Tag Archives: bereavement

Changing with the seasons

Very Special Kids ‘Seasonal Connections’ program acknowledges the seasonal nature of grief and how family’s individual experiences can change over time. It is a quarterly bereaved family event, which invites Very Special Kids families to participate in a therapeutic bonding activity in memory of their child or sibling.  

To mark the end of summer, the first event was held on Sunday 27 February, families worked together to create immersive artwork using their hands and fingerprints. They also created wind twirls which were hung on the trees to catch in the breeze, creating beautiful art on the lawns of Very Special Kids. 

Seasonal Connections brings bereaved families together four times a year to celebrate the changing seasons. At each event, families can sit on the Very Special Kids bench and capture the season in a portrait with their family. As seasons pass, new portraits and artwork will be created, providing a tangible representation of their growth and change over the season. 

This Very Special Kids program was adapted from a program developed by the Child and Family Bereavement Service in Cardiff, UK (Hillock, Feeney & Rhinehart, 2017). Seasonal Connections aims to expand the Cardiff program’s design to be family-focused, rather than aimed only at siblings. It will allow families to remember and reflect on their grief across changing seasons, while also connecting with other families who understand what it is like. The program acknowledges the seasonal nature of grief and family lifespan changes over time, including unique significant events for each family. 

Bereaved families can join together, share their stories, enjoy an afternoon picnic, play some games and create some beautiful works of art together.  

Very Special Kids welcome bereaved families to join us on 1 May for the golden warmth of the next Seasonal Connection – celebrating autumn.  For more information please contact Bernadette (bmcgregor@vsk.org.au), Edwina (ehargreaves@vsk.org.au) or Mei (mgoh@vsk.org.au).

Tips to help a grieving loved one

Facing childhood illness and death is an overwhelming and traumatic experience, and everyone in the family and wider community can struggle to find their place in the process of grief and loss.

In honour of World Social Work Day on 15 March, Family Support Practitioner, Edwina Hargreaves, has shared some important tips and advice, so the communities surrounding bereaved families can better connect and support their loved ones.

Although dealing with the loss of a child is a very personal process for each parent, the following seven tips are practical ways in which family and friends can provide support during this difficult time.

Get cleaning
Do some of their housework such as cleaning, washing or gardening. If your friend belongs to a community or school group, it may be useful to create a roster for those people who want to help out. If your friend is not comfortable with this, a simple visit to their home to observe and undertake daily tasks or jobs can make a big difference.

Answer their phone
Many parents of sick children find it overwhelming to respond to phone calls and repeatedly tell their story. It can be incredibly helpful to have someone who coordinates the sharing of updates and information (often via social media) and who can take the phone calls for them.

It is also important to check in on your friend with a text message, and don’t stop when you get no response. Even if they don’t respond, they notice and it can make a huge difference to their sense of being supported.

Start cooking
Bring over pre-cooked meals which just require reheating. Or send a text to your friend saying, “I am picking up dinner, can I pick up dinner for you too?”

Offer to drive
Takeover or support daily duties, like collecting children from school and taking them to their after-school activities, often siblings can miss out on these because their parents are overwhelmed and find it difficult to manage.

Another offer which can be appreciated is the offer to drive the family to hospital visits, particularly if one parent is still trying to work.

Be understanding
Remember that your role is to alleviate the family’s stress. They may not want these practical supports and it’s important that we are respectful of this (and do not take it personally). Navigating grief is a very personal process for each person, so their needs may vary. It is important to listen and respect.

Sending care packages
Fill a bag with DVDs for the other children, books, magazines, and personal care items. This is a way to show you are thinking of the family when you’re not able to physically be present.

Never stop the invitations
Include parents in everyday activities, even when you know that they will not be able to participate. Parents often feel disconnected from their friends, so always offer to meet for a coffee, go for a walk or go to the movies.

Very Special Kids engages with the community, to improve conversations around illness, grief and death, and lead our society to become a more supportive and knowledgeable place for families who are suffering through the death of a child or young person.

Very Special Kids provides specialist palliative care for children and young people with life-limiting conditions, and tailored support for their families – through life, death and bereavement. Our integrated approach includes emotional, clinical and practical support to improve quality of life and create positive, lasting memories. Learn more about our services here.

A parent’s view on the Bereaved Parent Support Group

Very Special Kids supports hundreds of bereaved families, and over the past 12 months we have stayed connected with these families through an online Bereaved Parent Support Group. Every session has been different, some small and some large, with attendees from across Victoria and some interstate. Connections have been made and relationships formed, with acknowledgement that while everyone has a different story, they are on a similar journey.  

An anonymous mother, who has attended the Bereaved Parent Support Group has kindly shared her own reflection on how the support group has supported her through the grief of losing her child. She shares: 

“In 2015, Very Special Kids joined us on our extraordinary journey with our two very special children. 

Over the many years, we have received support and care beyond our expectations. Mostly recently, I was offered support through the Bereaved Parent Group. I didn’t think that any kind of support would work for me, I was and still am in disbelief of my life’s greatest tragedy. However, I agreed to join the session after talking to my Family Support Practitioner. 

As I waited for the first session, I could not believe the intense emotions I was feeling. A part of me did not want to attend because it would mean I was accepting what happened. The roller coaster of emotions was quite draining. 

On the day of my first session, I decided I will be invisible. I will turn off my microphone and video, so I am there but not there. This was the first time I met Family Support Practitioner’s, Edwina and Kevin. I realised here are two absolute strangers giving their time after work to support parents like myself, how could I not want to speak with them?  

When other parents joined the session and shared about their precious child, I was speechless and relieved. Speechless because of their courage and relieved to know they have been where I am. 

The more parents I met the more I realised I have found people who “get me”. I have a space where I can cry my heart out, feel another parent’s pain, be inspired by another parent’s journey and listen, listen, listen to others speak my words… a connection I cannot find anywhere else. 

I felt it is a space where I can “be me”, free to talk about my precious daughter. Tell her story, share our rich and blessed life with supportive parents who understand my grief. 

When I was a child, I learnt a beautiful song “Count your blessings, name them one by one”. 

I count Very Special Kids, as one of my blessings.” 

A day for remembering

The annual Remembrance Day enables families, volunteers and staff to come together to remember all the special children who have died.

For many families, Remembrance Day is an opportunity to honour and remember their child in a supported space with others who can understand some of their journey.

This year’s theme of snowflakes reflected on grief being a unique and individual journey, as well as snowflakes all bearing their own unique qualities just as the children that were being remembered had.

More than 200 families attended the service at the Malvern Town Hall. Parents and siblings were involved in the service through the sharing of reflections, blessings and through song. The balloon release after the service on the Very Special Kids lawn was a highlight and a way for parents to remember the children.

Children who spent time in the craft room with an amazing group of volunteers enjoyed making snow globes and a variety of snowflakes along with origami, playdough and story time.

Special thanks to Stonnington Council for the use of Malvern Town Hall, as well as the many staff and volunteers who help make such an important day happen.

Parents join together through their journey of grief

Contradicting the natural cycle of life, the death of a child can be the most profound loss for a family. The recent Very Special Kids Bereaved Parent Weekend held at Amberley in Lower Plenty gave parents the opportunity to explore the impact of their child’s death in a safe and affirming space.

Thirteen couples came together for a weekend that included relaxed dining, massages, scenic walks along the Yarra River and yoga, alongside therapeutic activities.

Family Support Worker Puchi Dunne Stern said the supportive environment helped parents share their memories.

“Parents were able to express and reflect on their grief, while also having the opportunity to be pampered and meet other parents who have experienced the death of a child.

“While everyone’s journey may be different, parents indicated that they felt the personal stories shared were reaffirming.”

Similarly, the Bereaved Parent Group in Hume meet on a quarterly basis to discuss their experience of grief and draw on support from other bereaved parents.

A recent meeting in Tongala was attended by two couples who discussed the topic of how the life and death of a child changes identity. Each parent was invited to share some thoughts and feelings around the topic.

Hume Family Support Worker Jenni Coldwell said the group meetings validate grief for the individual and the group as a whole.

“The recent meeting highlighted the intense emotional responses to grief and the common ground of all parents grieving for their child who has died,” she said.

Parent attending the meeting offered the following comments on the benefits of meeting with each other:

“It makes you feel like you’re not on your own. You can let your guard down. It builds hope and happiness for the future and reinforces the importance of the special times, to enjoy the moment and not put off enjoyment until tomorrow.”

“It gives me a chance to meet other parents and talk about our experiences. They get it. We’re able to participate in activities and talk about our children without being looked at as weird or strange.”

“It’s always great to talk about our son and our journey. It is helpful talking to other parents about our life stories and to support each other through our grief.”

“It is helpful to know that others have been through similar things and think and feel the same way.”

The Very Special Kids Bereavement Program builds continuing links with bereaved families through a range of activities including Bereaved Parent Weekends and group meetings, Creative Memories craft sessions, Bereaved Sibling Days and the annual Remembrance Day ceremony.