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About Sickkids
About SickKids

June 6, 2014

SickKids PACT connects and gives support to bereaved families at inaugural family day event

By Kat Kostic

The SickKids Paediatric Advanced Care Team (PACT) held the first ever family day for bereaved parents and siblings on May 10. The event took place off-site, at Camp Oochigeas’ (Camp Ooch) downtown site at College St. and Bathurst St.

The event was held at Camp Ooch to accommodate those families who would find it too difficult to return to the hospital.

It was an unqualified success. “People shared things that I bet they have never said to anyone out loud before, and I watched them understand that they are not alone,” one participant said. “I think everyone would benefit so much from having more frequent opportunities like this.”

Grief Support Coordinators from PACT, Norah Shaughnessy and Lori Ives-Baine, brought together 20 families (63 bereaved individuals in total).

“We wanted to help grieving parents and children cope with the death of their child through a hands-on and interactive day that’s different from a memorial service,” said Ives-Baine. “It was an opportunity to give families living with their grief the tools and help them connect with long-term grief support in their communities.”

The impetus for the event came from the 2009-2010 SickKids Bereavement Care Task Force Report. The task force was comprised of doctors, nurses, social workers and bereaved parents, and their report indicated that families felt the hospital could provide more support following the death of a child. They expressed the need for access to support groups and consistent bereavement follow-up from staff. Most of all, they wanted to connect with other bereaved families.

Fifty volunteers were recruited from various organizations for the event.  They facilitated resource areas and meaningful activities such as legacy creation, memory boxes, forget-me-not-plants, messages-in a bottle, medical play and photo decorations.

Parents, kids and teens were then grouped into sessions led by trained professionals who offered grief support through different coping methods and facilitated story sharing amongst participants.

“The fact that parents had the chance to meet other parents who are in a similar situation, was definitely a highlight for me,” said Shaughnessy. “They ended the day knowing they are not isolated, and can now be in contact with the families they met.” 

Before wrapping up, a balloon release took place on the rooftop. The helium balloons flew off with messages tied to them from bereaved families to their children.

The feedback from participants was positive. One parent said the day was “moving, powerful and comforting.”

PACT will continue hosting family events for bereaved parents and siblings, and plans to put them on four times per year. The next one will be a picnic during the summer. They also want to offer online support to families living in different locations.

Related: New grief support carts bring support to palliative care families.