Ian's death inspires life
IAN Miller De Vere was just two months shy of his 18th birthday when he ended his own life.
"It leaves you very raw," Ian's mother Marie-Clare De Vere said of losing her son.
"It's like someone has ripped the skin off all of your nerve endings."
Desperate to connect with people who knew the trauma she was experiencing, Ms De Vere reached out to an organisation called The Compassionate Friends.
"It's about not having to explain where you're coming from," Ms De Vere said of the support she received.
"Everybody in this situation is different, everybody's relationship with their child is different but the common bond, unfortunately, is that their child has died.
"For me I was looking for other parents who went through this.
"I looked for people whose children had died, people who were more aware of things so I could ask them questions like 'Is this normal?'.
"Or I could say to them 'I just want to crawl in my son's grave with him' and the Friend would say 'That's okay, just as long as you don't'."
Over the years, the global support organisation has amassed a dedicated army of selfless volunteers who have lost children, siblings or grandchildren.
Entry to the Friends comes at sad and tragic price, but it's this shared lived experience that ensures the organisation connects with people during the most trying of times.
Like many bereaved parents before her, Ms De Vere reached a point where she wanted to turn her experience and loss into something positive and so she became a Friend.
"Being around the Friends can help normalise an abnormal situation," Ms De Vere said.
"This is really important because it helps you experience the high pain and the low pain and everything in between - there are no shortcuts to feeling the loss of your child.
"If you try to push it (the grief) away, it will come back and hit you in the face twice as bad.
"How we manage the loss ensures it doesn't drown you and you can still live.
"I carry leaflets with me all the time so as soon as I hear of someone who needs help, I can give them that - it's about spreading the word because not enough people know us."
Death has surrounded Ms De Vere all of her adult life.
A nurse from the age of 17, the Gympie resident has a matter-of-fact approach to mortality.
She said it was vital for people to talk openly and honestly about their feelings, particularly when communicating with the bereaved.
"If people say they don't know what to say, I say 'Just tell the person that'," she said.
"No one is looking for magic words.
"There is an enormous amount of information out there for people who want to learn how to approach death.
"Practical support is really important - take them some food because when you're grieving you forget to do things like eat and drink
"Mostly, people just need understanding."
'Hardest death for human beings to recover from'
YOU'RE disorientated, dizzy and can't concentrate. You feel like throwing up. Your body aches for no reason. The world around you is foggy and you struggle to make sense of even the simplest things.
This is how your body responds to the loss of a child.
Thankfully, few people in Gympie will experience what childhood grief and loss expert Dr Greg Roberts describes as the "hardest death for human beings to recover from".
It's not possible to say how many people under 18 have died in Gympie over the past few years.
But ARM Newsdesk research does show that 14 of the 2721 infants born in our region between 2010 and 2014 did not live beyond one year old.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data reveals vehicle accidents, perinatal or congenital health problems, cancer and drownings are the leading killers of children aged one to 14.
Suicide, vehicle accidents, poisoning and assault are the most common causes of death for young people aged 15 to 24.
Dr Greg Roberts is one of Australia's leading authorities on child mortality.
He has worked with bereaved parents for 15 years and he is now the clinical operations manager with Red Nose Grief and Loss (formerly SIDS and Kids).
Dr Roberts said our childhood mortality rate was falling thanks to a range of factors including strong education about sudden infant death syndrome prevention, excellent vaccination programs and breakthroughs in life-prolonging medicines for once-fatal diseases such as cystic fibrosis.
However, he said the sad fact was some Gympie mums and dads would have to live through the trauma of losing a son or daughter and the physical and emotional impacts of that loss could still be intense many years later.
"Having a child die is above the death of a spouse as far as the level of stress and impact on a person," Dr Roberts said.
"Immediately afterwards bereaved parents will find it really hard to concentrate and to focus on things.
"They will be in shock.
"Grief itself is a normal process but if a person isn't supported it can lead to mental health problems because of the intensity.
"In society we have this expectation that grief is this step-by-step process that gets better as time passes.
"That's somewhat true but it takes a lot longer after the death of the child."
Dr Roberts said supporting families through the loss of child was about respecting space and offering practical help such as cooking meals or doing household chores.
"It's not about cocooning the parents, but it's about checking in on them, making sure they're okay and whether there are things that they need.
"But at the same time it's important not to take over."
Helping sick children understand death
LEE-ANN Pedersen has been helping children come to terms with their own mortality for more than 10 years.
The 45-year-old nurse practitioner at Brisbane's Lady Cilento Children's Hospital works with Australia's sickest kids - little ones who have life-shortening chronic illnesses.
A focus on "family and honesty" underpins Ms Pedersen's approach to discussing death with her young patients.
"My job is to work with how the family operates," she said.
"I respect the family's wishes and how their philosophies work but if the child asks me a direct question, I'm not going to lie to them."
Ms Pedersen said her job was hard but it was also a privilege.
"We're in a very privileged position in that we get to meet families at a very vulnerable time and we are just one small part of the puzzle," she said.
"We can make a difference but sadly we can't change what's going to happen.
"We try to make it better for the family and the little person in the middle.
"That is what keeps you coming to work every day."
Lady Cilento Children's Hospital treats children from across northern New South Wales and Queensland.
- ARM NEWSDESK