Book review: Independent Thinking on Loss

A book about the death of a wife and mother and the level of support the family received offers an insight for schools

Book review: Independent Thinking On Loss by Ian Gilbert

Independent Thinking on Loss


Author: Ian Gilbert with William, Olivia and Phoebe Gilbert
Publisher: Crown House Publishing

Details: 96pp, £9.99
ISBN: 9781781353530

Loss is by Ian Gilbert (the founder of Independent Thinking) and his three children, William, Olivia and Phoebe.

In 2008, Gilbert’s wife and the children’s mother died. In 2010, the family wrote The Little Book of Bereavement for Schools and this is the latest iteration of that work.

Opening with Gilbert’s chapter, alongside his own story, are statistics from the 1970 British Cohort Study into family life and outcomes: the figures – although half a century old – are bleak: children from bereaved families do less well in exams and have higher rates of depression, poorer health and are more likely to be unemployed.

Raw emotions

Each of the Gilbert children, now adults, have contributed a chapter describing their experience and, in particular, how their schools supported – or failed to support – them.

Twelve years on, all three are fierce, poignant and articulate accounts. As Phoebe, who was 9 at the time of her mother’s death, points out: “I will never be over it.”

She writes about starting a new primary school and being expected to sit through a Mother’s Day assembly and a card-making session. Her anger – understandably – remains raw.

But she also writes about how the loss of her mother has affected her throughout her educational life – from primary school to university – and urges teachers and lecturers to “allow us to find a reason for our pain and choose happiness again".

Lessons to learn

The rest of the book comprises 15 lessons for schools supporting bereaved families. These lessons cover the immediate aftermath of a death and support over time. Gilbert pulls no punches.

In the chapter heading for Lesson Two, he writes: “Saying ‘I don’t know what to do’ and doing nothing is a form of moral cowardice – and why should you be let off the hook?”  

But, on the whole, this is a highly practical guide and – once finished - no one reading it can be in any doubt of what to do in the case of bereavement.

Loss is starkly written and deeply heart-breaking but offers a way forward. It is essential reading for school leaders and anyone with a responsibility for the wellbeing of students.

Sarah Ledger has been teaching English for 33 years. She tweets as @sezl

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