unfolded without Shona.

Play therapy was available for both of the boys as well as the provision of days out with other grieving children, and Maxwell was of the age to benefit from counselling sessions where he met other children with similar emotions and who wanted to talk about their parents.

And ellenor's Children's Team worked closely with Maxwell to help him open up about his grief, overcome his anger and learn to heal.

Andrew said: "With ellenor's support, Maxwell is in a really good place today.

"The hospice has been fantastic to him in so many ways and to use as a family."

Maxwell is now a happy, settled boy.

Having seen the benefits of ellenor's care for Maxwell, Andrew is now turning to ellenor for play therapy for Lucas who, at six years old, is now able to process the loss of his mother.

Andrew added: "Ellenor helped us feel less alone, understood.

"If your children are facing the loss of a loved one, be as proactive as you can and consider counselling services - for you and the kids.

"I went through all the stages of grief and ellenor helped me understand that my emotions were natural and it being unfair, was very much ok to say.

"This in turn helped me to support my children."

For more information, phone ellenor on 01474 320007 or visit ellenor.org/childrens-hospice-care

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