There are various aspects of the program designed to provide families with events, resources and support both before and after the death of a child.
Celebration of Life
This group memorial service for families, friends and staff is held four times during the year. The purpose of the Celebration of Life is to provide a ceremony for families who have recently lost a child to begin the lifelong journey of honoring and remembering them. The ceremony has readings, music, candle lighting, and an opportunity for families to share stories and memories of their child, and ends with a meal together as families continue to share. Bereavement resources for support are also made available to families. Each family receives a bud vase as a gift and siblings receive a stuffed animal. Families will be invited to the ceremony throughout the year after their child’s death, giving them the option of when they feel ready to return to the Hospital.
Our Gatherings provide regular activities and events for families to honor their child and gain support from families with similar losses. They bring bereaved families who have experienced the death of a child together in a supportive setting for sharing their experiences, gaining knowledge about their grief process, and meeting other families who have also lost a child. At these events, families are engaged in an activity that allows them to honor their child who died and talk about it with themselves and other family members or friends who have come with them.
The Gatherings are open to everyone in the child’s family, including adults and children. The families work together on projects that are intended to provide ways to honor their child who died. The events give us the opportunity to share resources with the families, such as bereavement support groups, counseling and educational events; to increase their awareness of help that is available to them; and to increase their knowledge about grief.
Because these events are multifaceted in terms of their activities and multigenerational in terms of the population in attendance, they provide a unique and regular way for bereaved families to get support. These events allow participants to engage an activity that honors their child and allows people to express their grief or simply listen to others. No one is expected to share their experiences, unless they want to. In this way, there is a sense of safety for many who are not comfortable talking about their feelings, but value being with people with a similar loss.
Professional support is available to families at each event. Each event has five to six paid professional clinical staff in attendance, including chaplains, nurses, child life specialists and social workers. Each of these professional clinicians has been professionally trained for helping adults and children cope with the death of a child.
While the vast numbers of these families are associated with Rady Children’s , these events are also available to families in the community whose child was not at Rady Children’s.
Resources for Honoring a Child
We provide materials to families to have a loving ritual of saying goodbye and of a way of honoring their child. These resources are a vital way for families to grieve the death of or pending death of their precious child.
The following materials are used by a variety of disciplines including chaplains, nurses, physicians, social workers and child life specialists, and may include:
- A Memory Box for holding the child’s mementos and a place for staff to place poems and resources for grief.
- A Memory Tile on which has the child’s hand print and/or footprint. Together families and staff help create wording to be put on the tile. They are then sent out to be designed, have wording painted on them, glazed and fired. The result are beautiful tiles that will help the families honor their child for many years into the future. These are then either given to the family directly upon their return to Rady Children’s or at the Celebration of Life Ceremony, or they can be mailed to the family. The HOPE program pays for the tiles and paint, as well as costs associate with mailing the tile to the families once completed.
- A Fingerprint Charm is made using a special mold that staff will create of the child’s fingerprint. The mold is then sent away, and a silver charm is returned for the family. The HOPE program pays for these charms, and families have the option of purchasing more charms directly from the company.
- A card to place a lock of hair.
- Hand and footprints on card stock. These are in addition to the tiles.
- Bereavement Information booklet, prepared and printed at the Hospital. This booklet is a collection of information and resources for the families after the death of their child. The booklet is available in English and Spanish. It is updated on a regular basis.
- Booklets for parents and siblings pertaining to the grief related to the loss of a child to assist in building greater understanding of the various experiences they may feel.
While the materials are simple, the rituals and remembrances that they bring are very, very important to our families. This cannot be emphasized enough. The materials also provide a way for staff to help families create memories during perhaps the most painful moments of their lives.