My name is Laura.
I’m 37, and I live in Hextable, near Swanley. In April 2022, I became a widow – and a single mum to Sonny, who was just four and a half years old at the time.
When my husband Stephen was diagnosed with bowel cancer, it was only once things were too late. ellenor stepped in to care for Steve, from our home, for the time we had left. But that time was short – and within seven weeks, he was gone.
I never really knew what hospice care was before then. And, even as it was all happening – in the days following Steve’s diagnosis, and later his death – it still all feels to be a blur. I was processing my own grief; attempting to hold things together in the face of the loss of my life partner and the central pillar of my support network.
Yet of course, it wasn’t just me I had to keep going for. It was our son, too.
But how do you explain to a six-year-old where his dad – his best friend – has gone? How do you get him to open up, when you’re struggling to do that yourself? To make him understand, when you have no clue either?
It was only when I got the call from Jolanta, Play Therapist at ellenor, that a light began to appear at the end of the tunnel; the glimmer of a way to help Sonny find a voice for his grief.
Within weeks, I was driving Sonny to his first GEMS (Grief Every Memory is Special) day. It’s a group, which ellenor facilitates, for young people who’ve lost their loved ones. It provides a safe space for them to socialise, have fun, and talk about their feelings with other children going through the same thing. Who’ve lost a sibling, garandparent, or parent to life-limiting illness – and can relate on a deep level to what the others there are going through.
ellenor’s GEMS days are aimed at children betweens 6 and 16 years, so we worried that Sonny – who was almost five when he attended his first session – was a little too young. And, like any small boy thrust into an unfamiliar scenario, he found it difficult to leave my side when I dropped him off.
That soon changed!
When I picked him up later, he’d absolutely loved it. They’d made coloured shapes out of cardboard and built their own bracelets. A few weeks later, when it was time for his session, he wasn’t clawing at my leg, or scared to go in – he positively skipped inside. Now, he’ll pipe up at the start of the week with something like “I can’t wait for Saturday”. When I ask why, he beams, and replies: “Because I can’t wait for GEMS!” As for him being too young, he instantly gelled with much older children, becoming both a friend and a vocal contributor.
Sonny gets a lot of support at school, and the children in his class are amazing. But he doesn’t open up with them in the same way he does at GEMS days. He understands that the other children are in a similar situation – that they’ve all lost someone close to them.
Sonny knows that he can have those conversations here. That it’s a safe space; and that he is not only listened to but understood.