Olwen Schubert helps other parents come to terms with losing a child.
Olwen Schubert helps other parents come to terms with losing a child. Alistair Brightman

"The grief never ends" A lost son helps strangers

CHRISTIAN Schubert was 21 when he ended his own life.

"He didn't suffer with depression, but I knew there was something that was disturbing him," Christian's mum Olwen says of losing her son in 1991.

"The grief never ends.

"I kind of just rolled on with life."

As she struggled with Christian's death, Ms Schubert was introduced to an organisation called The Compassionate Friends.

It didn't take long for her to realise this special group of people would be the salve she needed to heal her broken heart.

"I felt I wasn't alone," the 78-year-old Fraser Coast resident said.

"Some of the people in the group had lost their kids in horrendous situations.

"I realised that I was lucky in a way because I knew what had happened to my son.

"I knew where he was when it happened."

Over the years, the global support organisation has amassed a dedicated army of selfless volunteers who have lost children, siblings or grandchildren.

While entry to the Friends comes at sad and tragic price, it's this shared lived experience that ensures the organisation really connects with people during the most trying of times.

Like many bereaved parents before her, Ms Olwen reached a point where she wanted to turn her experience and loss into something positive and so she became a Friend.

"You need to tell your story," she said.

"It's cathartic and it's heart-wrenching but the more you tell your story the more you move along the healing process.

"It's strange to say that but it's true.

"In telling my story more and more, it helped me and it helped others.

"I think that helping others also helped me."

Losing Christian and helping others come to terms with the death of their loved ones has given Ms Schubert a particularly poignant perspective on death.

"It certainly has changed my view on God - it impacted my beliefs," she said.

"Some people who have lost children and others close to them have had spiritual encounters and I believe more in the spirituality.

"Things that you can't explain.

"One of Chris's friends took a photo of where his ashes are buried and when I got the photo it gave me goose bumps.

"Where his ashes were there was this light aura.

"There was nothing like it on the other photos on the film.

"I kept it in my handbag for a long time and now it is in a frame on my bookcase."

 

'Hardest death to recover from'

YOU'RE disorientated, dizzy and can't concentrate. You feel like throwing up. Your body aches for no reason. The world around you is foggy and you struggle to make sense of even the simplest things.

This is how your body responds to the loss of a child.

Thankfully, few people on the Fraser Coast will experience what childhood grief and loss expert Dr Greg Roberts describes as the "hardest death for human beings to recover from".

It's not possible to say how many people under 18 have died on the Fraser Coast over the past few years.

But ARM Newsdesk research does show that 27 of the 5503 infants born in our region between 2010 and 2014 did not live beyond one year old.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data reveals vehicle accidents, perinatal or congenital health problems, cancer and drownings are the leading killers of children aged one to 14.

Suicide, vehicle accidents, poisoning and assault are the most common causes of death for young people aged 15 to 24.

Dr Greg Roberts is one of Australia's leading authorities on child mortality.

He has worked with bereaved parents for 15 years and he is now the clinical operations manager with Red Nose Grief and Loss (formerly SIDS and Kids).

Dr Roberts said our childhood mortality rate was falling thanks to a range of factors including strong education about sudden infant death syndrome prevention, excellent vaccination programs and breakthroughs in life-prolonging medicines for once-fatal diseases such as cystic fibrosis.

However, he said the sad fact was some Fraser Coast mums and dads would have to live through the trauma of losing a son or daughter and the physical and emotional impacts of that loss could still be intense many years later.

"Having a child die is above the death of a spouse as far as the level of stress and impact on a person," Dr Roberts said.

"Immediately afterwards bereaved parents will find it really hard to concentrate and to focus on things.

"They will be in shock.

"Grief itself is a normal process but if a person isn't supported it can lead to mental health problems because of the intensity.

"In society we have this expectation that grief is this step-by-step process that gets better as time passes.

"That's somewhat true but it takes a lot longer after the death of the child."

Dr Roberts said supporting families through the loss of child was about respecting space and offering practical help such as cooking meals or doing household chores.

"It's not about cocooning the parents, but it's about checking in on them, making sure they're okay and whether there are things that they need.

"But at the same time it's important not to take over."

 

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data shows vehicle accidents, perinatal or congenital health problems, cancer and drownings are the leading killers of children aged one to 14. Suicide, vehicle accidents, poisoning and assault are the most common causes of death for young people aged 15 to 24.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data shows vehicle accidents, perinatal or congenital health problems, cancer and drownings are the leading killers of children aged one to 14. Suicide, vehicle accidents, poisoning and assault are the most common causes of death for young people aged 15 to 24. Think Stock

Helping sick children understand death

LEE-ANN Pedersen has been helping children come to terms with their own mortality for more than 10 years.

The 45-year-old nurse practitioner at Brisbane's Lady Cilento Children's Hospital works with Australia's sickest kids - little ones who have life-shortening chronic illnesses.

A focus on "family and honesty" underpins Ms Pedersen's approach to discussing death with her young patients.

"My job is to work with how the family operates," she said.

"I respect the family's wishes and how their philosophies work but if the child asks me a direct question, I'm not going to lie to them."

Ms Pedersen said her job was hard but it was also a privilege.

"We're in a very privileged position in that we get to meet families at a very vulnerable time and we are just one small part of the puzzle," she said.

"We can make a difference but sadly we can't change what's going to happen.

"We try to make it better for the family and the little person in the middle.

"That is what keeps you coming to work every day."

Lady Cilento Children's Hospital treats children from across northern New South Wales and Queensland.

ARM NEWSDESK



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