The club I never wanted to be a member of

Reflection by Phil Oakley, bereaved father supported by Very Special Kids

 I am a member of the worst club.

This club’s membership requirements are too high. We don’t want more members. We are sad when new people join. The membership roster is already too big. Nobody wants to join, but nobody gets to leave.

Bereaved Parents Club is not a fun thing to be a part of. We don’t have very many meetings, and our meetings are, often, not very much fun.

Our club doesn’t discriminate in its membership. It doesn’t recognise barriers of age, ethnicity, ability, gender, religion, language or skin colour. Any parent, at any moment, could become a member, but we hope that you don’t.

The Very Special Kids chapter of the Bereaved Parents Club had a recent meeting on a weekend, organised and supported by the wonderful staff Kevin and Ange, and the volunteers Mary, Libby and Erin.

It was an awful weekend, full of grief, and tears, and feelings of loss.

It was a wonderful weekend, full of support, and recognition, and memories, and love, and connection.

Over the weekend we tried a few different approaches to help peel back the layers and unpack some of our challenges, and our responses, and our feelings. We introduced ourselves and our children, connecting our todays to our yesterdays, and some things that connect us to our lost ones. I feel enormously privileged to have met some amazing parents, and their amazing children.

We got to try some music therapy, with a guided relaxation and meditation; and to unwind some of the physical stresses we collect with some professional massage. We explored a variety of fabrics, and the ways that texture, colour and prints, along with some scents and essential oils, can trigger memories and emotions, connecting us to our children in various ways. We participated in some art therapy, despite our different levels of artistic ability, and found an outlet for associating words, feelings, and visuals. We took it on ourselves to try some food therapy, and some wine therapy.

We got to focus on being the parents of the children we have lost, all weekend. For some of us, we haven’t been able to focus on this since before they passed away. It’s not something we get to spend time doing in the ‘outside world’, with its ongoing pressures and requirements.

I want to leave this club, but I can’t. I will, forever, be a bereaved parent. It’s not something that I choose, it’s not something that I do. It’s part of who I am, and it’s not going away.

The only thing that makes it bearable to be in this club is the knowledge that we’re not alone.

Learning that my son Owen, who died 3.5 years ago, is still touching people’s hearts is an amazing gift.

Thanks to Very Special Kids for the support, and for organising the weekend. And enormous thanks to the other attendees, for hearing our stories, meeting our children, and helping us all to find connection in the loneliness.