Fixers

Grief is something we all have to face at some point in our lives.

Both of my parents have already passed away. My Mum had just turned 62 when she died. I was 32. My Dad died three years later – he had just turned 70. At the age of 35 I found myself without either of my parents – the people who had brought me up and taught me more or less everything I know about how to live my life and how to treat others (they did a great job of this bit, which is good).

My journey through this grief has been difficult. But then I always try to remind myself that many, many others have been through the same experience or are currently right in the middle of this. It can also be very frightening – terrifying almost. When someone you love dies, it can feel like the world around you has fundamentally changed. Nothing can be the same again. Nobody tells you about the fear element. I have experienced panic attacks, but I am slowly starting to feel better. Of course, that is the most frustrating part, knowing that grief can not be hurried to its resolution. There is no ‘fast-forward’ button.

Grief sucks

Finding a positive outlet for grief is really important.

Considering how devastating and turbulent this can be, it is pretty amazing that a younger person can actually get through this, can keep functioning in life and move on. As an adult, I would like to think that I would do anything I could to help someone in this position to go through this journey, to feel supported and cared for.

A month or so ago, I came across an amazing youth charity called Fixers. Winner of Best UK Charity Project of the Year 2014, they have a very specific focus: to help young people develop a project that makes their voice heard on a matter that is very personal to them – something of which they have had a specific experience. It’s about empowering them to find a solution.

Through this, I found out about Gennifer. Gennifer’s friend sadly died of cancer when she was just 15. I can’t imagine how hard this must have been for her. She decided to do something about this experience, to help others. Fixers stepped in and helped her in her determination to set up an online resource for young people who have been bereaved: the SOAR website. I think she is amazing.

soar website

The site aims to help young people feel informed and supported. It is also useful for parents, other family members and teachers – to encourage them to have more patience and understanding in supporting someone who is going through this, especially when dealing with the demands of study, exams and other stresses.

Crucially, Gennifer found that there was little advice or information available to her at school and in other settings and that made it harder for her to admit she was struggling to cope. I imagine many young people have been through a similar experience.

On her website, she offers 5 key tips that I think are crucial to remember if you are grieving:

  • Don’t bottle up your feelings. It can be a great relief to talk to someone about how you are feeling.
  • Know that there isn’t a time limit on mourning. Bereavement can affect you for any length of time, some people only take a few months to grieve, where others may take years.
  • Take time out for yourself. It’s not selfish to want to be by yourself sometimes to gather your thoughts.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others in the same situation! People experiencing bereavement learn to grieve/cope in different ways, it’s okay not to feel the same as someone else does.
  • It’s alright to move on with your life and be happy. Don’t feel guilty about moving on with your life and being happy. It doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten about your loved one who has passed away, it just means that you can finally accept what has happened. They would want you to continue your life.

I asked Gennifer how this work has helped her, this is what she said:

 “Working with fixers to create a bereavement support website for young people really helped me put in to perspective everything I had dealt with and overcome. It allowed me the opportunity to turn a life changing event in to something positive through helping and offering support to other young people who were dealing with similar situations to myself”.

Gennifer Graham

Gennifer’s story has inspired me to write this blog post and to share more about myself than I usually would have done. And for that I would like to thank her.

One of my close friends sent me a greetings card this week. The cover is plastered with pictures of girl superheroes (and some female baddies thrown in too!). Inside she wrote: ‘You are a superhero… so don’t forget it’.

Gennifer – you are a superhero too… never, ever forget that.

I think Fixers are an amazing charity. If you would like to find out more about their fantastic work, please have a look at their website.

If you are grieving at the moment, here is something that may help.

grief

Quotes via whatsyourgrief.com

Please look out for any young people you know who may be going through a loss. Let’s support each other.

I recently wrote a post in memory of my Dad and how he taught me to be enterprising in my approach to life. Please check it out.

 

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Voting age: surely a work in progress?
Voting age: surely a work in progress?

16 & 17 year olds have just been told (again) that they don’t matter, that they don’t know enough about the world yet to actually participate in it. They just don’t have the life experience. They are not knowledgeable, measured and ‘wise’ like us.

Yet, I think we are forgetting something… young people will be the audience for what we’ve learned in our lives – ears to listen to us when we are old and grey, to hear our reports on what we now understand about the world and how we can best take care of ourselves and each other. Isn’t this what a legacy is all about?

So, won’t it be embarrassing to admit that we’ve categorically failed them, through a dogged and outdated attitude to voting, that assumes that adults know all, young people know zero and there is nothing in between?

Politicians are telling us that this age group are simply not interested in the currently hotly debated issue of EU reform. How could they possibly want to know more about our role in Europe? Well, perhaps they would be interested in the potentially massive impact on their future employment prospects if we withdraw.

Of course, it’s difficult for them to understand the implications of this vote if we are not actively educating and involving them in this process. And I also think we are forgetting that if they can’t see that they have a stake in society, why should they care??

Surely, the voting age needs to reviewed. Younger people are more open to change, they are not as afraid of analysing all the pros and cons (if they are actually made aware of these) and making the leap into the unknown. They can also be more resilient than us.

Don’t we want them to feel fulfilled, appreciated in our society and ultimately more productive??

Well, you would think so.

So, at the fifth annual NEET conference in Birmingham yesterday there were presentations and discussions about interventions, impacts and funding (of course) yadah yadah. Towards the end of the day a representative from The Prince’s Trust stood up and challenged the term ‘NEET’, a challenge that is long overdue. A young person who had benefited from one of their programmes was present as a success story (he’s gone from doing nothing to being a community football coach). When asked what he thought of the term, not surprisingly he’s not a fan. He offered a very straightforward answer: “We’re adults. We’re just like everyone else”.

Achievement seems a long way off for some of us

The definition of NEET is tidy and convenient but like all groupings of this nature, homogenise what is in fact a wide variety of experiences. The Department for Education has attempted to segment this group further eg: ‘open to learning’; ‘undecided’; and ‘sustained NEETs’ (sounds serious). We are in danger of losing sight of them as human beings completely. Some young people are out of work due to no fault of their own. The Young Ambassador in question had lost his Apprenticeship when the firm he was placed with went bust. How about we just go back to calling them people. The conference chair pointed out that in Scotland this group are no longer called NEETs, but ‘mcmc’s’: ‘more choices, more chances’. That’s more like it.

As researchers, we are passionate about getting the most informative and insightful data possible right? I love the notion of peer research – especially in the context of training young people to work with others their age. After all, this methodology strengthens the view that they are the real ‘experts’ of what goes on in their local area and what really matters. This can only help further the cause for youth participation.

Young people are doing it for themselves

However, this also brings in significant responsibilities for researchers who are effectively acting as facilitators and guiding these individuals in professional but also creative conduct and at the same time, aiming to manage the quality of the work. My feeling is that the pros outweigh the cons, but I will be blogging about this as time goes on and reporting on what appears to work well.