Today we’re supporting the National Day of Reflection for everyone who’s been bereaved in the last year. Since March 2020 our child bereavement charity has supported over 300 families. Janice Poplett is a Support Worker in our Preparing for Loss team. She shares her story.
“At the time of the first lockdown, I was a single parent of three children (one at University, one doing GCSEs and one in Year 8), and I also have another job working two days in a Primary school.
The initial realisation that we were in a global pandemic and that I would be juggling home learning, worries about exams and working from home was extremely challenging. Still, as a family, we met them with determination and resilience.
Work was not easy. Telephone conversations became longer as families needed more contact and reassurance with being asked to shield, treatments being delayed, unable to support their loved ones in hospital visits or connect with family when they had a few weeks to live. Hospices were restricting visitors, and staff in every care setting were themselves anxious and coming to terms with policy changes every day. Then the sadness of funerals being small, unable to hug family members – the pain and distress palpable.
I had four families who lost someone in the first few months of the pandemic, and I think those stories will probably stay with me forever.
Families had to say goodbye in full PPE, parents having appointments and having to take their children to a local park whilst waiting, the uncertainty of the world around them, making those goodbyes even harder. Individual therapeutic support could not go ahead at a time some children needed it most.
In August 2020, I was diagnosed with Grade 3 breast cancer, and our lives changed again.
Now we were a family shielding, as I was classed extremely critically vulnerable. What followed was two operations, Chemotherapy over four months and Radiotherapy. My son got Covid at school and was unable to isolate with me as I was starting chemo. Suddenly home learning became less important as we navigated cancer as a single parent in a pandemic- now I really understood what our Jigsaw families were coping with. Even a lift to the hospital was challenging as, at that time, there weren’t support bubbles. Learning a new “cancer” language was overwhelming and confusing.
I’m out the other side and learning to cope with the various side effects, new medications, and the fact that I am bald! (as my boys say, the “avocado look”).
We have learnt a lot as a family, my boys have been through so much, and when asked what they will remember most about the pandemic – it wasn’t about exams being cancelled, not seeing friends, learning from home – it was that I had cancer and how worried they were. I’m sure in time, that will change as it is all still a new experience, and there were many laughs and nurturing along the way too. For many of our families, the pandemic was a part of their journey but not the focus.
I love working for Jigsaw, and I feel my own experience during the pandemic has enabled me to have a deeper understanding of the families that we (particularly in the pre-bereavement team) work with”.
Janice Poplett, Preparing for Loss Team