The Children’s Grief Centre officially opens on September 12, 2023, officiated by Minister Norma Foley T.D. Minister for Education, in the presence of Anne Rabbitte T.D. Minister of State at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. Picture: Olena Oleksienko/ilovelimerick
A proud moment for Limerick and Sr Helen Culhane as the Children’s Grief Centre officially opens at Mount St Vincent, O’Connell Avenue
The Children’s Grief Centre was officially opened on Tuesday, September 12, a proud and momentous occasion for founder Sr Helen Culhane.
The opening event was attended by Minister Norma Foley T.D. Minister for Education, in the presence of Anne Rabbitte T.D. Minister of State at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.
The Children’s Grief Centre (CGC) was founded in 2009 by Sr Helen, backed by a multidisciplinary support group and funded by the Sisters of Mercy. From the beginning, it aimed to respond to the needs of children and young people, aged 4 to 18, who were grieving a loss through death, separation, or divorce. Crucially, it does so free of charge, catering for children from every socio-economic background throughout Ireland.
Speaking at the event, Sr Helen reflected on her own journey of grief and how it led her to where she is today, she said tearfully, “Sadly when I was six, my baby brother Martin, sadly he died. I have very clear memory of that day, and I can still see the little white coffin, and there was this great learning even though here was this little small child. In those days, sadly, there was no funeral mass or anything, I can see my dad placing his coffin into the back of a neighbours car.
“To add to the trauma, two months later my mum was expecting twins, and sadly they died at birth, their names James and John. I often ask myself if these events triggered my interest in children’s grief, and they obviously have.”
The Centre supports children through the grieving process, helps them to develop coping skills and assists them in learning to live with grief and loss. Referrals can be made directly to the Centre by parents. To date, the Centre has provided one-to-one support to over 2000 children, with many of these children receiving, on average, eight to ten sessions. However, children can attend for as long as they wish.
With referrals to the Centre continually increasing, more spacious accommodation was required. In January 2020, the Sisters of Mercy gifted the former Ladies Residence at Mount St Vincent’s to the Centre. The beautifully renovated building, which is having its official opening today, is now home to the Children’s Grief Centre. This upgraded building will now enable the CGC to meet the needs of the increasing numbers of children who are being referred to this service.
Having joined the Mercy Sisters at the age of 24, Sr Helen Culhane trained as a social care and went on to train to be a psychotherapist, she said “what really struck me most” about the children and young people she worked with, was “that they felt their feeling were not recognised, and more importantly they felt they were not listened to.”
“And so in 2008, with my experience, and the blessing and financial support of the Sisters of Mercy, I recruited a group of professionals to look at setting up a programme to support grieving children and young people,” said Sr Helen.
The new Centre accommodates Support rooms tailored to specific age groups incorporating creative tunnels, nooks and crannies, recessed closet for dress-up/theatre, sand trays, punch bags, etc.
It includes a tranquil memory garden for use by parents/guardians, a waiting room for parents/guardians incorporating a library and refreshments, and an administration office.
The refurbishment of the building was only accomplished due to the generosity of the JP McManus Benevolent Fund together with several other charitable donations, a grant from Minister Anne Rabbitte Department of Health, Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and by the generosity and good will of the general public and organisations throughout the Midwest of Ireland and further afield.
Pictures: Olena Oleksienko/ilovelimerick