Every 22 minutes a child in the UK loses a parent. But after the funeral, and in the years to come, what can be done to support them?
What could you possibly say to a recently bereaved child that could make things easier for them? And how do you help them grieve? For parents and carers of recently bereaved young people, these questions will be all too familiar.
Time and professional counselling can be hugely healing forces, but during his time working in hospices, Louis Weinstoke, a child psychotherapist, saw there was an urgent need to develop digital tools to support children throughout their grief.
“I was working in St Joseph's Hospice in Hackney, counselling both families where a parent had a terminal illness and bereaved young people,” says Louis, “I saw how bereaved young people had their digital memories of their loved one kept in chaotic ways on their phone amongst pictures they wouldn't want to share with their therapist. This made it difficult and awkward for them to honour, remember or talk about their loved one to other people.”
"25% of people aged under 29 who took their own lives had experienced childhood bereavement"
Louis teamed up with software developer, Ben Page, to develop Apart Of Me, a not-for-profit app that serves as a safe virtual space for bereaved young people and children. It was designed in collaboration with the young people themselves and experts in child psychology.
In the past five years, digital "gaming" formats are increasingly being used for therapeutic purposes. Apart Of Me is a peaceful, safe virtual world that uses technology to help families talk, reduce feelings of isolation and allow children to work through their emotions in a non-intimidating, supportive way.
The app has four core features:
1. The Cave
The cave is an area the player can visit in this virtual world. It's a mysterious place where the player can play games that encourage them to explore emotions. They can also hear stories from other young people from around the world.
2. Message in a Bottle
Each day, a new bottle will wash up on the beach, containing a quest for the player. These quests will encourage face-to-face connections with parent(s) and inspires the child to make a treasure-chest of memories. It's a digital version of the "memory box" practice commonly used in counselling.
3. The Waterfall
The waterfall is a peaceful place for the player to go to relax and practise some mindfulness meditation techniques specially designed to support the grieving process.
4. Perspectives on Death
It’s a big question: what happens to us when we die? This section explores many different perspectives to this question, from both the old and the young, to encourage the player to develop their own understanding and answers.
Apart Of Me has already been endorsed by some big names, including Stephen Fry, mumsnet, and the Good Grief Trust. But they still need more support. In order to to offer this app to those who need it for free, they are currently fundraising with a goal of reaching £30,000 by the end of October.
Speaking of the app, William Hunter Howell, author of Affable in Adversity: the bereavement bitch, said: "When I lost my dad, the loneliness that ensured killed some part of me too. It was believing no one else felt the way I did. It was being scared to talk. It saw me knock on every wrong door going - drugs, depression, suicidal thoughts. This game can stop other young people suffering from the same isolation, loneliness and al the troubles that follow; this game has the ability to change lives and save others."
Read more about Apart of Me, and donate to the cause on their indiegogo page.