Children’s grief programs gain national acclaim

LIHU‘E — It is hard for Gina Kaulukukui to keep from getting emotional while she shares the significance of the items in her memory pod for her late grandmother.

They are small, physical things that allow her grandmother’s memory to live on, even though her grandmother died long ago.

The memory pod is just one tool to encourage healthy grieving in children, giving them something physical they can hold onto, take home, reinforcing the fact that, just because the person is gone, the memories and relationships can and must live on, she said.

Kaulukukui, bereavement coordinator at Kaua‘i Hospice in Lihu‘e, will present the concept of the memory pod at a national symposium on children’s grief in Chicago in June.

“Mending Hearts” is another therapeutic, grief-related program that’s good for adults and children, involving a heart drawn on colored paper that’s ripped apart, with each piece containing a written memory of a loved one who has passed away, she said.

When someone dies, those surviving have, literally and figuratively, broken hearts, she explained.

Putting the heart back together, piecing together the puzzle and the memories, is important, and the memories are the adhesive that allows the heart to heal, to allow the survivors to learn to live without that loved one in the world, said Kaulukukui.

She will present the Mending Hearts program to fellow grief professionals at a workshop for grieving adults on O‘ahu next week, sponsored by those at St. Francis Hospice.

Music and arts therapy ideas, and other ways to provide safe and nurturing ways for adults to connect with deceased loved ones, will be shared at the workshop, she said.

Around Kaulukukui’s office, and around the Kaua‘i Hospice building in the former Wallis house in Isenberg Tract subdivision, painted rocks can be found everywhere.

They are another children’s grief mechanism, again something physical that can be held, taken home, providing also a non-verbal way for young ones to remember loved ones no longer physically in their lives, Kaulukukui said.

“Hospice has many wonderful facets” for encouraging expressions of young grief as ways to aid the healing process after youngsters have lost loved ones, including one or both parents, she continued.

In collaboration with those at the Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center, also in Lihu‘e, Kaulukukui and other Kaua‘i Hospice officials continue to offer The Good Grief Club, a children’s bereavement program.

Meeting the last Monday of each month from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at QLCC on Kali Road in Lihu‘e, participants are offered transportation to the facility, and a safe, nurturing environment in which they can share their deepest feelings with youngsters in similar positions, she said.

“Children don’t always articulate grief,” said Kaulukukui.

And the program allows them a “venue to express grief.” There is always a time for snacks, a casual setting that allows the children to talk story and share their experiences with one another, as well as some activity, like creation of memory pods, painted rocks, Mending Hearts, or other projects, she explained.

“Working on specific feelings allows them to bring out buried thoughts, and share with peers in the same position,” she noted.

Judy Smith, Kaua‘i Hospice executive director, points out that there are “several grief processes,” and that a 2-year-old doesn’t grieve like a 7-year-old or a teen.

“Grief is an ongoing process,” said Kaulukukui, who has 19 years of experience with hospice and grief matters.

Every three months, they host family dinners for members of families whose children are in The Good Grief Club. That allows them to check in with the parents and siblings, to see how they are doing, Kaulukukui said.

Kaua‘i Hospice leaders are the first in the state to develop children’s grieving programs, and the first in the country to institute an emergency-response bereavement program, whose volunteers form “The Beeper Team” and are paged to respond to catastrophes involving death, such as recent helicopter crashes and the even-more-recent Kilauea flood.

For more information, call 245-7277.

• Paul C. Curtis, associate editor, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or pcurtis@kauaipubco.com.

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