Celebrating your Child s life and memory in the Season of Celebration

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1 FAMILY BEREAVEMENT SUPPORT PROGRAMME Social Work Department NEWSLETTER DECEMBER 2014 At this busy time of year a small group of bereaved parents gathered to remember their children and share their experiences and thoughts about Christmas, holidays and New Year. We had opportunities through the evening for parents to make or write something to remember their child as they talked. We hope this newsletter helps you as you prepare for this holiday time. Celebrating your Child s life and memory in the Season of Celebration In this group we talked about the ways some other cultures honour and remember loved ones who have died. We particularly talked about the ways people in Mexico celebrate the lives of their deceased relatives through celebrations they call the day of the dead although this festival lasts more than one day. In this festival families build an altar to honour their deceased relative and decorate it with toys, foods, colours and other symbols that have meaning for them. Parents were encouraged to think of the things that were special to their child and imagine how they would decorate an altar to honour them were they to do this. They also had the opportunity to decorate a star, a heart or a butterfly or make an angel in memory of their child. Paper and pens were also available to write stories about their child or a poem. Initially we talked about how those in the group had managed the Christmas celebrations since the death of their child. 1

2 In the group were parents who have lived through a number of Christmases and others who were facing the first Christmas since the death of their child. One parent told us He was my only child so Christmas is very lonely. We try to enjoy other kids and buy toys. We donate toys to others. Other parents mentioned the practice of purchasing a toy and donating as well. A parent who is facing the 5 th Christmas since her child died said I used to love Christmas. Last Christmas I started to enjoy it again and I have noticed this is continuing this Christmas. The Christmas carols are not even irritating me as much Another parent responded to this saying ; I don t hear the carols, I don t even hear them. Like some other parents she purchases a present she believes her child would have liked and donates it each year. Her child would have started school next year and as the tradition in this family is to give the school uniform as a Christmas present, she contacted the local primary school and bought a uniform to donate to a child who otherwise would not be able to have the proper and complete school uniform I know there will be a child starting school who will have a proper new school uniform now. She said when she is wrapping the gifts for her other children it still dawns on me that there is a present I am not wrapping. A parent said People forget, people think we should have moved on. But it is the first. What do you do? Balloons? Gifts? I don t want to buy any presents. I m not ready to buy things for others yet. Some parents expressed a wish to run away, the feeling that the sooner it comes and passes the better. When a sibling is looking forward to Christmas and extended families have expectations of family gatherings it is not so easy to just run away or to avoid going through the motions of the celebrations. Everyone agreed that an early exit strategy was essential. One parent said I always find the anticipation of the day worse that the day itself. Parents talked about creating new traditions to include their child in Christmas. One parent who has started a few new traditions in her family said she didn t do this all in the first year. The first Christmas was very hard That first year we went to midnight mass so I could light a candle. Now we do it every year. Sometimes it doesn t feel like you are creating a new tradition at the time but it feels right and it is continued each year. Parents discussed things they do to ensure their child feels present at Christmas. I bought a glass candle and we light it and put it in the middle of the table. It just looks like a centrepiece but everyone knows it is for our child We take the kids out to the cemetery. 2

3 Not all extended families or parents are comfortable with acknowledging the absent child. One parent said to do anything overt would kill the mood for everyone. He acknowledged however that all the family have been hit hard and there would be a sombre mood this Christmas. Grandparents who are unable to openly acknowledge the child have photos of all the grandchildren and our baby s photo is always front and centre. I think it is their way of acknowledging him on Christmas day. Another parent said he does not do anything overt to remember his child on Christmas day as he is not a part of their Christmas celebration they don t know him. A parent who now has 2 other children said when the children have their photo taken with Santa the older of the children holds a toy of his brother s. In this way all my children are in the photo. Christmas cards were also discussed. Some families just don t send cards but one parent said we always put his name on the Christmas cards and I notice this year others have started to do this as well. I m so excited about this. Perhaps they are finally getting the message. It was mentioned that in Japan the first year after a bereavement the family neither sends nor receives cards. Those present in the group thought this was very sensible tradition. The people in the group were encouraged to think about the particular things that remind them of their child or have particular significance for them. Parents spoke about photos and videos of their child and a number mentioned how personal these things seem to be. Watching video footage of the child is far more powerful than photos alone. It is hard to watch the videos but he is very happy. It s all you ve got. Watching videos still makes me sad. I don t watch them very often. Better to look at photos. Videos are a bit too real. Parents whose child had lived only a few days said they find it hard to share the photos because they think he looks sick but we can see the good days when we think he looked well. Another parent told us they were encouraged to take photos in the hospital so their child could later look back on them. A friend suggested she do scrapbooking with them 5 1/2 years later and I still haven t finished it. It is something I come back to. I know what the last page will look like. I will be sad when I finish it. Some parents told us they had the picture of the ultrasound He looked like dad in the ultrasound. We were so excited; that ultrasound really got shared. They went on to remember how happy they had been anticipating the birth of their child. 3

4 They went on a holiday with some family members before baby was born and everyone was happy. They said looking at those photos now makes me sad. This time last year we were so happy. This mother said During the pregnancy I wanted to know everything. I talked to him all the time. His father said he always felt there would be plenty of time to get to know his child after he was born. Sadly this did not turn out to be the case. One of the parents present said helicopters were significant for her child helicopters were his thing. His room at the hospital overlooked the helipad. She said she frequently sees helicopters at significant times and places. She told us they selected the cemetery for him because it seemed quiet and peaceful but in fact it is near a freeway and quite noisy. However she often sees helicopters flying over there. then not the year he was alive. For this parent New Year can be more difficult than Christmas. Another parent felt this would not be the case for them New Year we can get away with doing our own thing. What is difficult for one parent may not always be difficult for another. Grief and its impact was also talked about. One parent said It is terrible trying to get up in the morning. I m lacking in motivation. It is really hard she said she is still in hide-away mode. Another parent talked about feeling angry but not being comfortable with this feeling. I m trying not to say I m angry because people think I m a nutter. I m trying to control the emotions. Another parent said he bought his son only one toy before he passed away. The toy was buried with him but he has now managed to purchase 2 miniature toys the same as this and they now sit on the 2 bedside tables. Although most of the time we talked about Christmas, parents also talked about other significant days and how hard they are. For one family name days are typically huge celebrations. Their child shared a name with his grandfather. The grandfather s name day is just before Christmas. While the day was still celebrated it was a much quieter affair than usual. Father s day was shit, naming day was terrible, Christmas will be the same. New Year was also discussed. One parent said the first New Year was difficult. It was Another parent responded ; You can be angry. It s been 5 years and I m still angry. A parent who has lived with her grief for some years now said things still upset her, sometimes surprising her with the intensity of the emotion. She said realising her child should have been starting school next year really distressed her. She said I m glad I still think of my child everyday but the ugly cries don t happen as much, although they now come out of the blue. 4

5 She went on to explain that in a strange way it is reassuring to know that inside the grief is just as real and just as raw as it ever was. It seems life has just grown around the grief. The grief has not diminished, life has expanded. She also said sometimes it feels like a dream did this really happen to me? Others still feel the grief but may not want to talk about it Why bring it up if it hurts. One parent told us she could not understand why her father to whom she was very close could not talk with her about her son. Some parents want to talk about their child and it is difficult when others do not want to. Coming to the group is one way some parents find the space to talk and to spend time remembering their child I still come to nights like this to remember him. It is something in my diary for him. One parent asked I just wonder when the change will come from frustration to being able to celebrate his life. Over time it becomes less raw. It is mixed up with the anger. It s so odd, it s so odd. I didn t think I d be in a room like this. It was her mother who said to her He can t talk to you about it it is the first thing he can t fix for you. Another parent also talked about how it hurts him to see his family sad and how he would like to protect them from this grief - Looking at us hurting is hard. If we leave early it will make them sad for us, it won t be a celebration. People express their grief differently and it changes over time. Some can talk about their child and their grief but others express their sadness in a different way. In speaking of how her husband expresses his grief a mother told us He put together the garden on his first Father s Day. I think he goes out into the garden to be close to him. 5

6 As Christmas and the New Year approaches it may be helpful to try to be flexible and if possible leave your options open go with the way you feel on the day. Make sure if you are spending time with others that you have an escape route. Try to plan something special to honour and remember your child small or big, private or shared with others; it doesn t matter as long as it is right for you. If you find yourself enjoying the celebrations even briefly, know that this does not mean that your grief has passed, only that you have reached a place where there is room in your life for joy and sadness and that your child is not forgotten or diminished but is with you in both your joy and your grief. 6

7 Straight from the Heart This poem was submitted by Grace Rivas & was written by her daughter Kylie before she passed away. Kylie was aged 13. ' We wonder and dream our curious mind want to know more but life is a story we write a drawing we illustrate a field of energy we create. Anything is possible as long as you believe, one small step can become something magical All it takes is you to do it' By Kylie Lopez-Rivas (12 years old) Kylie was full of love, beautiful energy and enthusiasm, had a contagious smile and bubbly nature. She was compassionate, caring and wise beyond her years and loved life so much that she remained hopeful until her last moments. Thank you my angel for so many lovely memories... I love you forever and ever... mum 7

8 Our letter box is Waiting! Contributions such as responses and reflections on the groups themes, poems, letters, songs, quotations from parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters and friends are most welcome in the Newsletters. Share your thoughts, experiences and questions with others who are bereaved. We also welcome any feedback on our Family Bereavement Support Program. Please forward your contributions to: Family Bereavement Support Programme Social Work Department Royal Children s Hospital 50 Flemington Road PARKVILLE VIC 3052 Phone: Or *If you would like to receive the newsletter by please send us your details to the provided address.* The next meeting of the Family Bereavement Support Evening Group will be held on: Thursday 19th February 2015 no group in January :30 pm 9:00 pm Ella Latham Meeting Room 2 Ground Floor, West Building (Main Street) All those involved in the Family Bereavement Support Program wish all of you the very best over this festive season. We sincerely hope that the program, the groups and the newsletters have offered you support, comfort, wisdom and most of all a sense of not being alone in your ongoing journey with your child. For all those who have attended the groups through the year or sent in contributions we thank you for your generosity in sharing your stories and your wisdom and allowing your experiences to be shared with so many other grieving parents through this newsletter. We look forward to continuing our contact with you in The newsletter is always a team effort. Thank you to Helen Stewart for guiding the group discussion and to Jennifer Burn for her assistance and scribing parents statements. Also to the Administration Team & to Allison Hunt for ensuring the Newsletter is formatted and distributed to interested people. Social Work Department, RCH 8

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