Jason Corbett's daughter talks about bereavement to help other children who are experiencing loss

Jason Corbett's daughter talks about bereavement to help other children who are experiencing loss

Tracey Corbett Lynch and her niece, Sarah, are speaking up about bereavement to raise awareness. 

Daughter of Limerick man Jason Corbett, who was tragically killed in the USA in 2015, has spoken out about grief and bereavement, to raise awareness for other children who have experienced loss. 

Sarah Corbett Lynch now lives in Limerick with her brother Jack and her aunt Tracey, uncle Dave and her two cousins. 

Her mother Margaret 'Mags' Fitzpatrick passed away from an asthma attack when Sarah was just 12 weeks old. 

Her father's second wife, Molly Martens, and her father Tom Martens, were convicted for Jason's murder. Sarah was eight at the time of her father's death.

Sarah, who is now 14 and in second year of secondary school, says young people should let their bereaved friends know they are there for them and willing to listen. "Act normal, don't act differently and be yourself.

"Acknowledge that your friend has lost someone that they loved, but don't ask a load of questions about what happened. If they want to tell you, they will tell you."

She adds that creative outlets also helped with her grief, and she has written a book called 'Noodle Loses Dad'. 

"Writing helped me a lot. I could put my feelings down on paper, but didn't have to say them [out loud]. 'Noodle Loses Dad' is an easy way for parents to talk to their kids about death.

"It's an adventure of a bear who goes through losing her father, then goes to a new country, a new school and has to make friends. Eventually, she finds hope and resilience."  

Jason Corbett, Sarah's dad, passed away when she was eight.
Jason Corbett, Sarah's dad, passed away when she was eight.

If Sarah was ever feeling bad, or needed to speak about something, she would write a note to her aunt Tracey and they would sit down and talk about it, and cry if they needed to. 

"From a parent's perspective, we always want to make everything better for our child. For death, it's really difficult. It brings such complex feelings and the grief washes over everything," says Tracey.

Tracey says it is important to speak with the child and listen to what they are saying. "There's no magic wand. It's about helping your child to cope and build up resilience." 

Both Sarah and Tracey say counselling was extremely important to cope with the loss. "Having a third party and being able to get professional support was great, for both parents and children," says Tracey.

Sarah adds that counselling should become more normalised. "A lot of people might be ashamed of it, but they shouldn't. It can lift a big load of your shoulders. 

"It's the same as going to the doctors, just for your mental health."

Sarah says that children express grief in different ways, and parents might not understand the way they are acting. "Bottling your feelings up is the worst thing you can do. There's a toxic pain inside of you which you can't get rid of unless you talk about it or express your feelings."

Tracey adds that the Irish Childhood Bereavement Network is a great service for parents and children alike. "The signposting that they do and the call centre support for bereaved children is so important. It's invaluable."

This week is Bereaved Children's Awareness Week, and coordinator of the Irish Childhood Bereavement Network, Maura Keating, says children can grieve differently to adults and may need help with expressing their emotions.

She says sometimes, children may seem to be playing and carrying on with a normal routine, and family members may not bring up the death at all, for fear of upsetting the child.

However, Ms Keating says children do feel upset and emotional, but process it differently, by dipping in and out of grief. "It's like a safety valve... children are hardwired to play. They will still have moments where they feel sad or upset.

"Often this can happen late at night when they are going to bed, that's when they want to talk."

Other children might regress, for example, with bed-wetting, some may have angry outbursts, or try to be on their best behaviour at all times to support the grieving family.

The lines of communications should be open, and children should be encouraged to talk and cry if and when they want to, says Ms Keating.

Younger children may also struggle to understand the finality of death. "They may think their loved one will be able to come back for Christmas or their birthday, or if they are really well behaved."

Ms Keating says this is why it is important to use direct language with children when explaining death. "The worst has happened, you can't fix it, but it's better to talk about it."

She advises against using euphemisms about death as children take things literally and could become confused. "People may tell a child that their nana 'went off' in her sleep and has 'gone to a better place'. But the child might think that means when they go asleep, they will die too, or question why their nana didn't take them to this better place."

Often, children need an ongoing and repeated conversation about death. "A death might have occurred when the child was four, you've explained it as best you can and it seems like the child has moved on.

"Then when they're seven or eight, they start asking more questions. This is normal and natural, it's not regression. 

"Their understanding of death has matured and they now have the language to ask questions they couldn't ask at four."

Oftentimes children will want to speak while playing, or while in the car, and if the child is prompted they will open up. Ms Keating adds that asking a child to explain in their own words what they think has happened can be a good way to gauge their understanding.

She added it is very important that family members who have been bereaved to avail of support and counselling if necessary, so they, in turn, can help support the children. "Often children themselves won't need counselling, but some may need it if it has been a traumatic death."

'Noodle Loses Dad' is available on sarahcorbettlynch.com.

For more information on the Irish Childhood Bereavement Network visit https://www.childhoodbereavement.ie/ or call 01 679 3188. 

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