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memories are forever parents kit

- Amelie Hansen Info r m atio n

B o o k


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Kenzie’s Gift PO Box 32 148 Devonport Auckland 0624 Email: hello@kenziesgift.com Website: www.kenziesgift.com First published 2015 ©Kenzie’s Gift


3 Kenzie’s Gift Memories are Forever

An introduction from Kenzie’s Gift CEO Nic Russell This year marks a very special anniversary for me and for Kenzie’s Gift. It has been ten years since I lost my daughter Kenzie. Family, friends and the community were there for me throughout our journey, and I truly understood the value of support for families enduring the worst grief imaginable. That is why I established Kenzie’s Gift: to help families during times of profound grief and loss.

The Memories are Forever Diary which accompanies this booklet is designed for children aged 5-12 years. The diary features fun things to do and encourages children to remember in an individual way. It also prompts them to express how they are feeling with visual cues and activities. I believe it is better to tell a child a sad truth than a mistruth, wrap the support around them, and help them develop coping mechanisms so they may learn to live with their loss. That is the essence of Kenzie’s Gift. We are exceedingly grateful to the Fairfax/Ports of Auckland Round the Bays 2015 for the wonderful donation which has helped to make the Memories are Forever pack a reality for us.

Nic Russell Director, Kenzie’s Gift November 2015

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I hope that this booklet will provide helpful information and insights for parents experiencing a bereavement within the family, and guidance for speaking with your children about the loss of a loved one.


4 Contents

What is grief? Our responses to grief

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Living day by day Supporting your children Looking after yourself Relationships - with your partner - with your friends The future


5 What is grief?

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell. - Edna St Vincent Millay

Grief is our response to loss. It’s a natural, human response, a process of accepting a difficult reality, and finding ways to keep going with our life.

Grief has no timetable. It takes as long as it takes, and we are all different in how we express it and how we work through it. At times it can be overwhelming and unexpected, triggered by a sight, sound, or a smell. At others, it is always there in the background, a constant presence. Grief involves all of our emotions, sadness, fear, and anger, and affects every part of our lives: physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, our relationships, and our work. Grieving is an intensely personal experience. People may say, “I know what you’re going through”. They may look as though they have faced a similar loss but their experience of that loss may be very different. Our grief, over time, becomes a part of us, and a part of the life we lead.

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When we lose someone we love, or are attached to - a partner, a parent, a child, relative, or friend - we grieve. We can also feel grief when we lose something of ourselves - perhaps our health, our job, or our mobility - and sometimes we grieve over lost opportunities.


6 Our responses to grief

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No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.

- CS Lewis

When we grieve, we can feel very alone, even if we are surrounded by family and friends. After the loss of a loved one, it’s as if the world we knew has changed forever - and in many ways, it has. We’re not even sure if we can survive it because the pain is so intense and overwhelming. Just as there is pain when a broken arm is mending, so there is pain when our emotions, our spirit and our body are trying to cope and to heal.

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Emotional overload Experiencing a flood of emotions and sensations, all at once, with no rhyme or reason, is part of it. Sadness, anger, fear, loneliness, guilt, emptiness, tearfulness, feeling out of control, angry and irritable. Some days you may not want to get out of bed. Sometimes you might sit up all night in a chair, or lose your temper in a flash, and your emotional responses may surprise or shock you.

Physical discomfort Grief can manifest itself in a range of physical symptoms such as insomnia, loss of appetite, extreme fatigue, headaches, weight loss. These are all responses from your body to stress and grief.


7 Spiritual challenges Loss can make us doubt everything we believe in. It challenges our world view. We question our religious beliefs - how could my God let this happen to me? We ask why we deserve a loss so great when we have been living good, respectful lives, and may seek answers as to why our loved one has been taken from us. We might search for meaning, a reason, anything that can justify why this has happened.

Here are some ideas that may help during these early days ... - talk to others you trust, share your feelings - give yourself permission to grieve, let the feelings find their way out - ensure you have time to grieve - understand the grieving process by reading information available - take time off work if you need to

- avoid alcohol as it can fuel depression - join a support group if you feel this would be helpful for you - be patient and kind to yourself - grieving takes time

- Frankie Annelouke Bakker

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- seek professional help if you need to


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Living day by day

It’s so curious; one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer ... and everything collapses. - Collette

Wondering if you can live through the next minute, let alone the next hour, with grief and sadness so close to the surface can be exhausting, because trying to continue with life after the death of your loved one can be very hard. There may be days when you cannot put one foot in front of the other. Then you may find yourself filling every minute with activity, just to keep your mind busy and away from the relentless pathway of grief and sadness. In this section we provide ideas for coping with some of the thoughts and feelings you may have from day to day. My heart is broken. The pain is too much. I feel sick all the time. I cannot eat or sleep. The trauma of grief and loss can manifest itself physically; headaches, nausea, difficulty sleeping, panic attacks, and more are normal reactions *A  visit to the GP may help manage some of the symptoms and provide relief. *T  ry eating small meals throughout the day rather than three main ones. Make your snacks healthy ones if you can, but don’t deny yourself some ‘comfort food’. * Drink plenty of water and try to avoid alcohol. * Exercise as often as you can - even just a short walk is beneficial.


9 I went by his school today and could hardly get home because I could not stop crying. Then I came home, went to his room, and the pillow still has the imprint of his head. ‘Triggers’ - familiar places, objects, smells, sounds - all things that you once shared with your loved one can cause grief to rise up and wash over you with heartbreaking force. * All of these things can connect you to the one you have lost, reminding you of good and happy times but also plunging you into the depths of grief. * For a while, avoid going to places that trigger you. Shop in a different part of town, drive a route home that does not take you past places that are familiar. * Take as much time as you need to cherish toys, clothes, or much loved music, books and personal objects. There may come a time later when you can pack these away, or give to others, or decide to keep some to help you remember in the future.

I try to put on a brave face, especially at work. Sometimes ‘putting on an act’ can help us get through the day and it is a way of coping. * Putting on a brave face can be exhausting so when you can, relax and be yourself. * Sometimes it’s easier to say ‘I’m doing OK thanks’ rather than explain how you really are - and that’s OK. * Find a support group for bereaved parents. Being around others who ‘know how it is’ can be reassuring, comforting, and provide respite from the day to day.

I can’t concentrate. I forget things. I feel lost. I’m not sure I can go on living. I’m drinking more to take away the pain. I don’t care what happens to me. Maybe I’ll climb Mt Everest in my nightgown and bare feet. Grief puts extreme demands on us. Feeling bewildered and confused are normal reactions. Deeper feelings of despair, thoughts of suicide and reckless thinking or action can be signals that professional help is needed.

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* If the ongoing memories and triggers seriously affect your daily life, work and sleep, perhaps seek some professional help.


10 * Ask for extra help and time at work to complete projects, or take some time off until you feel better able to cope. * Make lists. Sometimes writing things down takes the pressure off having to remember what we need to do or buy.

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* Feeling lost, isolated, depressed, as if a giant hole has opened up in your life and you’re in danger of falling into it, or wishing that you could join your loved one in death, are all indications that professional help may be needed. Please see someone who can help you, perhaps your GP or a counsellor.

* Sometimes there’s nothing better than a good primal scream, often best done on a deserted beach or hilltop.

Grief and anger are close companions. Feelings of injustice, of ‘why has this happened to us and why not to someone else?’ or ‘what have we done to deserve this loss?’, and a complete inability to ‘fix’ things, to bring your loved one back, cause fury and frustration. * It’s OK to feel angry. Let it out but in ways that don’t hurt you or someone else. Physical exercise is good. Go outside, be in nature.

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* Give yourself permission to be angry.

One minute I’m in the past, then I’m in the ‘now’. An hour later, I’m wondering how I will cope tomorrow. Then time just seems to stand still. The days after a loss can be a blur. Time goes by but we are not aware of its passing. The routines that used to fill our days are of the past. We function, but only just. Time goes by and take us further away from the moment we lost our loved one. This in itself can be stressful. We want to ‘rewind’, go back, relive and change something that is locked in time and irreversible. Feelings of time standing still, or continuing and being powerless to stop it, or to wind it back, can be profound. Sometimes the desire to go back and change the sequence of events that led to the death of your child, and trying to understand that this isn’t possible, can be exceptionally hard to cope with. *A  s time goes by, create milestones for yourself and your family. Make as many as you need to, marking what is important


11 for you: the first week, the first month, the first birthday and Christmas, the first year. Creating these ‘marks in time’ provides opportunities for remembering, celebrating, and having special time together as a family. * Milestones can be opportunities for healing. Looking back, you can see how grief has changed over time. * Taking one day at a time may often be the best way forward.

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* Small steps can be the best way to cope with the grief we feel.


12 Supporting your children

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The death of a loved one affects everyone in the family and each will express their grief differently. Children will react in different ways to news of the death. Some may be visibly distraught, others may go out and play as if nothing has happened. This behaviour can be misinterpreted as ‘they don’t care’ or ‘they don’t fully understand what has happened’ but a child’s reaction to difficult news, and their ensuing grief, can be influenced by a number of things, most particularly their age. Even babies and toddlers are affected by the grief they feel around them. They can sense that someone is missing and things have changed. Giving your child ‘age appropriate’ information, communicated in a way that they can relate to, will help them gain some understanding of death, dying, and grief. Conversations with your children about death, dying, illness and loss are ongoing because they will keep asking questions and sometimes ask the same question more than once. As parents, grieving openly in front of our children will help them understand that grief is a natural, normal response and nothing to be ashamed of. Allow children to express their grief in ways that are natural for them. Keep in mind young children can be overwhelmed by too much emotion. Most children find it hard to see their parents cry. How a child grieves can depend on a number of things, for example: •

age, gender and stage of development

• personality •

whether they have experienced grief/loss before

the type of support available to them and who is providing it

their relationship to the one who died

the grief of others around them


13 Supporting children and teenagers

Reactions to grief can vary for different age groups. Here we list some responses and suggest a few ways you can help. Babies and toddlers (0-5 years) Babies and toddlers have not yet developed a cognitive understanding of death. While they cannot verbally articulate how they feel, their behaviour can be an expression of how they are feeling, for example your baby or toddler may be ‘clingier’ than usual, fretful and crying more, and their sleep and feeding habits may change or be disturbed. What you can do: • maintain routines and daily structure as best you can • comfort, hold, speak calmly and gently

Children aged 3-5 years may think their loved one will return (also known as ‘magical thinking’) as they cannot quite grasp the permanence of death. They need reassurance that they will be safe and cared for. A toddler’s response to grief may manifest as irritability or tantrums, or being fearful and clingy. Sometimes the opposite may happen, where your child withdraws, doesn’t play as much as usual and may even start look for the person who has died, thinking he or she will be coming back. What you can do: • maintain routines and daily structure as best you can • reassure, hug, comfort • explain death in ways they can understand - there are some excellent books available for this age group • develop a ‘script’ using the descriptive ‘d’ words like ‘death’ and ‘died’ that the child can add more understanding to as they get older • encourage play as an outlet for expressing thoughts and feelings • young children may need to hear the story of what happened to the person they loved repeated as they get older and reach different developmental stages

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Toddlers


14 Young children (5 - 12 years)

Young children may become forgetful, distracted, withdrawn, feel physically unwell and develop changes in sleeping and eating habits. Those aged 10-12 may have stronger emotional responses, such as anger and guilt. They might fear for the wellbeing of other family members, sometimes taking on more ‘adult’ responsibilities and suppressing their grief to avoid worrying parents or siblings. There may also be problems at school, both academic and social. Children of this age group could feel ‘different’ or embarrassed, known amongst their peers as ‘the one who lost their brother/sister/parent.’ What you can do: • keep the school informed and ask them to notify you of behavioural changes • maintain routines, social and recreational activities • maintain the usual ‘ground rules’ for behaviour • encourage questions, provide honest answers, acknowledge their feelings, explain death • include them in funeral preparations or memorials and rituals

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• offer encouragement, reassurance and understanding - often! • make time to be with them, hang out together so they have the opportunity to talk if they want to - with you, or someone else they trust

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Children of this age group have a better understanding of death but are still learning. They may think their special person will come back, or be concerned that, in death, he or she is cold or lonely, and may believe they are somehow responsible for the death (magical thinking is most prominent between 2-7 years). Those aged 10-12 years generally understand that death is permanent and may be more sensitive to how you, and others, are reacting to loss and grief. They may ask a lot of questions, often repeating the same one many times as they process the situation.

Teenagers (13+ years) Young people of this age have a better understanding of death but may not have experienced such a loss before. Their emotions may be intense, conflicting, and difficult to express. There may be anger, defiance, risk taking or reckless behaviour, self-harm through alcohol and drugs, depression and/or suicidal thoughts, and some may even


15 blame themselves for the death of their loved one. Teens may also try to take on responsibilities that are not age appropriate. It is not uncommon for teenagers dealing with grief to spend more time with close friends rather than family however they may also experience embarrassment, a lowering of self-esteem, and feeling ‘different’ amongst their peers. Social and academic difficulties at school may also develop over time. At first, it may seem a complex matter when you are thinking about how best to support a teenager during a time of grief and loss. It may help to : consider their relationship to the person who has died; the past experiences they may have had with death, grief and loss; their developing skills, strengths, weaknesses; egocentric hormonefuelled emotional mood swings and behaviour, and a tendency to feel invincible and bullet-proof. Sounds daunting! The best approach to supporting your teenager is to put all of that complexity aside and just be there, walk alongside as a companion but still be a parent, maintaining boundaries, setting an example and providing support and guidance as you always do.

• familiarise them with the services, rituals, protocols, or cultural expectations surrounding death. Offer the option to participate to whatever degree they are comfortable • make time to speak with your teenager about ‘the bigger picture’ of birth, living and dying from a philosophical point of view (as appropriate for the age) • showing your emotions can help ‘normalise’ the grieving process and reassure your teenager that it’s OK to show theirs • be accepting - validate their emotions and talk things through • allow appropriate expression of their feelings (whenever and however). Suggest ways of expressing grief, perhaps keeping a journal or some individual counselling • foster and encourage relationships with peers and ‘distant’ family members • include teens in family discussions about the future and offer choices when possible •

within their peer group, they may be tagged as ‘the guy whose sister died’ so be there, walk alongside. Encourage connections with trusted friends and adults, offer opportunities to attend teen support groups

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What you can do:


16 • keep requests for extra help at home appropriate for age and experience, and allow time available for the usual hobbies, sports and recreational activities • be patient, have empathy • focus on their individual strengths and achievements, giving equal attention • maintain the usual boundaries and behaviour parameters, and watch for changes in behaviour. Keep in touch with them

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Sources of support Please seek professional or community-based help if you need to. Some sources of support include: Your family doctor Counselling agencies Social support at school and in hospital Your church Your marae or other cultural support service Community mental health services (accessible through your DHB) Citizens Advice Bureau (0800 367 222) Community support groups for bereaved parents

Grief counselling These organisations either offer counselling services, or can put you in touch with services in your area: Kenzie’s Gift www.kenziesgift.com Kenzie’s Gift offers one-to-one counselling for children affected by the loss of a parent or sibling. We also have more information available on age-specific support for your children on the Kenzie’s Gift website under ‘Memories’. The Grief Centre www.griefcentre.org.nz Variety of services to support those who are grieving: resources, individual or family counselling, support groups. Skylight NZ www.skylight.org.nz Supporting children, young people, adults and their families facing loss and grief. Resources, links, downloads and articles.


17 TELEPHONE SERVICES For adults Lifeline - 24 hour telephone counselling and advice 0800 543 354 Suicide Prevention Helpline -24 hour availability 0508 828 865 For teenagers Youthline 0800 376 633 or text 234 Whatsup - noon to midnight, 7 days/week, ages 5-18 0800 942 8787 The Lowdown - depression support Text 5626 www.thelowdown.co.nz For children Kidsline - 4pm-6pm, Mon-Fri 0800 543 754

USEFUL WEBSITES Winston’s Wish www.winstonswish.org.uk For bereaved children and teens. Support and online activities. Citizens Advice Bureau www.cab.org.nz Visit the website to find an office near you. Kenzie’s Gift www.kenziesgift.com The website offers more information on coping with grief and loss and personal stories Skylight NZ www.skylight.org.nz The website offers resources, links, downloads and excellent articles.

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Whatsup - noon to midnight, 7 days/week, ages 5-18 0800 942 8787


18 Looking after yourself

During emotional times our tendency is to put the wellbeing of our family first but looking after yourself is important too.

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Taking some time for self-care may make a big difference in how well you cope with your own feelings and your ability to support your family, because grieving is exhausting. Here are some suggestions from others who have ‘been there too’. See how you go.

Keep a journal, write a poem Be kind to yourself

Get help if you need to

Be patient with yourself

Listen to favourite music Rest and sleep as much as you can

Treat yourself Speak with others who have ‘been there too’

Let in the help & love of others

It’s ok to do nothing at all

Forgive yourself Cry when you want to, for as long as you need to

Let people know what you need

Paint a picture, make a quilt

Write a Blog Exercise, work in the garden, sit in the sun


19 Relationships

With your partner Grieving can place considerable stress on even the strongest relationship. It can make you say things you don’t mean, act in a way you didn’t intend, and judge when someone expresses their grief in a way that is different to yours. Grief can silence us, make us seek a place where we can be alone, or it can make us angry, irritable, intolerant of small talk and not care what we say out loud. What we need from our partner may change too. Sometimes you might grieve together, or want to be alone, and not always at the same time, giving rise to feelings of being ‘shut out’, lonely and isolated. Recognising that need for private time and space can be a way of showing reassurance and love.

It’s also about asking, ‘how are you really doing?’ and listening. In the midst of grief’s turmoil, setting aside some time to be with each other, even for half an hour, to share thoughts and feelings, to comfort, talk or just be together without saying a word, can help.

With your friends

Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light. - Helen Keller

During times of difficulty, we can look upon our friends as a ‘support team’, offering us companionship, laughter, empathy, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen. Friends can give practical help too, like picking up the children after school, preparing meals, keeping in touch with wider family and friends on your behalf, and assisting with the housework. Sometimes our friends want to help but don’t know how. Being able to tell them what you need can give them purpose. Many of us aren’t

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Communication is the key… and that’s not always about speaking. It may be a look, a touch, a hug, a gesture, or a hand written note.


20 used to asking for help so it can be hard at first but once they know what to do, friends will often just keep doing it and be there for us. There may be disappointments. Friends will be grieving too, and some may find it too hard to reach out to you. There are people you don’t want to talk to and others you do, and there can be those you thought would be there for you and aren’t. Sometimes the kindest support comes from the friends you never expected would step up.

Remembering

It takes strength to make your way through grief, to grab hold of life and let it pull you forward.

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- Patti Davis

Over time, tangible reminders, rituals, and anniversaries can help us remember and treasure memories. These memories may be painful, or wonderful. Some people embrace them, others find the memories too hard to cope with. However, given time, they may be a source of happiness and importance as you and your family build lives outwards from grief. Here are some ways of remembering.. Rituals Rituals are actions or activities we design and repeat that help us to honour and remember. The nature of your ritual is up to you. It may be influenced by your religion or beliefs, be as simple as lighting a candle each evening and taking time to remember, perhaps a family outing to visit a favourite place or doing something enjoyable together. Memory books and boxes Making a book of photographs, letters, drawings - whatever takes your fancy - can provide a tangible reminder, something to look through quietly by yourself or with others. The family could decorate a special box for your loved one, placing inside those objects that have special meaning, such as videos, CDs, and toys.


21 Being creative Expressing yourself in a creative way can provide an outlet for your feelings, and you don’t have to be a fabulous artist either! Draw, paint, create a sculpture from things you find in the garage, write a Blog or perhaps a book. Any form of art can be ‘good therapy’ and is something you can do in the company of others, or by yourself.

Anniversaries, birthdays and holidays These special days may cause anxiety but taking time to plan, either by yourself or with family, might make things a bit easier. What is needed from the day? Do you and your family have some ideas? Are there other people you would like to share the occasion with you? Once decided, communicating, listening and developing a clear plan may help reduce some of the stress that could accompany the day. Here are some ideas: - send up coloured balloons - have a family dinner

- have an outing to a favourite place - do something your loved one would have really enjoyed There is no right or wrong way to mark these special occasions. Alone, or with family and friends, it’s entirely up to you, and despite the sadness, there may be laughter and joy as you remember together.

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-  share stories and memories, listen to music, read favourite books or poems


22 The future

Grief is a process. It takes time. It is as changeable as the weather, and just as powerful.

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Looking back over the days, months, and years following the death of your loved one, you can see the process, how it changes, and how it has changed you. It may be true to say that we never ‘get over’ the loss of someone who is so loved. He or she lives on in our hearts and minds, and is with us wherever we go.

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp. - Anne Lamott


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