‘Service is like talking to a friend and it helps us’

HELPED Ellie Price from Stubbington, who uses the Meerkat Service after her mum Heather Nicholson died.'' Picture: Sarah Standing (13261-5318)
HELPED Ellie Price from Stubbington, who uses the Meerkat Service after her mum Heather Nicholson died.'' Picture: Sarah Standing (13261-5318)

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It’s a box full of memories that Ellie Price will always keep close to her.

Before her mother Heather Nicholson lost her life to cancer, she created the memory box for her daughter.

MISSED Ellie Price's mum Heather Nicholson

MISSED Ellie Price's mum Heather Nicholson

Now, the 18-year-old can pull out items from the box and remember what an amazing woman her mother was.

Ellie, of Kestrel Close, Stubbington, says: ‘We got on really well and mum was amazing.

‘She was loved by everyone and was so inspirational.

‘She never complained about being ill or about dying.’

Heather, who had moved over to America, had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

She had a mastectomy, but the cancer came back, and spread to her brain.

Heather moved to Havant and was put in touch with The Rowans Hospice in July 2011.

She showed no signs of getting better, and Heather was keen to ensure her daughter was supported.

Heather died in November 2011 – a few days after Ellie had turned 17.

But before then Ellie, then 16, had started speaking to the Meerkat Service.

The service helps children and young people who are going through bereavement.

She says: ‘I had counselling before and I didn’t like it.

‘They didn’t really talk to me properly and I felt like I was being judged.

‘I had gone with my dad, and he wasn’t happy either.

‘After that I didn’t want to talk to anyone else.’

Initially, Ellie didn’t want to speak to anyone from the service.

‘Mum’s treatment was much better at the hospice than the way we saw her in hospital in America,’ adds Ellie, who works in a fish and chip shop.

‘She was surrounded by her friends and family, and she was happy.

‘She never did complain about anything.’

The Meerkat Service was started in 2008, and Heather wanted Ellie to speak to someone from the team.

She was helped by Sophie de Bere who works for the Meerkat Service.

Ellie says: ‘My mum had passed me Sophie’s number, but I didn’t call it straight away.

‘But when I did speak to Sophie it helped.

‘It was good to talk to someone outside of the family, which helped me a lot.

‘When you talk to people in your family, they start crying and that doesn’t help.

‘I felt so many different things when mum passed away.

‘I felt guilty and I was angry.

‘She lived in America and I felt guilty that I didn’t see her enough.

‘We had a really strong bond and I was angry I lost her.

‘Without the service I wouldn’t have coped as well as I did really.

‘It feels like I’m talking to a friend and it’s not the only thing we talk about. We also talk about other stuff too.’

Each Tuesday, Heather went to an arts and crafts session at the Purbrook hospice.

It was there she started to put together the memory box to pass on to Ellie.

Slowly the box became full of precious memories shared by mother and daughter.

Ellie says: ‘Mum put in a picture of me when I was younger.

‘She used to love wearing hats, so I have one of her hats in the box.

‘I have little postcards with messages on the back.

‘I’ve also added my own bits.

‘I’ve added the programme from her funeral.

‘If I get sad, I can look at the box and all the things that remind me of her.’

Last November Ellie turned 18, and she wanted to make sure her mum was with her.

She says: ‘I have a tattoo on my wrist that says “mum”.

‘I wanted to get one on my ankle first, but then I changed it to my wrist. To me it felt like a good way to remember her and feel close to her. ’

‘I can text Sophie if I need her’

ANY TIME Amber Evans feels like skipping college, she knows her mum wouldn’t approve.

To honour her mother Sonya’s memory, Amber, 17, makes sure she gets to Havant College.

Amber, of Park Walk, Fareham, knew her mum had been ill for a number of years.

She had battled with cancer.

Sonya passed away in April 2011, aged 48, and was helped by The Rowans Hospice.

Amber said: ‘I didn’t know a lot about the cancer.

‘I just remember mum driving me to school and talking to her.

‘My parents never hid anything from me or my sister.’

While Sonya had been at the hospice, she encouraged Amber to speak to the Meerkat Service.

‘I can text Sophie if I ever need her,’ she said.

‘I had anger management issues for a while, and would get angry and smash things on the floor.

‘My mum didn’t like seeing me like that.

‘It was nice that I could call Sophie when I felt like that. It’s good to see someone you can talk to about all sorts of things.

‘It’s hard to talk to family, as they’re going through the same, and friends might not understand.

‘I know my mum is looking down on me, and would want me to be successful – so I make sure I go to college.’

About the Meerkat Service

THE Meerkat Service was introduced in March 2008.

It offers support to children and young people up to the age of 18 who have either been bereaved of a significant person, such as a parent, or have someone close to them with a life-threatening illness.

The service was named after the animal, as they are known for sticking together and helping each other out.

To date 355 children have been referred to the service.

Last June, the scheme secured a three-year £58,000 grant from BBC’s Children in Need, which was how the service was originally funded.

Sophie de Bere, of the service, said: ‘We believe intervention offered to families pre and post-bereavement may significantly influence how children make sense of their experiences.

‘This enables children to grow in confidence and acquire personal resources to assist them in managing future life events. We also to reduce the incidence of mental health problems in later life.’