Coping with Loss on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is usually filled with Hallmark cards, flowers and family gatherings as we celebrate moms who selflessly do their best to care for others. However, I often think about the people who are grieving a loss on this holiday. Trying to move through the day without their mom, grandma or child.

The emotions leading to this holiday are heavy and complex, but you aren’t alone. I see your pain, others see your pain and we want to help. We can acknowledge and witness your feelings and find ways to honor the ones who are no longer here in a special way.

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  • Planting a tree or flowers
  • Letting a balloon go with a message attached
  • Wearing the loved one’s favorite color
  • Eating at their favorite restaurant or cooking their favorite meal
  • Going to a place that you often went with them
  • Engaging in their favorite activity
  • Creating a memory box and filling it with things that remind you of them
  • Making a stepping stone
  • Writing a letter to them
  • Drawing a picture
  • On a table cloth- have family and friends write stories or draw pictures
  • Playing their favorite music
  • Sharing stories about them

Maybe this year you create a new tradition and help your heart heal. Remind yourself that you don’t have to walk this journey of grief alone.

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DIY Fingerprint Mold

Our Guest Blogger, Teresa Schoell, is a Certified Child Life Specialist working with pediatric patients and their families in the hospital. She will be sharing a creative way to provide therapeutic activities for families coping with the loss of a loved one.

Materials Needed:

· Model Magic, 1 oz package in white (single-patient use, makes about 5-10 charms, depending on size)

· Markers (I use kid’s washable markers, any brand)

· Small straw (I use a coffee-straw usually, but have made do with a pencil tip or 16 gauge needle)

· Medical gloves

· Portable hard surface (clipboard, back of a tissue box, etc.)

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Instructions:

· This is very easy for siblings and kids to participate in – the materials are all kid-safe and easy to work with. I often find joining me for “a craft project” is a wonderful turning point for anxious little ones when their families bring them to the adult ICU to “say goodbye.” Crafts are so normalizing, familiar, and engaging.

· Wear gloves (this keeps your finger prints off the molds, and keeps you from getting marker on your fingers.)

· Roll out small balls (about grape sized, give or take), and gently flatten. Spheres flatten to circles. Tall mini-marshmallow shapes flatten to rounded rectangles (I use the side of a tissue box to straighten the sides a bit after flattening) Get creative with your shapes. I’ve done hearts, crosses, dolphins, and tic-tac-toe boards at patient and family request.

· To add color, I press the tip of the marker into the dough. For a smooth, even color you knead the dough until the color is evenly distributed. For a “swirled” look, just knead a couple times and then roll and flatten.

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· You can also color on the patient’s fingertip with the marker, then press it into the white dough. That also looks spectacular! I’ve fallen out of the habit, as the nurses prefer I don’t ink the patient’s fingers. When doing fingers, I try to avoid red (as it may look like blood, especially in trauma cases), and I try to avoid blue (lest it get on the nail and be mistaken for a sign of cyanosis!)

· Place the shapes onto a clipboard, or other portable hard surface, and press the patient’s finger into the dough. If a family has asked for multiples, I’ll often shape them all and line them up, then press the finger into each, all on one go. This efficient process is especially helpful if the patient is very tired, and won’t have the endurance to offer up a finger every two minutes as each new shape is prepped. I also prefer this when doing them in the morgue with a patient who has already died – both because it’s faster and the morgue tends to be very chilly. If you have to work within the cooler, the dough can get stiff when cold, so I will set them all up on the clipboard outside the cooler, pop in and press the fingers, then back out to make the holes.

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· After pressing the finger, use the coffee straw to make a small hole near the top (this is used to string the medallion on a necklace, if desired. (or key chain, or no hole for a pocket stone, etc.)

· The finished items air dry over the next 24 hours. I will often place them in a kidney basin for safe transport. If I’m doing a whole bunch, I’ll slid a piece of cardboard into a “sheet protector” sleeve, and place the patient’s ID sticker on the cardboard inside. Then line of up the finished medallions on top to dry. This way the family can carry the full bunch without them smooshing together. I learned the hard way – do NOT put them on paper to dry!!

· Really large pieces (like full hand prints) can warp a bit as they dry.

· Photos show one of my favorite combinations of shape and swirl color. Toddlers love to help by stabbing the dough with market tips. And then knead-twice-and-roll lets them press all the colors in without it combining to a greyish-brown.

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· To start the dough feels like a cross between play dough and a marshmallow. Once dry it is light like Styrofoam, with a smooth surface.

Other questions that came up…

You can do these on adults, kids, babies. For peri-natal loss situations with super early babies that have not yet grown much in the way of skin . . . I’m not sure. I haven’t tried this. The dough is not “sticky” so I am hopeful that it would work. If someone tries it, please post back and let us all know!

For newborns and preemies, one packet would be more than enough to do a baby foot print. But remember that larger pieces can warp a bit while drying. I’ve had some (but not perfect success) flipping the piece over every couple hours while it dries, to reduce the warp.

No baking needed – they air dry.

I color it while making it. I have never tried coloring it afterward. Again, if someone tries it, please post back and share the info!

Creative child lifers, post your photos to the thread and share your ideas for styles, use of color, shapes, etc.

Teresa Schoell, MA, CCLS

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Death may be stupid, but kids aren’t.

Guest Post: Deb Vilas from PediaPlay

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This week, Shani Thornton (aka Child Life Mommy) and I brought Child Life services beyond hospital walls into our community. Via a referral from Jen Holohan, CCLS, a parent invited Shani to do some bereavement work at a girls and boys club.  A staff member and former member of the club had recently died unexpectedly, and the kids and staff  needed support. Shani reached out to me and asked if I would join her. How could I say no?

We armed ourselves with Anastasia Higginbotham’s book Death is Stupid, 3 rolls of toilet paper and Shani’s years of experience volunteering with bereaved children at Center for HOPE. Our plan of action included a read aloud, followed by a group mural where  the school-aged children could express any of their many feelings about their beloved mentor’s death. The club supplied a huge roll of white butcher paper, paint, crayons, markers, glue, yarn, glitter, pompons, and googly eyes. The kids supplied their hearts.

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In addition to the mural, we set up a toilet paper target station in a corner away from the art activity.  Kids could draw what was making them sad, angry or afraid, and then wail away at the target with sopping wads of water-logged toilet paper.

What did we discover? Well, first, the children joined us in a circle of chairs for the reading of the book. Some teared up while others got silly. We staid our course and refrained from redirecting any of it. We were surprised when almost all of them raised their hands when asked if they knew others who had died. Many relatives and pets had already paved the way for this loss.

Then we set them loose on the mural. They dug deep quickly, drawing and writing about their feelings and memories about the young man who had died at the tender age of 21. They told us stories of things they had done with him, what he enjoyed, how he had helped them with their homework. They talked openly about feeling sad and angry. One tween drew a heart, wrote “Death is Stupid” in the middle of the heart, and then crossed out ‘Stupid’ and added the words scary, mean, weird, confusing and heartbreaking.

Those who weren’t quite ready to join in the mural found solace in the target game, something that allowed for a more physical, visceral release of emotions. “I hate death” they wrote on the target. “Come Back!” One child drew a picture of himself crying, and then decided to cut the drawing off of the target, so that it would not be ruined by the wet toilet paper. Their bodies danced in anticipation as they lined up to take their turns spooling toilet paper around their fists. The toilet paper flew, splatting with satisfying force again and again, as emotion propelled major league-worthy arms.

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When the smoke cleared, every child had contributed to both the mural and the target practice. We regathered in the circle, where Shani reminded them who they can speak to about their feelings as time goes on. The kids named their parents, counsellors, teachers and one another. We held hands and shouted their friend’s name as a final ritual.

Kids know what they need. When adults provide them with space, time, materials and a listening ear, kids know exactly what to do. They need to talk about the person they lost. They need to know that the adults in their lives can hear them without turning away or handing out platitudes. They need to know that they are normal, that their thoughts and feelings aren’t bad or wrong. And they need to know that the feelings will come and go, and that it’s okay to play and have fun anyway, even amidst the sadness.

After the room had emptied, as we scraped wet toilet paper off the cinder block walls, Shani said, “Isn’t this exactly where child life belongs?!”

Yes, my dear friend. This is exactly where it belongs, in the community where the children live day in and day out, and where death is stupid, scary, mean, weird, confusing and heartbreaking.

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