Child Bereavement - A Volunteer's Story

Having suffered multiple bereavements at a very young age, volunteer Audrey Holligan found her calling as a children and young people's supporter. Here she tells her story, how it has shaped her career, and how helping others has ultimately helped her heal from her own trauma.

November 17, 2021

My story starts when I was a very young child. A very long time ago in a land far, far away... At least it felt that way to me for many years. Having grown up with grief and trauma from a young age, my experiences flipped my life on its head.

Death was my companion from the tender age of 18 months when my mother sadly died at age 32. Death took my cousin tragically when I was aged 4, and then my father when I was 7. Yes, death was no stranger. In fact, it was more like a member of the family and it kept taking until I was around 11.

"I always knew love"

In a strange way, this was all normal to me. My earliest memories always consisted of grieving and trauma. Yet through this, I always knew love. Maybe not security, trust or attachment, but definitely love.

Sport was my friend and I threw myself into it from a very young age. It was my happy place, my release, my family. I grew up in the 60's and 70's when death was not something that was spoken about. One must just keep that 'chin up', ‘man up’ and 'dig deep'. I grew up thinking I was the only one to go through this and one must never talk about death or feelings. I can't even imagine saying that to a four-year-old child now!

The wider impact of grief

As I have mentioned, death was always there, so growing up, I just let it walk with me, not realising the impact that it was having on me, my relationships, decisions, life choices, attachments and the inner core of who I really was.

Counselling was something that Americans did in the movies; it wasn't something that was talked about in my life. Sectioned, psychiatric hospitals, medication were all words I had heard growing up - not on a personal level - but most definitely with family members. Again, this was just 'normal’ and as a child, at times it seemed almost comical.

I navigated my way through life with friends, sport and the foster care system. Not all memories were happy and death stayed with me, but by this point, I had internalised my grief with no reaction. I thought this was coping, that I had 'healed', that I had fixed myself, that I had moved on. It wasn’t until years later that I would encounter the word 'counselling', through work.

A career helping others

My career, whether deliberately or subconsciously, became working with traumatised children whom society had rejected. It was only then that I saw my own inner child and how broken it was. This led me to counselling for myself, and I never looked back. It was then that I realised how I would like to help children in bereavement - still a huge area of taboo even 40 years from my own experience. Many adults struggle to know what to say and do to support a young person going through grief and this is where organisations like Cruse can help enormously.

A life-long relationship with Cruse

Cruse Scotland was always in my life. I remember my aunt going along to groups when I was only four. She remained close to many friends she made there, giving each other support until she died. I thought I would do some research, and to my surprise I discovered that Cruse had been offering support not only to adults but also to children and young people for many years.

Cue: application done at super speed!

Having already completed relevant training to be considered as a volunteer and, of course, my life experience, I submitted my application with high hopes. That was three years ago, and I am proud to be part of the team.

The training is first class, with professionally trained staff who invest in you and guide you through the process with understanding, knowledge, experience, kindness, compassion, empathy, humour, and unconditional positive regard.

Cruse follows a person-centred model of counselling with adults, and support given to children and young people through activities, storytelling, art and crafts, music... in fact anything that helps the child connect. Cruse has been like a family to me. They have made me feel valued and the support given to each other is heartfelt. There are also lots of further training opportunities, workshops, CPD, supervision and seminars available.

Through Cruse, I have learnt so much about myself and it has instilled personal confidence and self-esteem and also many qualities and skills that have helped me further my career within Cruse and helped me in my personal life.

The most important aspect is that I can give back to children and young people using my experience to try to normalise what they are going though. Helping them to understand death, grief and trauma in order to help them cope with whatever has happened to them. I would have given anything to have had a support worker when I was a child, to help me rationalise the grief and to normalise what was going on around me. My hope is that if I can help one child get through what is, most likely, the worst thing that will ever happen to them, then this support will be invaluable for that child.

The work all the volunteers do within Cruse makes a huge difference to people’s lives; people who have lost their voices, their hearts, and their hope. People that are just lost; existing but not living. Being a volunteer for Cruse can be overwhelming at times, but mostly I feel humbled and privileged to be able to sit with children and young people and hear their voices. Volunteering for Cruse has been one of the best things I have ever done.


If you know a child or young person who needs support with their grief, find out more about our specialist services on the how can we help pages, or call our free helpline: 0808 802 6161.

Child Bereavement - A Volunteer's Story

About the Author

Audrey Holligan - Cruse Scotland Volunteer

Audrey has a background in counselling and education. She has volunteered for Cruse Scotland for five years as a Children and Young People's Supporter, Step-by-Step Manager, BBC Grief Consultant and many other ‘hats'.

She is currently studying MSc Play Therapy, following her huge passion for understanding and researching trauma and grief in children and how play helps with therapeutic healing. Her professional and academic path was motivated by her own experience of both her parents dying when she was very young and recognising the importance of grief support for children and young people.

Audrey says, "to be able to contribute through Cruse Scotland is an absolute privilege. I am often humbled by the strength and resilience within the children and young people I support."

For her self-care, she enjoys drawing, socialising (tea and cake being a favourite!), walking with her dog Daisy, spending time with her precious family - and, of course, playing!