The shared emotional response is not about the intrinsic qualities or achievements of the person who has died. It is about the fragility of life and the capacity of some events to knock us down not as individuals, but as a community. We learn from these things.
(Malcolm Knox ‘Players will find it difficult to move on from the tragedy of Hughes’. Saturday Age, 6/12/14, p.57).
Phillip Hughes’ tragic death impacted on many people. I suspect that, unlike those who knew him and were affected directly, many of us, whose connection with Hughes was solely through the extensive media coverage of his death and related events that preceded and succeeded it, have ‘moved on’ now. I wonder if children who were touched by these events have moved on quite so quickly and easily.
Educators in services for school-age children, and some who work with children under school age, will have had conversations with children and overheard conversations between children about this tragedy. These conversations no doubt have been both expressions of sadness and efforts to make sense of something that seems so random and so wrong.
I tried unsuccessfully to talk myself out of being caught up in the media coverage. I invoked the usual clichés about people dying unexpectedly every day and our inclination to over-revere sportsmen (it’s hardly ever women). I think a major part of the story of Phillip Hughes was the fact that his story was straightforward, ‘ordinary’ – a loving family, a country upbringing, a passion for cows and cricket, seemingly a man who was not complex. His cricket success was only one component of the story. I was aware that much of my sadness as I watched the funeral was because I am the mother of adult sons – that’s all.
For some children the powerful message from the death of Phillip Hughes is that people can die unexpectedly, tragically and long before it’s time. I recall very vividly the moment when I was a child when I understood for the first time that a much-loved person close to you or someone you admire at a distance can die totally unexpectedly and seemingly without reason. Can you recall that moment in your life? That awareness was for me temporarily shattering. I suspect that, contrary to the erroneous stereotype of children as carefree human beings who have no worries, some children may not move on so easily from the death of Phillip Hughes. Many will need wise help to make sense of horrible events.
Do you know children who may be experiencing awareness of the randomness of death for the first time? What is your obligation to them?
How do you decide what to say and when to say it?
Do you initiate discussion about death or wait for children to initiate it?
How do you model both moving on after a tragedy and ‘constructive grieving’ — holding on to the memory and learning from it?
The resource provides insightful advice assisting our understanding of what loss means to children, as well as outlining positive strategies to help children cope, including:
- the emotions produced by loss
- how children understand grief
- the ways children may respond
- cultural differences in the ways children may experience grief and loss
- what parents and carers can do to help children cope.
State and Territory Governments have information and support available for children and families coping with a loss.
You may also wish to follow links below to some other resources. Families may wish to seek professional support and advice.
- Kidsmatter – a mental health initiative – Children and grief
- Red Chocolate Elephants: Book and DVD: For Children Bereaved By Suicide
- Winston’s Wish: Muddles Puddles and Sunshine: Activity Book for Bereaved Children
- Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement (Books for Children)
Where to go for help
- Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma loss and Grief Network
- Lifeline. Lifeline Centres can provide links to suicide bereavement support groups.
- Salvation Army Hope Line 1300 467 354 (24hr bereavement support)
- SANE Helpline 1800 18 SANE (7263)
- StandBy 24hr crisis response to those bereaved by through suicide.
- Suicide Line (Victoria): suicideline.org.au