A Mind Full of Grief – book review

Becky shares a review of Clare Shaw’s latest bereavement guide for young people

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Becky Hughes, Community Co-Ordinator at Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors
Becky Hughes, Community Co-Ordinator at Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors

Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex in 1855. The company remains based on North Parade, with further offices now situated across the county in Billingshurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint. In addition to the provision of funeral services, Freeman Brothers is dedicated to supporting the community in other ways. Community Co-Ordinator Becky discusses the company’s latest initiative…

Two years ago, at the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) conference, my colleagues and I met author Clare Shaw. She had written several books for younger children, including ‘Love Will Never Die’, a bereavement guide, which we all thought was excellent. It was a resource we decided would be useful for our offices – visitors sometimes mention that there are young children within a Deceased person’s network who are struggling with issues around the death, and this book helps to explain, as many adults aren’t sure how to discuss the topic. Since displaying them in our offices, people have been able to comment on them and, when appropriate, they are offered a copy to take with them free of charge.

We also offered free copies to all local primary schools, receiving a very positive response. This was several months prior to the pandemic and, despite death not being as high up the national agenda at that point, many schools responded to our letter with thoughts such as, ‘We have been in this situation and not had any resources to support us’. It was great to know that we could be of assistance in this way – today’s bereaved children are, of course, future bereaved adults, and the experiences they have now will shape how they are able to cope with bereavement later in life.

Whilst this was a brilliant resource to be able to offer locally, there did still seem to be a gap in support available for older children. Statistics show that one in 30 children will be bereaved of a parent by the age of 16, but it’s not just parental bereavement that matters. The impact of a death can be felt no matter how close or distant our relationship to a person and, due to the pandemic, many more children have been exposed to death at a young age than ever before during peacetime.

Clare joined our online Dying Matters Awareness Week event in May, and announced during the discussion that she was about to publish a new book about grief – this time, for older children. Abi and I were thrilled, and knew without even seeing the book that we’d like to repeat our offer to local schools.

Having established that there was an interest from schools – again, I received several messages in response to let us know how very necessary this input was – I placed an order with Clare, including some spare copies for us to have in our offices.

I’m pleased to say that the books exceeded my high expectations, and I’m really looking forward to hearing what the pupils think of them once they arrive in schools in September. One of the key elements of Clare’s previous books is that they are interactive – there are pages for children to draw on, and tissues included should they need them. These kinds of activities tend to be less appropriate for older children, so I had wondered how Clare would approach this new book.

The answer is that ‘A Mind Full of Grief’ is interactive and includes journaling activities, but in a much more mature way. However, I’m getting ahead of myself! When I opened the box, there were immediately two significant differences: the cover of ‘A Mind Full of Grief’ is black and white, whereas ‘Love Will Never Die’ is colourful, straight away setting the books apart as being for different demographics. In addition, ‘A Mind Full of Grief’ is A5-sized, whilst ‘Love Will Never Die’ is A4. Thinking back to my own teenage years, this makes the book much more subtle, and something that a young person can hide away easily if they’d rather not have friends come across it, plus again it gives it a more mature feel.

The book then opens with some patterned pages which are suitable for colouring – I’m a huge fan of these, as colouring is a mindfulness activity that I gain a lot of benefit from, so it’s a lovely addition. The contents clearly set out the information contained within, and holds nothing back by ‘death’ being the first topic, which I also think is great – anyone who picks up this book knows immediately that it’s not to be shied away from.

The pages contain definitions of each topic, and information around the subject, as well as space to complete activities. The themes are very much focused on feelings: what a person may feel, what this may mean, and how they may respond to the feeling. For example, the pages about the funeral suggest that a young person ask lots of questions beforehand, and reassures them that no question is silly.

Whilst covering topics such as happiness, memories, and anniversaries, the book also boldly mentions alcohol. These pages outline what can make people turn to alcohol – whether they are younger or older – and why this response is inappropriate. I think this is fantastic – it recognises that this can be a challenge teenagers face, and normalises it whilst also offering guidance for how to proceed with changing the behaviour.

A consistent thread running through the book is inspirational quotes. These have become incredibly popular, and are a narrative device that young people will recognise. Clare has thought carefully about who is included – whilst the first few are from more historical figures, the others are from those in our contemporary world who young people may be more able to relate to. I won’t spoil it for you by sharing them all, but they really are great!

My final favourite thing about the book is something that young people could find incredibly useful. There’s a pocket in the back of the book which contains slips of paper for them to fill in. These allow the owner of the book to detail who has died, what their name was, when they died and how. There are then several clauses which they could delete as appropriate. Phrases included are things like, ‘I may need some extra support’ and ‘If you’re not sure how you can support me, please ask me’. This is an incredible tool, particularly for those who struggle with verbal communication even when not bereaved.

I would suggest that young people could fill these in with the help of a responsible person, and discuss how and when they could make use of them (for example, when needing to be excused at school). It can feel exhausting to have to explain yourself repeatedly, and these act as a great communication tool if that is the case.

Copies of the book can be purchased via Clare’s website, and I would highly recommend these for young people, whether they are bereaved or supporting a peer who is. If you are local to any of our offices and interested in seeing a copy, or receiving one, please ask us and we will be happy to help. Anything that helps us to communicate about bereavement is welcomed by the team here.

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Written by Becky Hughes

Community Co-Ordinator

August 4, 2021

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Call us at any time on 01403 254590 or email mail@freemanbrothers.co.uk