Topic: Family Life

Michelle Hardy, an Early Years Teacher at our WoodLand Nursery in Warwickshire, shares her story about coping with losing a loved one.

As a child growing up, I was very fortunate to have had all my grandparents. I even had two of my great grandparents until the age of three when they both passed away, so I don’t recall having to deal with death at a young age and certainly didn’t understand it.

2013 changed my entire world; my colleague lost her Mum, a parent at the nursery suddenly died, and my own mum, who worked at Bright Horizons WoodLand with me, was admitted to hospital following a pain in her leg… and never came home.

My Mum had worked alongside me for 6 years, she had dedicated an entire decade serving our children and families and her death affected not only my immediate family, but our work family, her key children and team members.

As the eldest member of my family, I had to support my younger sister (21) and brother (17) along with, my nieces (5 and 3) and nephew (2). My eldest niece found things particularly difficult as she was very close to her ‘Nannie’, and my sister was struggling with her own grief.  I told them both it was important that they spoke about their feelings, and reminded my sister of what our Mum used to say to us “When people die, they turn into stars.” – It’s a similar thing to the Lion King I guess?

My niece ended up being involved in ‘Sunshine Group’ at school which supported children to talk about their feelings and emotions whilst exploring how to handle them. This was such a great resource for her and helped her through such a difficult time.

Additionally, we had to deal with the children, families and staff grief at nursery. We are so fortunate to work for a company that provides excellent resources and support. The staff team were offered opportunities to talk to a grief councillor and the Early Years Team provided us with a ‘Grief’ pack which included books and activities we could do with the children to talk about what had happened.

My friends, family and colleagues thought I was mad to return to work as quickly as I did, but this is where the memory of my Mum was served best…. And still is. However, there is nothing like ‘out of the mouths of babes’, with the older children asking me “Why did your Mummy die?” “Where did your Mummy go?”

My advice is to not ‘shy away’ from death. It’s a part of life. Most children’s first experiences of death are that of a pet. Use this to talk through what has happened and why.

Take the help and support that is offered to you and your family, whether that’s from friends or external services.

Share a story. There are so many books about dealing with a terminal illness and understanding death. These are my recommendations:

~ Butterfly Kisses and Wishes on Wings – Ellen McVicker. When someone you love has cancer.

~ I Remember Miss Perry- Pat Brisson & Stephanie Jorisch. The loss of a teacher.

~ Gentle Willow- Joyce C. Mills. Children with terminal illness or friends of those with a terminal illness.

~ Badger’s Parting Gift- Susan Varley. Opening conversations about memories of lost loved ones.

~ Water Bugs and Dragons Flies- Doris Stickney. Explaining why we can’t see loved ones after passing. That death is just a change of state.

~ Grandad’s Island- Benji Davis. Grandparent’s death.

To help children deal with grief, we must deal with grief ourselves.

Whether you believe in a God or not, talking about what has happened and coming to terms with it is essential for a healthy mentality and wellbeing…. For everyone!

“Communication is at the heart of all we do.”


To find out more about what WoodLand Nursery is doing to continue Zena’s Legacy, please visit the dedicated fundraising page.

Zena's Garden