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So, is Prince Harry right about counselling?

Prince Harry has expressed regrets about not talking about the loss of his mum, Princess Diana, when he was 12. Now, Karen Ireland meets two people who have lost loved ones, one of whom had counselling and another who coped by himself

Published 28/07/2016

Precious memories: Joanne Grimley, from Belfast, who has had counselling after losing her mum and dad
Precious memories: Joanne Grimley, from Belfast, who has had counselling after losing her mum and dad
Loving parent: Helen Carson with her son Pierce
Speaking out: Prince Harry and his late mother, Princess Diana
Solid bond: Andy Reid with his late dad and supporter Adrian

Losing a loved one leaves a gaping hole in your life and Prince Harry has spoken for the first time about how he wishes he had talked more about the death of his mother, Princess Diana.

He was 12 when she was killed in a car crash in Paris and a massive outpouring of grief followed.

We talk to two people about how they coped following the death of a parent, while one writer explains how bereavement counselling was a saviour at a difficult time.

Divorcee Joanne Grimley (49) lives in Belfast with her son Jack (16). She sought counselling after losing her parents while battling cancer. Joanne is now terminally ill. She says:

I always thought I was strong enough to deal with things myself, having coped with a breast cancer diagnosis five years ago by talking openly to all my friends. But when both my parents passed away eight months apart I couldn't cope on my own. Friends and family ended up telling me I needed help.

My mum had Parkinson's disease and it was quite advanced. I had given up work to look after her when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I just got on with things and had my treatment. Mum was my priority. She was my best friend and we did everything together, so it was difficult to suddenly become her carer.

Then dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer and, again it was very advanced. This was a traumatic time for me as I was worrying about mum while also dealing with my own diagnosis.

Dad was on hormone treatment and a drug trial for a while but it didn't work so they started to give him chemo. He was a fit, healthy man for 73, but the chemo wiped him out for weeks.

The next time he went for chemo his blood cell count was too low to receive it. The doctors said if he had the chemo, although it was tough on his body, he might have 18 months left to live but without it he would have only six weeks. We (the family) decided that dad shouldn't have the treatment - a few weeks later I found him collapsed on the bathroom floor with blood coming out of his mouth.

He was admitted to hospital where he died a week later.

My mum, who was in a nursing home by this stage, was completely heartbroken - previously she would have sat at the window, waiting to see him coming.She stopped eating and just deteriorated. She kept saying she wasn't ready to go as she wanted to stay for her babies (my brother and I). But in the end she couldn't fight it any longer and kept getting infections. She died eight months after my dad and I am convinced my mum died of a broken heart.

She simply didn't want to go on after he passed away.

I was completely distraught when I lost my mum. Suddenly I had nothing to do and no one to care for.

Concerned friends urged me to seek support from counselling as the waiting lists for most organisations are really long.

Eventually I sought out help from Cancer Lifeline - a charity I am now involved with. I tried one-on-one counselling but it wasn't for me. I found talking to friends more helpful.

Then someone recommended group counselling so I went along and it proved to be a tremendous help - I got so much out of the group sessions. It was better for me as there were other people there in the same situation so we talked and shared things and then I realised that I wasn't alone.

For the first time I began to realise that there is light at the end of the tunnel. While I would never get over my grief I learned to live with it and move on with my life.

The group taught me coping techniques, such as how to breathe when I got anxious and about creating memory books to mark my parents' lives.

The group counselling sessions helped me to turn my life around by talking through my grief with others who felt the same way.

My parents and I were so close, and, having separated from my husband when my son Jack was one, I had moved into a house across the street from them. We had always lived near each other, then suddenly they were ripped out of my life.

Because mum was ill I felt as though I never had a chance to grieve for my dad, but the group helped me understand those feelings.

I feel my parents are around me all the time and I have kept their ashes near me both at home and in my car.

Sadly, I have been re-diagnosed and have terminal cancer now. I miss my parents being here as I just want a big hug from my mum and her to tell me it will be alright. At the same time, though, I am glad they didn't have to face this news.

Right now I am just making the most of every day and I'm just back from a lovely holiday with Jack. We try to make every day count.

I don't know how long I have left as I don't want to know - I don't want to be on a countdown. I prefer to live in the here and now and make precious memories and happy times for Jack.

Counselling taught me how to live again and now I am teaching Jack so that he can cope when I am no longer here."

Cancer Lifeline, tel: 028 9035 1999 or visit cancerlifeline.info/

Our writer Helen Carson reveals how talking to experts helped her cope with grief                   

When someone you love dies you lose a part of yourself. That’s how I felt when my son’s dad, Seamus, passed away four years ago.

Seamus was only 41 at the time and had been recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. He had been very ill and showed all the classic symptoms of the disease, such as rapid weight loss and a raging thirst.

Despite his illness, Seamus was unconcerned and followed his monitoring and injecting regime with ease and his health started to improve. In fact, he seemed better than he had been in a long time.

He had been part of my life since I was 25 and we were a couple for 12 years and very happy parents to our son Pierce, now 15.

Although Seamus and I had parted ways some years previously, we eventually became friends again and, more importantly, were loving parents to Pierce.

So when Seamus didn’t turn up one evening as expected for Pierce I knew something was wrong, it just wasn’t in his character not to communicate with me if he had been held up.

A bout of pneumonia took his life and from the moment his brother-in-law told me he had died nothing was ever the same again.

The sheer horror and shock of losing him was overwhelming and I honestly didn’t know where I belonged in the world after that. I had my parents, my sister and my beautiful son as well as the Mullan family for support — so how come everything was so hard?

I kept hearing his voice in my head and couldn’t accept that I would never see him again — it was unbearable.

Having never shied away from counselling, I sought help from Cruse and within a few months had an appointment for six sessions. Probably the most important lesson to learn from counselling is that it is never just a single subject. I was there to find a way through the grief, but many other issues surfaced.

My relationship with Seamus felt ambiguous — I wasn’t his widow, but we were a family. We were never married but we were each other’s most significant partner. All these tangled feelings had to be taken apart so I could put my life back together again. Counselling shone a light on issues that were both complicated and fraught. The process helped me come to terms with any conflicting emotions I had because, to put it simply, there was no time for me to figure it out myself — nor should I have had to. I had Pierce and whatever I was feeling had to take a back seat to my 11-year-old who had just lost his father. Pierce turned down counselling on more than one occasion probably, just like Prince Harry who was 12 when his mother died, because he was so young, although it’s never too late for him to want to talk about it. While sitting down with a counsellor doesn’t speed up the grieving process — you learn that is a necessary part of acceptance — it provided me with a safe place where I wouldn’t be judged to talk about how I felt and find a place to put my grief. It’s not about forgetting the person but learning to relish what they gave to you and continue to live yourself.

Cruse Bereavement Care, tel: 0808 808 1677 or visit cruse.org.uk/northern-ireland

Superbike rider Andy Reid (22) is currently second in the British Supersport Championship and has just been named celebrity ambassador for the Prince’s Trust in Northern Ireland. He lives in Carrickfergus with girlfriend, Chloe Smith (22). He was 18 when he lost his dad, but didn’t want counselling. He says:

This weekend I was celebrating winning the British Supersport Championship sixth round which is a pretty big deal in motorsport world — but for me the win was bittersweet. My victory came on the fourth anniversary of my dad’s death so I dedicated the win to him.

I know he would have been super proud of me. All the success I have enjoyed in the sport is due to the support I have had from my dad and my mum since I got my first motorbike when I was seven years old. At the time they thought it was just going to be an expensive hobby so they weren’t that keen. Despite this they went along with it and were always there for me.

I took part in my first competitive race when I was just eight years old and they drove me everywhere and were always there to cheer me on. At the weekend I missed my dad being there as he had been so many times before. Dad died in 2012 and it was a huge shock. Sadly, dad was an alcoholic and died from complications related to that.

We hadn’t realised at the time how ill he was. I have dealt with my dad’s death by just keeping my head down and getting on with things. I think Prince Harry has a point about counselling but I still don’t feel it is for me. I never had counselling after my dad died and never considered it, and I still wouldn’t. I am happy dealing with my life and whatever happens in it. If you feel you cannot cope, the only person holding you back in that situation is yourself.

I strive to be the best at what I do so I can make him proud.

My girlfriend Chloe, who I have been with since school, is now one of my greatest supporters. We live together now and she helped me come to terms with my grief.

It’s hard to say what stage of the grieving process I am at as I just take every day as it comes.

My mum and brother Christopher have been with me as I pursue a racing career and we are a very close family. Most of my memories of dad centre around motorbikes, either being on the road to a race, or racing and knowing he was watching. I miss that so much and know he would be very proud of me and all that I have achieved. Family holidays to Benone in a caravan when I was lot younger were also a lot of fun.

 When I feel grief, I try to remember the good times and not dwell on the bad. He wouldn’t want me to go through life being sad, but wanted me to succeed — and that’s what I intend to do.

Right now things are looking good, I have a great bike and a good team. Now, after the joy of winning it is back to training and preparation for the next big race competition which is the seventh round of the BSB.

I race for Quattro Plant (Kawasaki) and I am delighted with my performance to date. I just hope dad would be very proud of me.”

Belfast Telegraph

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