It was his first morning at Dandelion Time. The other families had already arrived and strolled up the meadow path, to Bramley Barn ready for their session to start.
Elliot, however, was still hunched on the bench in the courtyard outside… his hoodie pulled so far over his face, that only his hazel eyes were visible, scanning the horizon, as if looking for a way to escape.
Despite the very best efforts of his mum, to entice him into the room, Elliot simply stiffened and vigorously shook his head, his feet started to kick the sunflower planter.
He was scared and understandably so.
Elliot’s world had come crashing down, two years previously, when his beloved grandad had suddenly died of Covid. The pain of loss had become unbearable for Elliot. He hated to see his mum cry and knew that nothing would ever be the same again.
It was then that ‘those’ thoughts came…creeping into his waking moments and permeating his dreams…’people die, don’t they?… Mummy could die… I could die…’ He could even feel the thoughts… they sank like a rock in his tummy and made his throat ache.
‘My mummy could die’.
He vowed, he never wanted his mummy out of sight. If he was near her, he could stop her from dying. So it began: the rages when she left the room, the tummy aches and sickness when it was time for school. The refusal to leave the car, the screaming at the school gate.
Eventually, he refused to go to school completely. h The feelings that had initiated with the loss of his grandad, had grown into the fear of his mum dying and an overriding anxiety of being in any situation where he didn’t feel safe or in control… his safe place was his house, not Bramley Barn.
Lucy, their therapeutic caseworker, understood the situation and smiled knowingly.
“It does sound loud in there… would you and mummy like to help me do a job?”
She popped behind a wall and returned with a box filled with eight squeaking, furry bundles.
Elliot’s eyes widened. “Guineapigs!” The first words he had spoken
Lucy smiled gently. “They really need a cuddle… do you think if we take them into the barn, people might like to have a little hold?” Elliot nodded shyly. “Would you and mummy help me with this box?… so many guineapigs are making it heavy.”
Five minutes later, Elliot and his mother were sat on a comfy sofa, in a bright, peaceful room, amidst quietly contented families. Each child and parent with a squeaky bundle of fur.
A small smile was now visible, as Elliot’s hoodie had slipped down and his mum leaned in and whispered “I knew you would love this”.
Guineapig cuddling was followed by pasta making, around the big wooden table. As Elliot mixed the pasta dough, his body visibly relaxed and by the time he was feeding the dough through the pasta machine, with his mum, creating a huge length of pasta, he was chatting to the other boys and girls. “We have made the longest pasta in the world!” exclaimed mum. Elliot quietly turned to her and replied, “I’m glad we stayed”.
As the sessions progressed, Elliot’s fears about his life ahead began to dissolve as he began to look forward to things. The change of context, set within the natural world, and opportunity to take part in new experiences encouraged the family to find a new way of being.
A year on, Elliot enjoys school, has a good attendance record, uses coping methods for stressful memories and is able to process difficult experiences. The sadness from losing his granddad will always be there, but he has learnt that that there will be days that are more difficult than others and that is okay.
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This is a composite case that is indicative of our work, names and images have been changed.
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