Working Life: David Hamilton from Rainbows hospice

The psychological and bereavement support coordinator talks about his role in helping families cope with loss

David Hamilton
David Hamilton

I oversee the team of support workers and nurses who offer bereavement support to families of children with life-limiting illnesses, through the illness, the death and for years afterwards if necessary.

I get directly involved if a case is a bit more complex. Of course, any child's death is complex because it goes against what we see as the natural order of things, but I often deal with families where for example, there is a lack of other support, mental health issues or other social problems.

There's no such thing as an average day when you're dealing with children at the ends of their lives - no two deaths or families are the same.

I trained as a nurse and worked in adult end-of-life care for more than 20 years as a clinical specialist, but became particularly interested in the emotional aspect of palliative care. This role combines both.

I'm always incredibly humbled that so many families trust us as a team to support them, to enter their lives at the most painful and disturbing times, listen to their stories and help them.

It's very rewarding working with people who are so lost and paralysed by grief. With the right support, they start engaging with life and redefining it without the physical presence of their child.

But the most enjoyable things are also the most challenging. It's very difficult to sit with a person in a raw state of grief and not try to solve it, especially with a nursing background. But your job is to help them feel, rather than feel better, and in the long term that is what will help them most. That's why we go through grief.

To avoid taking it home with me, I have to remember that although my job is a very valuable part of my life there are other aspects I cherish.

You have to keep boundaries and not get sucked into a family's story, because there's a real danger you start becoming ineffective. It's important to be able to stand on the edge and help them negotiate the way out without getting lost in it yourself.

Rainbows runs a hospice for children and young people in Loughborough, Leicestershire

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