17 September, 2019
Cardiff Met lecturer Christina Thatcher recently returned to lead workshops at a weekend retreat with The Compassionate Friends charity.
Published poet and author Christina worked with a similar group of parents last year to highlight the relief writing and reading can provide for reflecting on grief for a child lost to substance use and addiction as well as those who died by suicide.
Christina's PhD considers the impact creative writing can have on those bereaved by addiction – her own published debut poetry collection, More Than You Were, was cathartic in helping her understand the death of her own dad to addiction five years ago.
Working with bereaved parents, The Compassionate Friends writing workshop offered an opportunity for those who understand the pain of the loss of a beloved son or daughter to support each other and immerse themselves in the comfort and warmth of writing and participating as much, or as little, as they wished.
The parents and writers shared readings of contemporary poetry and wrote their own at the retreat at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham. One group member said of the creative writing class that it was "…wonderful. I loved how Christina ran the class as it really helped me to think about ways to express my grief more creatively."
Christina benefitted from the support of The Compassionate Friends in finding volunteers for her PhD research. Half of her research participants had lost children due to addiction. On the whole, Christina's research participants found creative writing to be beneficial, leading The Compassionate Friends to invite her to provide a workshop for bereaved parents. This year's workshop was the second one she has provided for the charity.
During the workshop, attendees read out poems about bereavement, shared their writing and discussed how writing helped them reflect on their grief. Christina Thatcher said: "Losing someone close to you is an incredibly hard thing to go through and the work The Compassionate Friends do is amazing. I feel very privileged to have been a part of this weekend and to have had the chance to offer a way to express thoughts and feelings to those suffering a loss.
"When I lost my father, I found writing poetry really helped me through it, so it feels so nice to be able to bring this into the lives of other bereaved people."
Carolyn Brice, the Chief Executive of The Compassionate Friends said: "Meeting, sharing and finding understanding with others who have suffered a similar loss is a lifeline to parents and siblings who have experienced the death of their son or daughter, or brother or sister, at any age and from any cause. The Compassionate Friends' retreat weekends are a vital part of our unique peer-to-peer services and support which includes a National Helpline, online and local support groups, and one-to-one befriending. Writing plays an important part in our retreat programmes and we are so grateful to Christina for using her lived experience, expertise and passion to encourage our parents to put pen to paper".
Christina's work on grief was shortlisted for the Bare Fiction Debut Poetry Collection Competition in 2015 and she won the Terry Hetherington Award for Young Writers in 2016. Further work has been featured in a number of publications including The London Magazine, Planet Magazine, And Other Poems, Acumen and The Interpreter's House. Her book can be found at: https://www.parthianbooks.com/products/more-than-you-were
To read more about The Compassionate Friends and the event visit their website. You can support their work by making a donation here: https://www.tcf.org.uk/content/donate/
To read this story in Welsh, click here.