Zoe Sadler – The Star Balloon

Reading Time: 4 minutes



During the Coronavirus 2020 I reflected on an article I had written over twenty years ago, see below. I began wondering how many of our children and families will have experienced a family member’s passing. There will be those children who may have lost someone close, or someone known within their community, or a member of their family who has lost a friend. There may also be children displaying signs of bereavement due to not having said goodbye to school friends, their childminder or their key person at nursery.

Grief is something we all experience and will have our own different ways of dealing with it. One thing I learnt from Winston’s Wish was the need for time, talk and honesty, which when you are trying to deal with your own emotions can be very challenging. It was psychologist Jean Piaget who said “you can teach any subject to any child in some honest form.” I believe this to be true.

For us all in early years we may well now have the sensitive task of dealing with some of these issues, but with the added burden of getting it right for our children and their families. Those who have not been able attend a funeral/life celebration, say their goodbyes, hug and hold tight that person one last time.

I reflected on the learning I documented back then: support as best you can, signpost to services, speak as openly as you feel comfortable to and for our little people snuggle them if they need it. This has not changed and actually reading this made me realise now more than ever we need to make time to listen to our little people and help them share their voice.

The star balloon

“That’s my mummy floating up to be a star!”

Not yet five years of age and having to say goodbye to his mum. He was so strong and matter of fact during the whole time his mum was ill. We had grappled with what the right and best thing to do for my Godson but with the help and support from Winston’s Wish we were able to make sense of our muddled thoughts.

Firstly, they reminded us to follow my Godson’s lead, allow him to talk through and question things. They arranged play sessions and invited us to join support groups. We were encouraged to create life books full of memories that could be happy reminders of joyful times. They used a range of stories and toys to help explain the different stages our beautiful friend was going through. They also gave us a glass heart and three different coloured sands, which our little guy and his parents all poured into the heart as a way of explaining how they were all connected.

We as adults were also supported, not just how to support our little guy during this sad time but to help us deal with our own grief. We had parked most of our emotions, hidden them deep away in an attempt to protect the little guy.  Now don’t get me wrong there were sleepless nights, bedwetting and the meltdowns were often immense! On one occasion he dragged me and demanded I see my best friend without her wig and on the day she passed peacefully away at home, he insisted that he and I should lay next to her for a while, “So she is not scared when it goes dark!” I just wanted to run away and cry but that little guy seemed to know what he needed to do to make sense of his topsy-turvey world!

During one session our little guy had said, “I do miss mummy and it sometimes makes my heart cry, that’s why I sometimes shout at you, no one can see my heart cry!” This little fella was amazing at making us open up and when we were advised to ask if he wanted to attend the funeral, we had mixed views! However, our little fella was having none of it and told us he wanted to be there “it’s a special day for mummy but a sad one for us, we have to say goodbye, right?”

So we involved him in the whole process asking him what should we wear? what will we do? Obviously we worked hard answering his questions about the event. So wearing red, playing her favourite songs we celebrated a life taken to early.

Our little fella led the way holding his dad’s hand tightly. In the church he come to the front with me while I read a funny poem about my best friend, his mum and he encouraged us to dance to her ‘bestest’ song. At the end of the service we headed for the garden where our little guy was handed a star shaped balloon. He was lifted on to a bench with us gathered round, and in a very loud voice he shouted “Are you all ready?”   He then released the balloon sobbing, “That’s my mummy floating up to be a star, she won’t be coming back down!”

Winston’s Wish supported us with our little fella during, through and for many years after the loss of his beautiful mum.




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