37th Annual Conference


The aftermath of unexpected death


It’s the little things that matter when someone you love dies suddenly.

This was one of the most poignant moments of this year’s Bereavement Annual Conference on: ‘ All of a Sudden, the aftermath of unexpected death,’ held at Mosaic Reform Synagogue, Harrow on October 31st.

Many of the delegates, from multi-ethnic and non-religious groups and organisations, were in tears as Revd Craig Fullard spoke of Jill’s son, an organ donor and how he was treated by caring staff after his death.

Revd Fullard, from St Joseph’s Church, Wolverhampton and formerly chaplaincy team leader for the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, said: “Never under-estimate it’s the little things that matter, like the nurse who told Jill she had brushed her son’s teeth.”

He spoke movingly of his own heartbreak when he and his wife suffered two miscarriages and what happened afterwards. He said: “We never forgot or forgave how we were told to queue, with everyone else, for the next appointment with tears streaming down our faces, but equally we also never forgot the wonderful doctor who let us talk and cry for as long as we needed. Being there is the ultimate thing.”

He told delegates about the swan box, used by the Trust, which guided staff on how to treat the bereaved and what can be comforting, such as photos, hand prints or locks of hair. He said: “It’s not about what I want, it’s about  what they want. It’s our duty and privilege to be prepared.”

He said it was also about ‘thinking outside the box,’ like allowing a dying patient to be wheeled outside the hospital to say goodbye to his beloved horse.

Dr Anthony Kaiser, consultant neonatologist at St Thomas’ hospital, said unexpected death among children was still very low in this country and talking about death was still a taboo subject. He said: “Our aim is to provide the most healthy outcome for the survivors: giving them some anticipation is helpful, keeping them well-informed, use honest and plain language, involve them as much as possible.”

Unlike with an adult, he stressed the importance of building up memories. He said: A baby has never known anyone except their parents and hospital staff, so we become their family, which is why it’s very important to provide memories; permanent proof the child existed.”

He spoke about the importance of the five Bs: be straightforward, be honest, be human, be flexible and be there. He said:”If you can really be there for the family and really listen, it is something they will remember for ever.”

Ann Culley, chair of the Trustees for Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide, became involved in the charity after her brother, Gordon, killed himself. She said she was still amazed at the methods some youngsters chose to end their lives.

Like the 18-year-old who ordered a gas cylinder or the 14-year-old who killed herself with the drug used to kill criminals in America. She said: “There are so many reasons people have: financial, mental health issues, illness, but when it happens, the main question is why.  Why didn’t they talk to me, why didn’t I realise something was wrong.

“People have said to me they would rather the loved one had been murdered, because they have chosen to kill themselves. They are left with feelings of guilt, abandonment and rejection.”

Patrick Green, chief executive officer for the Ben Kinsella Trust, set up in 2008 after the murder of Ben in Islington, gave a video showing the events leading up to his stabbing and  the anti-knife campaign run by his family and in particular his sister, Brooke, who was awarded an MBE for her work.

He said: “Ben was a normal teen, not in a gang, doing well in school, who was murdered by three older boys who he had never met. What is happening to our society for a young boy to be murdered in this way?”

He talked about the ordeal faced by the whole family during the criminal investigation, press intrusion and abuse from the defendants’ families.

He spoke about a new inter-active project in Islington which was having a positive impact on youngsters and how lessons needed to be learned before they got into trouble.

DC Teresa Jimenez, a family liaison advisor with the Met, who has been involved in major incidents such as the London bombings and Grenfell Tower, said the most important thing was communication.

She said: “With Grenfell there were too many people involved. The families didn’t know who to speak to, about what. The process is very slow so sometimes the families got very frustrated.”

She talked about the support they gave during major incidents, as well as signposting people to further help, as well as the importance of self care.She said: “When you deal with one family after another it takes its toll. We have a passion for what we do, which keeps us going.”

After the speakers the delegates took part in discussion forums to explore the theme of the day and how to offer the relevant support.

Judy Silverton, chair of the conference planning group, thanked everyone involved, including the sandwich and cake makers.



Text by Jane Harrison            Pictures by David Pollak