Smiling Harvey, Treetops Hospice Ambassador

Harvey shares his experience of bereavement counselling and the difference it made to his life.

Harvey was just 10 years old when his older brother Ed died.
Following Ed’s death, Harvey became angry and isolated, getting into scrapes at school and having panic attacks.

I’ve not had a childhood since Ed’s death

“I’ve not had a childhood since Ed’s death. I’ve had a life, but not a childhood. That was taken away from me.
I was 10 when we lost Ed and so I was at an age where I understood that he was gone and not coming back but, at the same time, I wasn’t old enough and mature enough to get it. I kept thinking that they’d got the wrong person, that he was going to come through the door and have tea with us at any moment.

You have to grow up very quickly

Immediately after you lose the person, you’re no longer an innocent child. You have to grow up very quickly because everyone around you who is close to you, changes too.
As I got older and hormones kicked in, I got angry. That was one of the ways in which it hit me. Sometimes it was the little things; you don’t want to go to a certain place or do a certain thing because it reminds you of a moment in time.
People treat you differently and try to protect you, but what you really need is for life to continue as normally as it can.”

I used anger as I was afraid of letting out my emotion

I used anger as I was afraid of crying and letting out my emotions. I thought ‘if I’m angry then I won’t be upset’, so any time I felt myself getting emotional, I’d go and find something to be angry at.
I’d never really heard of counselling and I was worried . But I remember going into the room, sitting down and being asked normal questions. Questions like ‘how are you,’ ‘what’s gone on’, and ‘how are you dealing with Ed’s death so far’.

It wasn’t the bleak place I had imagined

The room was brightly coloured and there were paintings on the walls and toys. It wasn’t the bleak place I had imagined it to be.
boys playing with small action figures
We’d make things like a sand jar. For every different bit of coloured sand, I would write down a memory of Ed in the same colour pen and attach it to the jar. I still have the sand jar at home. It didn’t have to be all good memories. It might be a bad memory and it’s important to remember that.

Harvey returned to Treetops Hospice as a teenager

At around the age of 13, everything started to take its toll. I used to always love school. I was academically quite bright, but I fell out of love with it. I hated certain lessons, hated the idea of having to be in a classroom.
At home, it was little things like arguing with my family. Anything I could find to get annoyed with, I did.

Coping mechanisms

One of the things my counsellor told me early on was that I also had to help myself. If you’re not going to help yourself at home and put those coping mechanisms into practice, then the therapy isn’t going to work.
You have to try lots of different strategies to see what works for you.
I still use those coping mechanisms even now. You leave counselling and it’s not like you’re magically healed. It’s not like you will never feel sad or angry again. That’s not how it works. Life isn’t like that. You have good days, and you have bad days. Being able to use those mechanisms yourself is a valuable lesson that you take away with you.

Counselling is hard at the start

Counselling is so hard at the start. Be honest. Don’t worry – no-one will judge you. The best time to go is when you don’t want to go.
I’ve always felt safe at Treetops Hospice. I’ve also felt vulnerable. I was talking about things and letting go, and I didn’t want that.  But looking back on it, I also had happy times. There wasn’t one session where I didn’t at least smile or laugh once.

Hard to admit you're struggling

It’s hard to admit that you’re struggling. But I’ve said things to my counsellor that I would never say to my mum or dad. I am really close to both of my parents but there is still stuff that I wouldn’t talk to them about. I don’t want to worry them.
My counsellor was amazing with me at such a difficult age. She talked to me in a way that she could dive into my brain and made me feel so comfortable.
You’d be so focused on doing a task like making a sand jar, that stuff would come out. That’s why it’s so great. You have someone there who doesn’t judge you. You can get it all out there and they’ll never tell you off. They’ll advise and help you, but never judge you.

I don't hate life anymore

The impact of counselling is that I don’t hate life anymore. It’s quite scary to think where I would be right now if I hadn’t have had counselling.

Those positive things that have happened in my life may not have happened. I would probably have done some bad things that I’d have gone on to regret.
If I hadn’t had counselling, relationships with my family would have been rough. I wouldn’t enjoy life the way I do now. I wake up every morning and even if I feel sad, I find things to do that I know pick me up.

A few years after I lost my brother, I lost one of my best friends

Billy’s death taught me so much in a way. He was battling cancer for years, but always had a smile on his face. He told me that this stuff gets thrown at you in life. But the world keeps on turning and you have to get on with things.
It taught me so many things. I stopped counselling pretty much a year later. We went from a session every week, to a session every couple of weeks.

You can pick up the phone at any time

You start making baby steps. I got to a point where it wasn’t a whole session of talking about sad and angry emotions. There was a lot more positivity when I came into the sessions and also when I left. I knew then that I didn’t need counselling. But you’re never thrown out of counselling. you’re told that you can pick up the phone at any time.”

Non-talking therapy for bereaved children

After finishing his counselling sessions, Harvey was invited to join Treetops non-talking group therapy for young people.
"In the first session, you go in and there’s one massive elephant in the room.
You know everyone has been through some trauma and struggled, but you make friendships.
Everyone gets involved in different therapy techniques. By halfway through that first session, you’re all good pals, supporting each other.
You realise that you’re not the only one. There are other people who are going through the same stuff that you are going through.
Trying different therapies was great. I would never have tried something like equine therapy or yoga normally. But it was amazing. The main thing is that you’re trying something different and laughing, sharing your emotions.
Harvey smiling with memory lantern
I can openly talk about receiving counselling. I’m not at all embarrassed or ashamed.
For anyone considering it, I’d tell them to give it a go and have an open mind. Don’t be scared.
I wouldn’t have had a happy life if it wasn’t for Treetops. I’m thankful for being here, and doing amazing things. Treetops have allowed me to have a positive outlook on life.

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