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About Sickkids
About SickKids

May 5, 2014

New grief support carts bring support to palliative care families

By Rebecca Milec

The Grief Support Program at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) has received a generous donation from Women’s Auxiliary for new grief support carts. The carts come with a variety of supplies to help families go through the grieving process and create memories.

See caption.
With the new carts (l-r) Sheila Bacopulos and Jennifer Abbott (both Women’s Auxiliary); Norah Shaughnessy, Grief Support Coordinator, PACT; Adam Rapoport, MD, PACT Medical Director; Lori Ives-Baine, Grief Supprot Coordinator, PACT; Munira Nanji, Senior Manager, Hem/Onc/PACT.

There are 11 of the lavender carts. Lavender is the international colour of grieving and it’s the program’s brand colour. The team developed the carts by using effective tools from previous carts that served the intensive care units at SickKids and by listening to family feedback.

One of the items in the cart is a digital memory card. It can be used with the hospital’s digital cameras so families can take pictures with their loved ones and take the card home.

“Photos are especially meaningful for families of dying infants, who do not have years of photos at home,” says Lori Ives-Baine, one of the Grief Support Coordinators with the Paediatric Advanced Care Team. “The infant may only be alive a few days or weeks. That is why it is so important to have the opportunity to take lots of photos and know they won’t get lost.”

Another item is a sound disk from Build-A-Bear. Families can record their child’s voice or cooing, even their heartbeat. The device can then be inserted into a stuffed animal which can be held close by the grieving families.

One of the most popular features of the carts is the materials to make hand- and footprints and molds. Families can choose among embossing, ink printing, paint, Model Magic or Jeltrate, and the pieces they create can be kept forever as an object they can feel and touch.

The carts feature a variety of books to help everyone in the family through the grieving process. There are books specific to teenagers, twins, fathers, grandparents and more. Books are free for the families to take as they need.

Every cart has a set of laminated instructions for the nursing and support staff. The instructions are colour-coded and offer advice on funeral homes, how to hire a professional photographer and other activities. The Grief Support Program staff is also visiting hospital units and giving educational sessions to ensure all staff are informed and feel comfortable using the carts.

“Legacy creation with families before, during and after the death of a precious child is believed to be essential support in the complex journey of grief,” says Ives-Baine. “We are helping families have access to what they need in order to grieve the loss of their child and make plans for their future.”

The carts represent the first step for the Grief Support Program. Also, a card program is being planned where staff who cared for the child and family send cards with supportive messages to families within the first month of a child’s death. A second card will be sent the following year to commemorate the one-year anniversary of a family’s loss.

Another initiative is Family Grief Support Days, where families can come together to support each other and share resources. The program will provide psycho-educational support to help families in all phases of grief. The support days will be offered in in-person sessions, and maybe also as online support groups to serve those SickKids families who don’t live in Toronto.

How do you talk to a child about death?

Read about National Hospice Palliative Care Week.