A fourth year Science Honours student who lost one of her parents to cancer has taken matters into her own hands and created a Canberra-based support network for young people.
The ACT Youth Bereavement Network was set up by PhB Science student Louise Blessington as a free service to help 16 to 30 year olds cope with trauma if they have had a parent or parent-figure die.
The group meets once a month. Each gathering includes a chat with a trained bereavement counsellor from the Canberra Grief Centre, while the second half of the get-together is a peer-support session, where members share their personal experiences.
"Because there aren't many young people, thankfully, who have experienced something like this and because our culture doesn't talk about grief very much or very openly, certainly I have found it hard and lots of other people who have lost parents have found it really hard," Louise said.
Louise, 26, lost her father to cancer three years ago.
"My parents were living on a small island off the coast of West Africa and I got a voice mail saying 'could you call us please'. It was my Dad and he said 'we think I have liver cancer but the ship isn't on island, it's in dry dock for the next six weeks, so I don't think I'm ever going to see you again, but thanks, it's been great'. I felt like my whole world had been pulled out from under me," she said.
Her father died three months later.
"You don't just lose a person, you lose that imagined future together, because you thought they would be there when you graduate, if you get hitched, have kids, they would be a fantastic grandparent, and that all goes along with them, as does your sense of security in the world," she said.
The network was set up last year and then a revamped form, involving an ACT government Youth InterACT grant, has meant the network has been able to expand its service to include more people over the past six months. The group is open to young people across Canberra.
"The main benefit that I think I've had and others who have been in the network have had is to have a space where you can be really open about how you're feeling and have the people around you understand that," Louise said.
"Obviously no one has had exactly the same experience but there are enough similarities to break through barriers."
The ACT Youth Bereavement Network's next meeting will be on Thursday 17 November from 5-6pm at A Baker in Acton.
The meetings are free for 16-30 year olds who have lost a parent.