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Garden House Hospice Care Catherine s children with the therapy dolls

Catherine’s Story

Did you know that one child in every UK classroom under the age of 16 has been bereaved of a parent or sibling? This year, that number is set to rise.

The Hospice offers individual support to children and young people who are bereaved or living with an adult with a serious illness. Our trained team of staff and volunteers offer support to children, in a safe, confidential environment, helping children to express their thoughts and feelings, using creative interventions.

Tracey Swinburne is the Child Bereavement Co-ordinator at the Hospice.

“Our Children and Young People service at the Hospice offers vitally important support to children and young people, their parents, families and schools, enabling them to find acceptance and grow through their grief. Supporting children and young people in preparing for, and at the time of their loss gives them the best possible chance to grow into emotionally resilient adults.”

Catherine, a local mum of two, lost her husband, and father to her two girls aged 6 and 8 in 2019.

“We were referred to the Hospice for support for the girls by Addenbrookes Hospital. The girls spent some time with Tracey in pre-bereavement sessions. When Scott died, we attended family drop-in sessions held on a Saturday at the Hospice. They were brilliant. We felt that the other people there understood what we were all going through, and have made some fantastic friendships through the group with other grieving families.

“Tracey has been such a huge part of our process moving forward. The kids feel as ‘normal’ as normal can be. The death of your father is horrible lesson to have to learn at this age, and they’re missing Scott terribly, but they don’t feel like they’re on their own. They feel like this is a normal part of life rather than feeling singled out for being different. Seeing them laughing and skipping into the Hospice is going to open their eyes to different environments and make them more open minded and positive about visiting people in hospitals or care homes. I think it’s going to set them up for life.”

During their family support journey, Tracey was put in touch with a local crafter, Lily, who donated two special personalised rag dolls of Catherine and Scott to be used to support the girls’ therapy.

Tracey said:

“Keeping the memory of a parent and their presence alive in a child’s life is so important. We thought it would be lovely for the dolls to be personalised to photographs of their loved ones, for the children to work with in session, to keep and take home.

“The dolls enable a continuing bond for the children and family. Each doll has a heart pocket which contains ‘invisible string’, connecting the children to their loved one – a bond which continues and will always remain. The doll can be used to encourage and support ongoing discussion about a parent or loved one who has died long into the future.”

Catherine and her two girls came into the Hospice to collect their special dolls. They both beamed with joy and cuddled them tight saying “We love them”.

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