A social worker by profession, Camille Gibbs works closely with children who have experienced trauma and loss. Camille’s new book A Sky of Diamonds presents a touching story of how a girl named Mia copes with the death of her mother. In an enlightening Q&A, Camille explains why and how Mia’s story came to be.
I can recall, as a child clearly thinking that if I were to lose a loved one, I would find comfort in the idea that I could still talk to that person if I were to look up at the stars, as the stars are a constant. I think therefore that this book must have been in my head for many years!
During the writing of A Sky of Diamonds a close family member of mine was diagnosed with a serious illness. This news made me think about the possible impact that such a death would have on my own young daughter. I thought about the types of questions she might, as a five year-old ask, and the reassurance and comfort she would require from those around her. My first book, One Marble a Day looks at the experience of a young child placed with an adoptive family. Feedback from adoptive families has been that the book has helped children placed in their new family – as reading that others are experiencing similar feelings and emotions can be extremely comforting and reassuring. This led me to think further about the impact of the loss, through bereavement of a parent and how life changing this experience can be.
As you work with children who are being put into adoptive placements, you must see children going through a number of hardships. Are there many children in the adoptive system, who are there because of the death of a parent?
As a social worker in a family-finding team who specifically finds adoptive placements for older children, the children I work with on a daily basis have experienced trauma and considerable loss. Although, in my ten years as a social worker I have not experienced a child being placed for adoption due to the death of a parent, I regularly work with children who have been removed from their birth family as a result of abuse. On occasion, I have also worked with very young children who have been relinquished at birth. Although one might imagine that a baby or very young child has limited awareness, it is very clear that even very young children will grieve due to their separation from an adult with whom they have established a close relationship, whether this be the birth parent or a subsequent care-giver such as a foster carer.
A Sky of Diamonds is about loss, grief and hope – do you think children can have hope after loss due to death or separation?
Whilst the loss of a loved one changes a child’s life forever, it is important to nurture hope. It was my aim that A Sky of Diamonds will help children and their family members to see that grief is a process that has to be worked through before a child can move forward. Whether the loss is due to the death of a parent, separation via adoption, or due to another cause, what is key is the availablity of sensitive adults who are open and honest. These adults can help the child to process their feelings, through validating the pain of losing someone, but also through helping the child to develop awareness that joy can still be derived from loving someone deeply.
Grief is a process that a child needs to pass through before they can recover from the loss, whether this be as a result of death or separation from a parent, or someone with whom they have formed a significant meaningful relationship. Put simply, children need to grieve in order to move forward – there is no shortcut.
There is also the added complexity that the child may have had both positive and negative experiences when living with their birth family, and thus, some children will need extra support in managing overwhelming feelings as they develop an understanding of their earlier life experiences. Often children require support in expressing their anger and this can present at various stages in their development. Unlike the death of parent, a child who has been separated from their parent may know that the parent is still alive through some degree of contact. This contact might be direct or indirect via letters if they are placed in a new adoptive family or in foster care. Therefore the grief cycle may need to be repeated at different times.
What is the core message of the book and why do you think it would help children to get through their grief?
The core message of A Sky of Diamonds is that, although the death of a parent who is deeply loved, is the most painful experience one can suffer, with the right support there can be hope and a child can be helped to live a happy and fulfilling life. A Sky of Diamonds is honest in its approach. In writing from a child’s perspective it offers the message that it is okay to express emotions. Children reading it will see that they are not alone in experiencing strong emotions and in the book, the main character’s father is also seen expressing his emotions at times.
A Sky of Diamonds addresses some of the questions children commonly ask about death. Helping a child with answers to these questions, enables them to better process what has happened and avoid fantastical thinking or becoming overwhelmed with anxious thoughts about surviving family members or their own mortality. The book highlights the importance of giving children the time and space to work through their feelings and provides ideas for therapeutic activities that a surviving parent or adult working with the child could put into place to support the grief process.
Camille Gibbs is a social worker in the field of adoption, specialising in direct work with school-aged children moving to adoptive placements. Learn more about A Sky of Diamonds here.