Lucy’s Story

A simple collage of paper and stickers helped Lucy unlock precious memories of her father

Lucy Crowther was four years old when her father Nick died.

Now 12, Lucy has lived three times as long without her dad as she had with him. The memories banked in her developing brain from those four precious years will have to last her a lifetime.

That is the reality when a child’s parent dies.

There is never enough information and, unfortunately, it is common for the remaining parent or family members to shut down, unable to talk about the details the grieving young person so desperately needs.

Lucy had been seeing a psychologist, but was still struggling with her grief when she started attending the National Centre for Childhood Grief (NCCG).

The centre is a place where specialist grief and bereavement counsellors work with children, but the approach is different to traditional talk therapy.

“Here instead of just talking about how I feel … we did an artwork, and it’s made me realise that I actually know a lot more than I thought I did about Dad,” Lucy said.

“We did a mosaic artwork with bits from newspapers and stickers, which was stuff about dad, and I remember coming out to Mum and asking questions and thinking, ‘Oh, I think this happened and I think he was like this’ because there are some things that I don’t fully remember – the small things like his favourite colour.

“And that really helped because on the way home, Mum and I just started talking about stuff like that – little things I don’t know about dad.”

Her mum Kim said those conversations in the family car have become “cathartic”.

“The whole process is good for everybody, really. It gets me talking about it as well – things that I haven’t spoken about for a while,” she said.

“Because I think one of the fears Lucy has is always that she’s going to forget her dad.”

Now, Lucy can tell you her dad was Nick and he was from Scotland.

He loved horses and he really was “a gentle giant” at taller than 6 foot. He owned a landscaping business and she wants you to know he was very fun.

“I have some memories of him. In the morning, we would have a race to see who could finish the Nutella toast the fastest,” she recalls.

“We had a lot of little secrets that we used to have together.”

When a parent dies, adults are often busy rearranging life and households to make them function without the deceased. Conversations about the child are happening, but oftentimes they don’t actually involve them, and when that little person goes to school, a place that was perhaps once a refuge, they can be the only person carrying the weight of a dead parent.

Childhood grief can be a very lonely place.

One of the most powerful things about the NCCG is its ability to show grieving children they are no different to the kid sitting next to them.

“Lucy always was struggling with the notion that she was alone,” Kim said.

“One of the points that I said to Lucy, when we started [at NCCG] was the fact they do group sessions or camps.”

Lucy now has a friend who also has a parent who died and says “it’s been a big help having someone like that” in her life.

“We kind of sat down one day, just us two, and we started talking about stuff and she asked about my parents and I said ‘oh my dad died when I was like, five or four’. And I said ‘what about your parents’, and she’s like ‘Oh, my dad died too’.

“And ever since then we’ve just kind of connected over it.”

Lucy is a very thoughtful child with a very generous spirit.

As part of a community ‘passion project’ assigned to her at school, she decided to hold a series of fundraisers for the NCCG.

Money raised for the centre is put to very good and very direct use and every dollar helps more children through the most difficult time of their lives.

Lucy ran in a sponsored fun run, held garage sales, a trivia night with friends and ran a toy donation drive. In the end, she exceeded her fundraising goal.

“I set my goal to raise $1,000. I got that pretty quickly and in the end I raised $2,374.75,” she said.

Perhaps testament to how early grieving children are forced to mature and the depth of their empathy, Lucy knows that while a majority of children won’t need the NCCG, to those who have a parent that dies, the services are vital.

“A lot of people don’t know about this thing,” she said.

“And something I found out from doing a bit of research was that 95 per cent of kids under the age of 18, won’t experience a parent dying until they’re adults. So a lot of people don’t know about it.

“And because the NCCG is basically a charity, they need a lot of help and they need donations.

“They need people to support our community.”