Offering light at end of Rainbows for grieving young people

Rainbows Ireland offers counselling service aimed at grieving young people.

Any child who has the capacity to feel emotions — and children’s emotions can be very close to the surface — can experience grief-related pain.

Some adults think children have to be protected and believe talking about death or family break-up will confuse and upset them. Unlike earlier times, today’s children have little direct experience of the passing of a loved one.

Rainbows is an organisation that supports children and young people through their loss, helping them through their grief journey.

It is a national voluntary group supported by Tusla and offering peer support to children who have experienced a significant loss in their lives through bereavement, divorce, or separation.

The group stresses that grief and loss are normal and that children’s grief needs to be acknowledged and not buried. The emotional health and wellbeing of children is fundamental to their future.

Rainbows provides a 12-week programme and peer support, a shared experience that reduces the devastating feeling of isolation. Children and young people meet in groups of four or five, in a safe, confidential environment.

Journals, storybooks, games, and activities combine to provide a familiar programme which will lead a child gently through the grieving process.

Rainbows is at pains to point out that it is a limited voluntary service that is not therapy, professional counselling, or clinical professional support. It is a listening service for children and young people struggling to come to terms with significant loss and change in their lives.

An average of 6,000 children and young people are helped by the service every year. One six-year-old girl said: “Before Rainbows, it was only my teddy bear who listened to me.”

Children have a tendency to blame themselves for whatever disaster might befall their lives. If they had only behaved better, been a good little boy or girl, then their parents wouldn’t have split up. They need to understand that the loss is not their fault.

For a child to talk about such feelings would take a great leap of faith, and an assurance that such revelations would not upset their families even more. Children need to know they are important and special, and that feelings are a natural part of who they are. These feelings are neither right nor wrong. They just are.

Rainbows’ weekly meeting topics go through all these issues and help attendees come to terms with anger and hurt. Children need to understand that sometimes it is normal to be angry but their anger needs to be expressed in an appropriate way. Especially in a rapidly changing world where family relationships are subject to division and sometimes reform in unexpected ways.

The trained facilitators who work with Rainbows deliver this help.

Macroom woman Breda O’Sullivan is one such volunteer. She told me about her work for the organisation and how they are planning to start a chapter in Macroom in conjunction with the Macroom Family Resource Centre,

When did you first get involved with Rainbows?

It was in 2009 when I trained to be a facilitator and I was really impressed with the service from the very beginning. And the more training I did, the more I learned about the importance of the work that they do.

Eventually, I began training other volunteers and I met up with other volunteers and heard stories about their experiences and how Rainbows had benefited the children they helped. It became obvious to me that the children we were working with were very vulnerable.

The organisation works with a wide-ranging age group. Who did you first work with?

I worked in a secondary school on 12-week sessions. And we would have two full classes with a 12-session programme with a different topic each week. The children are given a chance to air their feelings, try to make sense of them, in a setting where they feel safe.

Some children cope with loss better than others but they all benefit from being able to talk freely and from peer support. The first time I took a group, I have to admit that I was a nervous wreck but I soon felt renewed by their response.

What’s your own background?

I am a nurse working with premature babies which can be challenging but also very rewarding. A lot of the younger children we work with can be very worried about the huge change in their lives and can be afraid they are going to die. For a child who has experienced loss through a death, it can be the first time they’ve had a knock in life. But I have to say, I am constantly surprised at how strong some of these children are.

I learn so much from them and I wish I had realised the importance of undivided attention and listening when my own children were small. Of course, friends and neighbours can give great support too. One little girl who had lost her mother had a lovely neighbour who would take her shopping and was always there for her when she needed a woman to talk to.

Tell me about one of your most memorable encounters?

It was one little girl who had been in a group I ran the week before. She was shy and she never said much. When I went back to the school, I was surprised when she ran up and asked me where was the other lady I had worked with.

She was talking about her Rainbow book and really, I hadn’t thought she’d got anything from the group. But she asked me if I’d forgotten her and she hugged me. It was very moving. 

* Denise Hall died earlier this week. Her family requested that we publish this, her final column. 


Martin Hayes doesn’t like to stand still. The fiddle virtuoso from East Clare has made it a hallmark of his career to seek out creative ideas from beyond his musical tradition.Martin Hayes: Breaking new ground

Brian Hassett is from Blackrock in Cork, and has been involved in various aspects of music in multiple guises.A Question of Taste: Brian Hassett, Coughlan's Live

'Comics are not like regular books. They spark the intellect to expand the story and the message.'Drawn to reading: Using comics and illustrated stories to promote literacy in children

Halloumi might be said to be an entire cuisine in itself rather than just any old cheese.Currabinny Cooks: How you could use halloumi in a range of dishes

More From The Irish Examiner