Monthly Archives: June 2021

Bereaved Parent Weekend – a Family Support Practitioner’s reflection

By Pauline Hammond, Grampians Region Family Support Practitioner

Twenty-two bereaved parents are looking expectantly at us, and we can feel their uncertainty as we commence the Very Special Kids Bereaved Parent Weekend at a retreat in Hepburn Springs.

For Jenni and I, Family Support Practitioners, the weight of expectation sits squarely on top of the weight of responsibility. Whilst we have witnessed grief on a somewhat regular basis; nourishing it, coaxing it, and gently caressing it for an entire weekend, weighs heavy.

We invite the parents to share our space. They place their trust in us and tentatively step in, bringing their deceased children with them. We meet the children through their colours, toys and stories. We see the children’s smiles, strength, and personalities. We imagine the big lives of these small children, who have profoundly changed the existence of those that love them.

Without words, brave and anguished parents quietly commit to follow, and unknowingly, to lead. The ancient retreat with a healing history, holds them. Their newly discovered circle forms an exclusive member only community, and also holds them. And we, their Family Support Practitioners, unreservedly promise to hold them.


Throughout the weekend, the bereaved parents’ journey, and they have the grace to allow us to accompany them. We all cry. We all laugh. They explore one thing only to emerge somewhere else and begin exploring again.

They discover that other people speak the same disjointed, incomplete, and sometimes incoherent language of the bereaved. They take comfort in the shared knowing and dispense with the fluffy gap fillers of politically correct small talk. They dive straight in and talk about their beautiful children, and their unprepared for, deaths. They talk about funerals, illnesses, trauma, anger, and devastation. They share experiences of a health system that sometimes let them down, sometimes became family, and in some cases, became home.

They talked about the experience of disappearing doctors, nurses, and hospital connections, after their child died; realising that health professionals have expiry dates. They also talked about disappearing friendships, broken, or challenged relationships, and diminishing social connections.

Therapeutic workouts exercised bereaved brains and hearts. Autumnal colours, scents, sounds and growth, soothed bereaved senses. And cold, sharp, visible breath, merged internal and external life forces. Champagne of the earth bubbled forth for tasting and bathing from mineral springs. The elixir offering hope of healing and transformative properties. Bodies were pampered with steam and clay, cleansed, and massaged.

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And with daily life temporarily suspended, bereaved parents allowed themselves to be totally immersed in physical nurturing, and psychological saturation of uninhibited memories. Time well spent with themselves, their deceased children, and each other.

Grieving is an arduous and unrelenting work horse. But grief doesn’t negate the need, or the ability to experience joy and laughter. A formal dinner, party wear, drinks, and the meditative properties of a flaming fire pit, all served to offer a place of connection, acceptance, and fun. An opportunity not lost on parents longing for the uncomplicated joy of mutual understanding. They all received and provided a familiarity often missing within their regular social supports. Familiarity that eliminated the elephant unsuccessfully hiding in the middle of the room.

Bereaved parents came together on their own terms, in their own time, and in many cases, experienced a weekend that exceeded expectations. Parents were left surprisingly sated, after realising that the weekend was not about saying goodbye. It was a reframing of relationships that continue to exist between them and their deceased children. It was also a coming together of new friendships, support, and understanding.

As Family Support Practitioners, we invited grief in and helped to explore the possibilities of co-existence. Twenty-two parents trusted us and together we landed gently.

A woman is pictured indoors, she is smiling at the camera.

Meg takes on child-led study to uncover the true impacts of sibling death

Can anyone truly understand the long and short-term impacts on a child following the death of their sibling without ever going through it themselves?

It’s this notion that led to Very Special Kids Family Support Practitioner Meg Chin embarking on her PhD When a child dies from a life-threatening condition: hearing the voices of bereaved siblings to gather evidence and research, from bereaved siblings, to better understand what exactly happens to a child in the years after their sibling’s death.

“When you look at all the literature, it’s from the adults’ perspective. Most of the limited research is from the perspective of a parent, which led me to see a real gap in lived experience evidence and research from the children themselves. To best support children who have experienced the death of a sibling we need to include them in the process of increasing our knowledge” she said.

Meg already holds a Bachelor of Science (community health) from the University of Texas, San Antonio, and a Bachelor and Master of Social Work, and is doing her PhD through the University of Melbourne.

She says she wanted to focus her research beyond the first two years of a sibling’s death.

“I’ve focused on the five to 12-year-old age group and those whose sibling died more than two years ago because we know that the grief is just as hard two to five years following the death,” she said

Meg and her colleague Angela developed and co-facilitated a bereaved sibling group designed to be flexible and responsive as it is very much led and the children in the group and their demonstrated need.

“In the beginning, it is very much about building a rapport with the children and finding out from them how they wanted it to work and the themes they want to explore. There’s a lot of play and creativity, and it’s incredible what you can uncover organically when you do it in a way that is natural to them. We created a ‘mood-map’ which is a visual way for kids to show how they’re feeling and at the beginning of the sessions it was low and by the end it was at the opposite side of the scale,” Meg said.

Meg says there is still little understanding in the community about sibling death and what it’s like to a be child when this happens, and often, people, including schools, shy away from it.

“Children learn very early on in their grief that it makes others uncomfortable if their grief is visible and describe ‘wearing a mask’ when interacting with others, which offers self-protection in environments where they don’t always feel safe to express their grief. I often wonder with children I work with what it might be like if they did not have to hide behind the mask so much” Meg said.

Which is why at the completion of her PhD, Meg is aiming to deliver resources and tools based on her data and findings to not only improve the way Very Special Kids delivers its services, but to also educate the community on sibling loss.

“I think as a society we have a lot more work to do when it comes to how we manage, and talk about, grief. I’m hoping that my findings, and outputs, will not only help children now and in the future, but anyone who is supporting a child who experiences a death” Meg said.

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, Meg had to put her interviews on-hold as it’s paramount to her research that they are held face-to-face.

When they are safe to resume, Meg is welcoming further children to the study. If you would like your child to participate in this research, please contact Meg to discuss further on

Jane receives 25-year volunteer service award

Long term volunteer, Jane Ansell,  recently received her 25-year volunteer service award and we are incredibly grateful for her ongoing commitment to Very Special Kids. Jane reflected on how she came to be involved with Very Special Kids and the rewarding nature of volunteering.

I first heard about Very Special Kids from a friend who had read an article in the paper inviting people to come to an information evening to hear about volunteering within the organisation.

I had been thinking of doing some type of voluntary work but wasn’t sure what. Until that night, where what was being offered was really interesting, as there were a variety of areas you could choose from ,and I put my name down that night.

I had thought I would like to be with a family but nothing came up for quite a while, and I was offered a place on the hospital team at the Royal Children’s Hospital. That is where I stayed for 16 years. It was a wonderful experience and a privilege to be with some families at very difficult times in their lives.

It was also a lot of fun getting to know children over many years and see them grow up and be so resilient and enjoy their lives even when living with so many medical issues and hospital stays.

It was also good to be there for the parents to have someone, other than medical staff, to talk to and release some of their thoughts and concerns.

This experience will always stand out as the most rewarding time as a volunteer as some days you left the hospital knowing you had made a difference supporting a family.

I’m looking forward after last year, to helping raise money for this wonderful organisation when we can have some events again like the fair.

Receiving this 25-year service award is much appreciated, but not something I expected after all these years of doing something I have really loved. It is very true that volunteering in such a caring and supportive environment gives you so much more than you could ever give back.

For the moment I will keep making jam and chutney in the hope we can all get together for another Very Happy, Very Special Kids Fair as soon as possible.

24 Hour Challenge a virtual success

We are thrilled to announce that this year’s 24 Hour Challenge has raised over $690,000…and counting!

This year some participants took on the challenge virtually throughout the month of May, and those who were to be joining the onsite event got creative as they completed the challenge from home during Melbourne’s lockdown.

We are so grateful for all our participants commitment to helping us care for seriously-ill children and their families.

Congratulations to all the below award winners and thank you so much for your incredible efforts.

Onsite (but not onsite) event
Highest Fundraising Team
1st – ALH Group, $162,310
2nd – Seb & Charlie, $138,981
3rd – Team Honan, $55,707
Team spirit – Team Honan, for completing the challenge during their original allocated time slots, including overnight!
Best dressed – Justin Bown, from Seb & Charlie

Virtual event
Highest Fundraising Team
1st – Body Fit Training, $61,758
2nd – Very Special Kids Society Melbourne University, $2,152
3rd – Team Shazzer, $1,892
Team spirit – Body Fit Training, for getting so many of their gyms on board and riding the 15,603km from their furthest site in Fort Lauderdale to Body Fit HQ in Melbourne.

Individuals (combined onsite and virtual)
Highest Fundraising Individual
1st – Hamish McLachlan, $52,855
2nd – BFT HQ, $27,079
3rd – Burnet Family, $22,037
Junior – Cara Lukav, $4,027

Congratulations also to the two winners of the Garmin giveaways, Laurence Basell and Nick Hannett. Also congratulations to Seb & Charlie and Body Fit Training, who have won a table each at our upcoming Footy Fever Debate lunch at Crown in August. We will be in touch!

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our individuals, teams and corporate supporters for their support and enthusiasm this year! Finally, a big thank you to our event sponsors, 3AW, Novofit and Precor.