Grief Encounter Charity For National Grief Awareness Day

Shutterstock / fizkes © Mother talking seriously with a child on grey sofa

We’re marking National Grief Awareness Day (30th August) with this piece from Gillian Thornton about the Grief Encounter charity helping children come to terms with loss. . .

Losing a loved one can be traumatic at any age, but when a child loses a parent or sibling, the impact can be profound.

Some young children won’t let their other parent out of their sight. Others withdraw completely and won’t communicate.

Without proper support, many of these children will continue to struggle well into adulthood.

So the work done by London-based charity Grief Encounter is vital. It ensures bereaved children can deal with their feelings and move forward.

Founded in 2003 by Dr Shelley Gilbert MBE, it provides free, pioneering services. It’s all about support to bereaved children, young people and their families.

“Shelley had first-hand experience, after losing her mother at the age of four, then her father five years later,” psychotherapist Liz Dempsey explains. She joined the team last year as Clinical Service Director.

“Fortunately, Shelley had extended family who took her in, but not every child is so lucky. Shelley has dedicated her career to helping bereaved children.”

Founded Round The Kitchen Table

The charity was founded with a group of determined individuals around Shelley’s kitchen table.

Now Grief Encounter has over 100 staff. Some are office based, and some qualified therapists who work with children as young as four.

“We may recommend that the family come to some activity sessions to start with,” Liz says. “Yesterday I ran a day of yoga for children and mindfulness for parents.

“We have fishing days with picnics, too, There’s a whole variety of events that aim to make the whole bereavement experience less isolating.

“People often feel that nobody else is going through the same thing. We give them a chance to share their experiences. When we see what stage a family is at, we might recommend one-to-one sessions for one or more members of the family.

“Everyone reacts differently and some people need support straight away, whilst others aren’t yet ready. Either way, we check back again periodically with each family.”

No Time Limit

“We reckon to work with families for two to three years; there is no time limit to the support we offer. And some children come back to us later if they find they are struggling.

“You can’t see grief as you might see an illness or a disability, so friends and teachers might think a child is over it, but overwhelming sadness can easily be triggered by everyone else celebrating Mother’s Day or Christmas.”

Spreading the word is a challenge for small charities and most people hear about Grief Encounter through word of mouth.

Over the next five years, Liz would love to see Grief Encounter extend its services.

Although the charity can’t yet offer face-to-face therapy and activity days across Britain, it can help children across the country through its personalised Grief Relief Kits, packed with tools and activities to help children understand bereavement and adjust to their loss.

Every box can be decorated by the recipient and includes an award-winning workbook devised by Shelley Gilbert, a Forever Journal for capturing memories, a cute Mr Good Grief puppet with blanket, and more.

Free To Use

Widely used by other bereavement organisations, it is free to bereaved children.

“Sadly, one in twenty-nine children will lose a parent or sibling before they are eighteen, so there could be several bereaved children in any school,” Liz says. “At Grief Encounter, we’d like to make sure that every bereaved child has access to proper support.”

To find out more about the services offered by Grief Encounter, to make a donation, or to hear Martin Lewis’s broadcast, visit

If you know a child or family who need support, call 020 8371 8455 or e-mail

For more Heath articles, visit the our Health pages.

Alex Corlett

Alex is the "Friend's" Features Editor, working with the talented Features Team to bring you everything from cryptic crosswords to financial advice, knitting patterns to international travel and inspirational real life stories. Always on the hunt for a new feature idea, Alex also enjoys cycling and loves a good tea room.