Aftercare Bereavement Program
The Children's Mercy Hospital's Aftercare Program provides a compassionate support system for terminally ill children and their families, families experiencing a death of a child, and the staff who care for the children and their families. The program provides comprehensive support and education to promote the health and healing of those experiencing a loss. When a child dies the death destroys the dreams and hopes of the parents. Most parents describe the pain that follows as the most intense they have ever experienced and wonder if they will ever be able to feel that life has meaning again. Grief is a normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind. It is a physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological response. Although it is a universal experience, no two people grieve the same, even in the same family. It is important to understand that grief is not a sign of weakness nor a lack of faith. Grief is the price we pay for love. (Darcie D. Sims, 1984). You can help yourself through grief by the following:
- Acknowledge the loss
- Accept the pain of grief. Try to live through it, not avoid it.
- Share your thoughts and feelings. Find enough compassionate listeners. You can talk; more than one person can listen.
- Understand that each person has an individual timetable for grief. We move through grief at our own pace.
- Find your sense of humor. Try to hang on to it.
- Get some physical exercise. If nothing else, jog your memory.
- Learn to hug again.
- Accept yourself. Begin to understand you are someone new. Acknowledge that change.
- Begin to become the person you already are.
- Remember, though death comes, LOVE NEVER GOES AWAY!!
Children's Mercy offers several patient and family services such as a hospital-wide memorial service annually for all families who have had a child die that was cared for by Children's Mercy, memory items, a grief resource brochure, quarterly support groups, aftercare bereavement follow-up from Children's Mercy staff periodically in the first year after death of the child, and hospital mailings on Mother's Day, Father's Day, and the winter holidays.
Child Life Bereavement Support
Child Life Specialists provide bereavement support by collaborating with the patient, family and medical team to gather and share information pertinent to the patient and family's specific needs and wishes regarding the death of a family member. The Child Life Department also provides Sibling Grief Bags for siblings of a patient that has died at Children's Mercy. These bags provide comfort items and resources that will enable the sibling to begin to cope with the death of their brother/sister. Materials are based on the sibling's developmental stage and cognitive understanding of death and dying. Resources are also provided for the parents and/or caregivers of the siblings on how to speak with children about death and dying, children's understanding of death, and how to involve children with funeral or memorial planning.
How to Help a Grieving Child
These lessons have been adapted from the book 35 Ways to Help a Grieving Child.
1. Answer the questions they ask. Even the hard ones.
2. Give the child choices whenever possible.
3. Talk about and remember the person who died.
4. Respect differences in grieving styles.
5. Listen without judgment.
6. Hold a memorial service and allow for saying goodbye.
7. Take a break.
Ways to Memorialize a Child
You may also question if this is a healthy thing to do as other people may tell them to go on with their lives and forget this tragedy. There are several ways to memorialize a child that are healthy and meaningful. Sometimes it is helpful to include family members and friends in your plans to memorialize your child.
A few suggestions are:
- Plant a tree, flower, bush, or symbol of life
- Create a memory box/book for the child
- Engrave a wall plaque or any item with the child's name and date of birth/date of death or both
- Wear a special item of jewelry to symbolize the child - a charm, brooch, etc.
- Plan something special on the child's birthday and /or anniversary of death
- Wear the child's birthstone
- Donate money to a charity in the child's memory
- Donate books on a specific topic to a library or religious group
- Donate flowers to a church/temple or significant place on the anniversary date
- Donate to research in memory of the child
- Donate to support groups for bereaved parents
- Provide support to newly grieving parents
- Make a scrapbook/quilt/pillow using some of the child's clothing