SOCIAL workers in one London borough are now brushing up on the
cycle of grief, on the turbulent pathway of loss. But not because
any one has died.
Not all children are born healthy in mind and body: some have a
high level of need in daily aspects of living. And, as one social
worker told me recently, it is hardest when the child gets to
around ten or 11 years old.
"The care teams couldn't understand why parents suddenly started
speaking of their frustrations when the child reached ten," he told
me. "They'd been able to cope before; they seemed to be getting on
with things. And then they weren't. It was like the full nature of
the truth hadn't sunk in until then."
All parents know the challenges as children pass through the
teenage years. But it is particularly harsh for those where there
is a high level of need. "They can't now be left with friends," the
social worker said, "which can often be a lifeline. They're not
cute any more: they're speaking up for themselves, making
And then, for the parents, there is the issue of mortality -
their own. They start looking ahead down the years, and wondering
how long they will be able to do what they do. They have managed so
far, but the energy begins to wane, and what then? And who will be
doing what they do for their child when they die? And, of course,
their child's 18th birthday can focus the mind.
"Parents can get very upset and insecure when their child hits
16," the social worker says. "They can see the end of the care
road. Once a child reaches 18, they come under adult services,
where there's a lot less provision. Marvellous things are still
done by the social services. But some parents have to be told that
they won't reach the threshold for ongoing support after 18 - care
they've relied on since the age of four."
And the grief? The grief is for everything lost - for a life
they and their child have not been able to live, or will not be
able to live. It isn't going to get any better. The famous cycle of
grief must be played out in some manner: shock, denial, anger and
guilt, bargaining, depression, and perhaps acceptance.
It is hard to handle a sense of loss when no one has died, with
no public funeral to help, and no grave to sit by. This perhaps
goes some way to explaining the outpouring of grief at the death of
Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997. There was genuine sadness at her
death in a French underpass.
But, as the days passed, the sadness became something else: a
scream and a rage of flowers around Kensington Palace, as if every
unnamed sorrow and loss were somehow being exorcised. There's a
grief cycle in life, as well as in death.