Become a member to attend events and meet like-minded people

This is a video support group to talk about your experiences with other people who can relate. The session lasts for 1 hour and will be hosted by a member of the Untangle team.

What to expect:
It’s normal to feel nervous before coming to your first group, so feel free to message Emily for more information.

Amanda Seyderhelm is an experienced play therapist and enables children to make sense of their feelings to find a comfortable way to express themselves and their worries through play. Using her years of experience, this event will cover what she’s learnt about the best way to talk to children going through loss.

It can be hard to know how to bring up a loss with children, or how much to talk about someone you’ve lost to the children in your life. Amanda will give her top tips on how to go about this, and there will be time for a Q&A at the end.

The Speaker:

Amanda is a recognised expert in her field of innovative creative play therapy for children. Her area of specialism is in treating children (and their families) who are suffering with mild to moderate emotional or psychological problems. Amanda is also a published author, and hosts a podcast, Helping Children Smile Again after Loss and Change.

In her previous role as a Great Ormond Street Hospital Ambassador, she gave talks to charities and corporate businesses about the work and research GOSH do, and she assisted GOSH in the early days of setting up their Craft Station.

Since 2016, Amanda has trained social workers and family support workers in numerous local authorities on how to use therapeutic play within their work with children. She works with councils and schools to embed the approach into how they work with and support families and children experiencing loss or change.

This event with Dr Lizzie Paddock will explore the psychology behind grief. Grief is a normal and natural reaction to reaction to a significant loss, at Untangle we believe the goal is not about conquering loss and ‘getting back to normal’, but instead growing around your grief. Dr Lizzie will take us through the impact of loss and the psychology behind our feelings. With this knowledge, we hope you can allow yourself the time and space to process your loss.

This event will last for an hour, and there will be time at the end for a Q&A with Lizzie.

The Speaker:

Dr Elizabeth Paddock is a HCPC Registered Practitioner Psychologist specialising in working with children, young people and their families. She contributes to research and practice supervision for the Doctorate in Forensic Psychology.

Outline:

This event comprises of 1 hour over video call. Participants have the option to have their cameras on or off.

This is a video support group to talk about your experiences with other people who can relate. The session lasts for 1 hour and will be hosted by a member of the Untangle team.

What to expect:
It’s normal to feel nervous before coming to your first group, so feel free to message Emily for more information.

Even if you only have 5 minutes, drop in for a chat with people who relate! This is a space to talk about what’s on your mind – good, bad, happy or sad. It’s only 15 minutes so you can get on with your day, feeling a little bit lighter afterwards!

What to expect:

Even if you only have 5 minutes, drop in for a chat with people who relate! This is a space to talk about what’s on your mind – good, bad, happy or sad. It’s only 15 minutes so you can get on with your day, feeling a little bit lighter afterwards!

What to expect:

Things to remember about discovering secrets

It doesn’t mean you didn’t know them; it just means they weren’t what you thought – they were more than you thought.

Things to remember about discovering secrets

Once someone you loved is gone, you might think there’s nothing left to learn about them. After all, you cannot create any new memories together. But sometimes you discover new information that casts everything you thought you knew about them into a whole new light.

If you are one of the family or friends responsible for sorting through the contents of a home, a storage locker, or a safe-deposit box, you might expect to find familiar trinkets or long-hidden treasures. But there is always a chance you will find documents or mementos you never even suspected existed.

Closing out the material aspects of a loved one’s life can often be overwhelming or even painful. When you remove their belongings from their physical space, it can seem like losing them all over again, and heightened emotions can leave you crushed by memories that flood back all at once. If in the midst of all that you also discover secrets you weren’t meant to see or facts that your loved one neglected to mention, it can feel too huge to manage. Even if they’re happy secrets, the revelation can be very unsettling.

When relatives go into therapy or grief counselling together after a bereavement, it can help everybody discover precious pieces of their family’s life and heritage, says psychotherapist Anh Doan. 

What are the signs that therapy could work for my family?

It’s all about communication. When we’re hurting after a bereavement, we often act like wounded children and forget being adults. People start arguing over petty things and judging each other, asking: ‘Why didn’t they send flowers or a card?’ or ‘Why did they put a happy picture of themselves on Instagram’?

The family dynamic also changes when someone dies. For example, if mum was the one we’d all seek comfort from and rely on, we might want dad to play that role when she dies. And when he can’t, we get angry. 

If the person who died wasn’t very emotionally present, we might also realise we didn’t know them very well. That can leave us with a horrific feeling that we’ve lost something precious – important pieces of our family’s puzzle. 

How can grieving relatives benefit from doing therapy together?

When people die we can be left with lots of questions. Family therapists can facilitate important conversations that help relatives learn from each other, open up the photo albums and share precious stories. It’s a bit like digging for old coins and vases – it helps us discover the roots of our lives.

Culture plays a big part, especially for new generations. If your grandad was from Jamaica and now you’re a person of colour in the UK, you might realise you never got to ask him how it was to come here in the 1960s. 

If the relationship was terrible or the person who died hurt you, we can ask what you’d like to say to the person who has passed away and explore how to best support you now. This can help close old doors and open new ones. 

During this process people start to see life differently and relate better to each other, as well as to the person we’ve lost.

How can I encourage my relatives to join me in therapy?

There’s a stigma around mental health, but if you put it into physical injury terms people are often prepared to help. If your brother or daughter broke their ankle you’d be the first to call an ambulance.

With bereavement, sometimes all we can see is a grumpy or angry person, but they are in pain. And grief can trigger depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex trauma. So we need to give each other a hand emotionally too.

It’s also about bonding – a chance to connect with your heritage, your inner self, and your family. In this culture we often hide behind closed doors when we feel vulnerable, but we still crave being together. 

Family therapy is about everyone working together towards a common goal. People often agree to come when they see that everyone will gain. We always establish firm boundaries to make sure everyone respects and listens to each other.

What are the main differences between individual and family therapy for grief?

Systemic or family therapy focuses on how people see themselves within a wider dynamic. Even twins are different in terms of how they perceive their roles. 

For family grief counselling or therapy to work, everybody needs to commit to the same goal. It is a massive investment – timewise, emotionally and financially – and a luxury because you usually have to pay privately. It’s much more complex than individual therapy but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve it. 

Sessions last 60-90 minutes with a maximum of four people, usually immediate family. We can be flexible, for example, an individual might prefer to come alone before the rest of the family joins in. You also need a therapist robust enough to hold it together. 

Now with Covid, things can feel worse for people who are grieving, isolated and alone. But working on Skype and Zoom is working well, especially for families that are spread out across different countries.

Anh Doan is Head of Counselling at Talking Counselling, an Untangle partner organisation.

After their son Josh died suddenly, psychotherapist Jane Harris and filmmaker Jimmy Edmonds discovered creative ways to rebuild their lives and support other bereaved families.

“The agony of untimely or parental grief is beyond words,” says Jane Harris. In 2011, her 22-year-old son Josh had a road accident during a trip to Vietnam and never came home. “When Josh died, I discovered that nothing much helped”. Jane and her husband, Jimmy, also found that grief can be a very lonely journey. “I realised bereaved people represent other people’s worst nightmares,” she says. As a psychotherapist Jane knew nothing could take the pain away: “You have to get alongside the grief and tolerate the discomfort.” But years of training to support others is very different from experiencing the death of your own child.

Love that never dies

To escape the silence and isolation at home, Jane and Jimmy – a BAFTA award-winning film editor – decided to take a road trip. They wanted to meet other bereaved families and learn from their hard-won wisdom. Having met in film school, they decided to make a film in their son’s memory. The result was A Love that Never Dies, a moving insight into grief across Vietnam, India and the USA.

The experience would also teach them something new: That articulating their grief actively and creatively was the key to making it more bearable. More films followed, Jimmy wrote a book called Released and in 2015, The Good Grief Project was born, founded on their family’s experiences of losing Josh. Today, their small charity encourages people grieving the untimely death of a loved one to express their pain through photography and film, talks and retreats – even boxing workshops.

Breaking the silence, creating new bonds

Approximately 6,000 young people aged under 24 die in the UK every year, leaving up to 50,000 bereaved relatives who often don’t know where to turn. “We live in a culture of silence when it comes to talking comfortably about death” says Jane. “But silence is deadly. Grief will find its way out either psychologically or physically. If we don’t acknowledge it, it can be catastrophic.” She says countless people have described watching their films as a turning point, because they realised there was hope out there. As well as supporting people to open up about bereavement, The Good Grief Project provides ways to create continuing bonds with the person they’ve lost. For example, using photos of their child to create a montage.

Taking the mask off

By the end of a weekend retreat, Jane often notices a difference in participants’ body language. “They’re amazed at what they can create and start to show other people instead of wanting to keep it private,” she says. “Through photography or just being with other people they’ve been able to take the mask off and be themselves”. At a time when we’re wearing masks physically as well as metaphorically, she feels it is more important than ever to give our grief a voice. A new film, Beyond the Mask, tackling loss and isolation during Covid-19, will screen online early in the new year.

Life after death

The Good Grief Project has always been a family venture. During their retreats, Josh’s sister Rosa does the cooking, while his older brother Joe, a personal trainer, runs boxing and fitness workshops, having learned to handle his own depression by being physically active. They welcome siblings as well as parents. “Bereaved siblings appreciate having a voice,” explains Jane. “They lose their parents in a way because they are so grief-stricken and watching out for them is a double whammy.” Almost 10 years after losing Josh, she feels the experience has changed her for the better. “There is definitely life after the death of a child. I would do anything to bring my son back, but he has taught me so much since he died.”

“It’s a huge relief when you realise that grief can become part of your life,” she explains. “You learn to carry that person with you and fold them into your heart. We’ve created new rituals – at Christmas we raise a glass to Josh – we talk about him, and there are pictures of Uncle Josh in my grandchildren’s bedroom. “As time has passed my love for Josh doesn’t lessen. You love your child forever.”

Image – Photo montage of Josh © Jimmy Edmonds

At just ten years old, Anna’s world was turned upside down by the sudden death of her older brother, Benny. She shares how she coped after experiencing a close bereavement at such a young age and how losing her brother has impacted her life.

When Anna was ten years old, her family were out one day, and Benny stayed at home alone for a few hours. During this time, Benny had a tragic accident and was found dead by a family friend. He was just twelve years old.

Anna has many happy early childhood memories of playing with Benny, who was two years older than her, and her other three brothers. She remembers, “Benny and I spent a lot of time playing together. We’d imagine we were pirates in our den in the living room or play football together in our local park. We argued too, of course, usually over silly things like who had been given the biggest portion of pudding.”

Like most ten-year-olds, Anna had never thought about grief before, but found her view of the world changed at that moment. “It was a complete shock. I’ll never forget the sickening, numb confusion that I felt when I first found out. It honestly felt like my whole reality had been pulled from underneath me. It was a tragic, seemingly random event that changed everything.” she remembers.

Support in the early days

In the early days after Benny’s death, relatives and friends rallied around: visiting, helping with the shopping and cooking, or simply sitting with Anna and her family. Anna feels lucky that she felt so surrounded by love at that time but recognises that grief can be very isolating for many people. She also credits her friends with providing some much-needed normality and fun. “There are a few friends, in particular, whom I spent a lot of time with, not necessarily talking about the loss, but doing ‘normal’ fun things that offered some light relief and reminded me that things could be good again”.

Learning to be kind to herself

In the year after Benny died, Anna and her family visited a family therapist who helped them open up and communicate with each other. However, it was when Anna saw a counsellor almost ten years later that she feels she started to process Benny’s death. She says, “This support was invaluable and really helped me understand how the death has impacted my life, and how to move forward in a healthier, happier way. Things have been better since I learnt to let myself feel, rather than blocking out difficult thoughts and feelings. I’ve become much kinder to myself.”

Anna has also found that writing can be therapeutic, whether scribbling incoherent sentences in a journal, writing poems and stories, or writing letters to the dead. “It often makes me cry, but in a good way. It really helps unjumble my thoughts and let go of painful emotions. It can make me feel more connected to my brother, too, like he is still alive in some way.” she explains.

The impact of the parent-child relationship

Sibling loss can often affect the relationship between the surviving child and their parents. At such a young age, Anna had only ever seen her parents as a source of safety and love. She found it painful to realise how much they were hurting and scary that this was a situation that even they couldn’t fix. Her parents were able to continue showing love to Anna and her other brothers, despite their grief, but she remembers feeling that there was no space for her to be a child any more, with a normal child’s wants and needs. From her 10-year old’s perspective, Anna didn’t want to be a burden when her parents were already dealing with so much, and she felt a responsibility to grow up quickly to make things easier for them.

Anna remembers feeling like she had to be a ‘good’ child, which has had repercussions throughout her life. “I pushed my struggles to one side, which in the long run has been exhausting and lonely.” she reflects. “It’s no ones’ fault; we were just doing what we could to get through. Despite these challenges, I’m grateful that our relationship has always been grounded in love and that we found a new sort of closeness as we fumbled our way through our loss – a closeness that becomes more and more precious as time goes on.”

Coping with grief over time

It’s normal for grief to change as time passes, and we find new ways of coping with feelings and remembering our lost loved ones. Anna feels a sense of peace and acceptance about the loss of her brother but admits that she still does have bad days, where she goes right back to that raw grief, missing her brother and mourning the loss of a care-free life. She has found ways to manage these waves of grief and says, “I always come out the other side. I wish my brother hadn’t have died, but it taught me a lot about who I am, and has shown me how precious life is.”

Anna credits her friends, family and professionals for supporting her through her grief journey. She recognises that having an outlet to express her grief, and accepting love and support from the people around her have been crucial to her healing.

“It’s been tough, and it’s not a journey I would have ever chosen, but I’m making the most of it and re-discovering just how beautiful life can be, regardless of the challenges it throws at us.”

Anna is a writer who has set up an organisation to support bereaved university students, the Student Grief Network, where she provides online resources and staff training. To see more of her work, you can find her blog here.

Image – Anna with her brother Benny and family.  © Private