This Hospice Care Week, we learn how a counsellor at one Marie Curie hospice helped a young boy come to terms with losing his grandma.
Today, Tyler Inman is a confident, happy 11-year old who dreams of being a scientist and working for his favourite computer game company. Always smartly turned out, often donning his favourite bowtie, he speaks eloquently and beyond his years and has this year even released his own book. But this smiley boy is completely different to the one Marie Curie grief counsellor, Ann Scanlon, met in 2015. “I met Tyler shortly after his grandma Jennifer was given a bed at the Marie Curie Hospice, West Midlands, when she was sadly at the end of her life, having had breast cancer that had spread to her brain,” says Ann. “When I met with her to discuss her treatment she said she was concerned about how her grandson Tyler would cope with her illness as he had Asperger’s. He was also very close to her after she’d lived with the family for several years.”
So Ann, a Children and Young People’s Counsellor, started working with Tyler through counselling sessions which became more important than ever once his grandma Jennifer sadly died in the Christmas of that year.
Speaking of that time, Tyler says he found it so hard to deal with what happened. His Asperger’s meant he struggled to cope with the irrational emotions associated with grief. “Being me, my brain couldn’t process it. And while mum would say things like ‘she is at peace now’ and ‘she is back with her mum and dad’ I thought ‘how can my mum be so certain when there is no scientific proof?’ I wrestled with this for many, many months and couldn’t rationalise the process in my mind.”
Sadly as things got worse, Tyler became withdrawn and depressed both at school and home. Suddenly this chatty boy who was normally interested in everything stopped communicating as he became unable to make sense both of his grandma’s loss and his autism. “I was almost robot-like, as slowly, one by one, my abilities switched off and no longer worked,” says Tyler.
This was where the counselling sessions with Ann helped turn everything around. It didn’t happen overnight but Ann continued to work with Tyler to help him work out who he was again. “We did activities such as asking Tyler to share his thoughts with me through his cuddly toy Derek,” says Ann. “Then we did drawing exercises where I asked him to imagine and draw what would be his safe place and he created this imaginary world called mattress land. I then scanned his drawing and made it into the size of a keyring which he now carries round with him and if ever he feels stressed or anxious, he can look at the keyring and mentally go to mattress land where he feels more relaxed.”
One other exercise Ann tried regularly was to encourage Tyler to write down his thoughts which he found incredibly useful. Over time these thoughts went on to form a book, and at the age of ten Tyler began to write about his experience to help other people understand both Asperger’s and grief. The result was the book Invisible Me, which was released earlier this year. “It’s important that loved ones feel supported too. Everyone – young or old – can benefit from practical, emotional and spiritual support – and I believe Tyler and his family are a great example of how this can really help someone deal with their grief and loss,” says Ann.
And mum Tracy says the book has been a huge turning point for getting back the old Tyler. “He said to me ‘Mum, I’m actually really proud of this book’ and I could see the expression on his face. He’d been blank for so long and I thought ‘yes you can do this’ and he’s coming back! I knew that Ann had helped restore Tyler’s self-esteem and helped him see there was a place for him in the world again. But I know if it wasn’t for all the money people fund raise for the charity, Tyler wouldn’t have been able to have these counselling sessions, which is why from every book sold a donation will be made to the Marie Curie Hospice, West Midlands.”
Today Tyler says: “Ann offered me a safe place to talk when my world was in chaos. Slowly and over time, she has helped me to build the ability to heal myself. It’s an incredible gift. I have now accepted and come to terms with my grandma’s passing. I know it will always hurt that she is gone but I will treasure the memories that are mine forever. Ann taught me a very empowering message that one person can make a difference through trust, understanding and tolerance. She equipped me to cope, understand and accept my life so I can be the person I want to be.”
Did you know?
Marie Curie Hospices go beyond simply caring for people living with a terminal illness. They have an equally important role in supporting families, including after their loved one dies, like Ann did for Tyler and his family. After all, good care at the end of life doesn’t just benefit the person who is dying. It is a vital part of helping families come to terms with bereavement and loss.
That’s why Marie Curie offers a range of support for families including bereavement support, counselling and complementary therapies at its hospices in Belfast, Bradford, Cardiff and the Vale, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hampstead, Liverpool, Newcastle and the West Midlands. To find out more about these services or support your local hospice, visit mariecurie.org.uk/hospices
To buy Tyler’s book, Invisible Me, visit shop.mariecurie.org.uk/invisible-me