As someone who experienced bereavement as a child at similar ages to Prince Harry, this is just a big subject, and not really discussed normally in the mainstream media.
Like him, as a young teenager, me and my brother had absolutely no one to talk to when my dad suddenly died o f a stroke, shortly before Christmas. I still remember the presents we had got him, and his empty seat, and suddenly having an aunt turn up at the Christmas meal; she bought us the Christmas tree, that my dad would have put up. It was pretty hard for me as my dad was more of a friend, and we had similar sense of humour and interests, and he was really laid back. Some people said the stroke could have caused by the war, he was shot twice in Sicily, few places that anyone would get out alive apparently, though he did take pills for high blood pressure despite eating fairly healthily. I remember the weird seriousness of the ambulance workers and the ‘look’ the doctor gave us, it didn’t look good. My life changed at seven o’clock one morning. As kids, we only visited him twice, I think any more, would have been all too much. I remember holding his hand, a farmers’ hand, but he was quite sedated. I still remember the hand, it was my last ever contact with my dad. Things just went into remote control, our emotions left us.
The schools didn’t help at all, nor any religious organisations, nothing, and I went to a so-called religious school. Pupils didn’t help either, they were pretty bad.. We never got a condolence card, nothing. We had absolutely no support. It was years later when it really affected me. I don’t really want to go into detail about it on this blog, but I have been a speaker on this subject at medical conferences where it is a little safer to talk.. It was difficult, but I did it, memories did some back, so it wasn’t a long speech. I had not even planned the speech, just went up and talked!
People still don’t talk about. it, but they should, as best they can. Sudden bereavement can happen to anyone. When your dad dies, we felt like we had stopped becoming ‘kids’, we grew up pretty quickly and knew what really mattered in life.
From my own experience, these are some of my tips:-
- Get schools more involved in this issue, teachers and pupils need to be understanding and supportive.
- Get kids who have been bereaved involved in brilliant charities like Winston’s Wish, where they can talk and meet others who have done through the same thing. When I cycled to Paris, some of my money went towards this charity, years later.
- Parents encourage their kids to get some counselling if they want it.
- Distraction techniques – get a puppy, or something that creates a positive new chapter in their life.
- Talk about it, share tips and way of coping.
- Focus on something, for me it was sport.
- If you have kids, make a will (include the kids) and have life insurance.
- Keep things as stable as possible. We were lucky, we didn’t have to move or anything and my dad never had life insurance. We just about hung on financially.