When Jo Cole’s husband, Neil, died suddenly from a heart attack, their son, Jonny, was eight years old and about to start Year Four at primary school.
After returning from a family weekend away, Neil became unwell in the night and was taken into York Hospital. He went into intensive care, but never regained consciousness, and died five days later.
His funeral took place on what would have been his 52nd birthday, and Jonny wrote and read out his own tribute to his father.
Jonny went back to school the next day and it wasn’t until six months later that his grief spilled over into his school life when the class started a topic on the Ancient Egyptians and he began to get very distressed.
Something was missing
Jo says the school were supportive and a teaching assistant trained in emotional support (ELSA) worked with him for several months to help him through.
But she felt something was missing as she reached out for support in the nightmarish task of helping a grieving child while still grieving yourself.
“One in 29 children experience bereavement during their school years, that is the loss of a parent or sibling,” she says.
“Some families are offered support through the hospice if their relatives are patients there, but others who don’t go through that system don’t get offered anything automatically.
“Support given by schools can vary from place to place – and schools can’t do everything.”
Bereaved Children Support
Today Jo is hoping she can plug that gap with her new venture, Bereaved Children Support – York.
Contact Jo at [email protected]
So far she has started up a monthly drop-in in a room at her local Costa Coffee in Haxby, which Jonny, now 11, attends along with other children and their parents.
There are toys to play with, along with crafts and activities, which Jo has been able to buy thanks to donations received through her gofundme page.
Books explaining death and dying to children, plus information sheets, are free for anyone who wants to take them away and at the centre of things is always Jo’s ‘Memory Tree’ where messages can be left by those who want to.
As well as children being able to meet others in the same situation as them, it gives parents the chance to chat.
“Sometimes you don’t need a professional intervention, you just need to know that what they’re going through is normal,” she says.
“As parents we know that children don’t come with an instruction manual and if they did it certainly doesn’t have chapter on this. You’re grieving yourself and in shock.”
‘A new chapter’
Eventually Jo hopes to set up a formal charity which would be able to apply for grants to employ someone who could provide support for families in York.
In the meantime, she is planning the next drop-in and has just completed a new website for the group.
Not to mention the small matter of Jonny starting secondary school in September.
“He’s really looking forward to it,” she says.
“It has been a difficult three years, but we are looking forward to this new chapter for both of us.”