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Sharing Shapes, And Feelings: How Ellenor Is Supporting Children’s Grief Awareness Week This November

“For me, the GEM days are amazing. My son always gets upset when it’s time for me to leave but everyone that works on these GEM days gives me and my son confidence to be able to leave.

It’s still so raw for us and I always personally walk away upset because it makes me sad seeing all these young ones there, but the groups are so well put together and organised I am so grateful for these GEM days. My Son gets to express himself and his given the confidence and tools to do so. He enjoys going to these days. So thank you“.

This year, 17th to 23rd of November marks Children’s Grief Awareness Week.

Spearheaded by the Childhood Bereavement Network, the week’s goal is to raise awareness of bereaved children and young people in the UK. And demonstrate the kind of difference providing free, professional support to grieving young people can make to their lives – and their futures.

In 2022, we are one of the organisations taking part, showing solidarity with bereaved children, young people, and their families. 

We, of course, is no stranger to working with bereaved children. Its GEMS (Grief: Every Memory is Special) groups provide bereavement support for children aged 6 to 16. Blending play and fun with a combination of therapeutic activities, our GEMS days help young people open up around grief in a safe space – surrounded by those experiencing many of the same feelings they are.

“On our GEMS Day, children and young people share as much as they want, or as little,” says Jola Martis, ellenor’s play therapist.

“We guide them through this. We had one child who struggled at the beginning – he’d lost his dad and was anxious leaving his mum. He was the youngest, five years old. With some reassurance, he decided to stay – and participated very well. He loved it, and even stood up at the end and shared with others what he gained from the session.”

The GEMS sessions incorporate a wide range of activities. They start with introductions, to build the kids’ confidence around – and camaraderie with – each other. Each child’s loss is acknowledged, and they’re invited to speak about their feelings; or to express them through whatever non-verbal medium they’re most comfortable with.

Of course, there’s also plenty of fun: whether that’s playing in the garden, making cupcakes, or walking, running, and chatting together; forming friendships and laughing loudly.

In October, our GEMS Day took place – this time, with a twist. In support of Children’s Grief Awareness Week, this GEMS day included a special activity: ‘Sharing Shapes’. 

A Childhood Bereavement Network initiative, ‘Sharing Shapes’ is a simple, relaxed activity for bereaved children. The goal? To help them share, via an accessible, familiar medium, what helps them navigate grief and bereavement.

Led by Jola Martis, ellenor’s play therapist, the GEMS group children carefully drew and coloured on five-sided shapes, to create two murals. These tessellating pentagons will later be ‘knitted’ together, and showcased, as a whole, in two larger displays of shared support. One locally, by ellenor; one nationally, by Children’s Bereavement Network.

Together, these shared shapes – visual displays of splendour and solidarity – will help highlight the range of experiences that support bereaved children and young people.

The day brought plenty of sharing. And a vibrant, vivid variety of shapes. One child, a boy of around four, drew a spider. Why? Because it was his way of remembering his mum, who – because the boy was scared of spiders – would take care of them for him.

Now, spiders have come to represent how his mum kept him safe. As part of his ‘Sharing Space’ contribution, the boy also drew the sofa his mum used to love, as a way of remembering her – and expressing his grief in a way he could understand and navigate.

‘Sharing Shapes’ isn’t only for the kids, though. At October’s GEMS session, parents/carers were invited down at lunchtime, for a tea party the kids helped prepare.

Welcomed with coffee, biscuits, and sandwiches, the young people’s caregivers were also invited to draw their own shapes. To illustrate their own expressions of grief: what helped them, as well as what helped their kids.

“We noticed that the parents were also relating to each other,” Jola says. “Grandparents, parents; all talking to each other and sharing their experiences.

“It’s important to have parents with us, attending the sessions and drawing their own shapes. It helps caregivers understand how they can communicate with their own children about loss or grief or come up with novel ideas and ways how to do this. It reinforces that it’s okay to talk about these things; to remember the person.”

Of our GEMS/’Sharing Shapes’ session, one participant’s mother said: “It really helped that my girls were separated after having a chat with Jola and expressing my feelings and concerns. Both girls ultimately benefited from this. Tilly-Grace went from putting her hands over her ears when talking about her dad and uncle who have passed to being the first one to want to get up in front of everybody to explain her picture, it was a relief to see, so thank you. Also, Evie-Joyce got her own time for herself. Thanks for everything you have done for all 3 of my children”.

To find out more about what we are doing to help bereaved children and young people explore their feelings in a safe space – with people of similar ages, who are facing similar circumstances – head to ellenor’s GEMS bereavement group page.

Gems Info Box

Grief Every Memory is Special (GEM’s) - available to 7 –16-year olds

GEMS is a bereavement support group for children who have experienced a loss of a loved one under the care of ellenor. This could be a sibling, a parent, or a grandparent.


Puppetry Play Therapy Teaser (1)

The Power of Puppetry, Storytelling and Narratives in Helping Children Triumph Over Grief

Together with Strangeface Theatre, we facilitated a workshop for children to create puppets, many of which became a representation of a person the child had lost.