Thursday, August 28, 2014

Preserving our Memories

Since we have been discussing death & dying lately, we are going to wrap up this (not always popular) topic (for now) with a post on memory making.

In times of stress and death, many families tend to focus on the present situation. As Child Life Specialists, we have a variety of resources to offer children and families to redirect some of their emotions into memory making. One of the main reasons we advocate for families to participate in memory makings is because it allows children, teenagers, and families to create something that their loved ones can hold on to after the death occurs.

Hand and Feet molds/prints: 
Hand and feet molds are probably the most popular (also kinda messy and require practice) memory making method I have seen/heard be used. There are many different ways to create molds, but using dental plaster (yes, the kind your dentist uses) is by far the most effective way to create a mold for the family. Molds can be done while the child is still alive or posthumously. Hand prints and foot prints are also a special keepsake that can be framed by the loved ones. If prints are made on card stock, copies can be made for additional family members. Here is a link to the step by step process of making a mold 
Memory boxes: 
A memory box is another legacy building tool. Included in most memory boxes is a mold of the hands or feet, an article of clothing, ID bracelet, a candle to light in memory, any pictures or art the child created, locks of hair, photos of the child and family, a stuffed animal, information on bereavement and support groups in the community and anything else that the family wants. The box can be modified to an adult patient, or a baby in the NICU. Siblings, children and/or parents can decorate the box. Here is a sample memory box for an infant. 

Friendship Bracelets: 

While it may sound like summer camp, "friendship bracelets" are a great activity to do while the child or parent is still alive to create lasting memories together. Bracelets can be made with just yarn and string, or families might want to get into beads and wire. When a child or parent dies, each person keeps one bracelet. During my internship, we had a teenage sibling make bracelets for her little sister who was dying and all of the family members. The sister was wearing the bracelet when she died, and was also buried in it. This was an important moment for the teenage sibling and gave her a specific role in the bereavement process. 

Sibling Backpacks: 
Sibling backpacks are often a resource I have seen supplied by individual hospitals; however, that does not mean that as a parent you cannot create one for a child. In each backpack is an age appropriate book that allows the children to work through their own grieving process. A stuffed animal is also commonly found in the backpack. There can be two (one given to each child) or one that is carried home as a gift by the sibling from the dying child. I once worked with a 4 year old girl who had never met her baby brother (he spent his short week long life in the NICU). I provided her with a teddy bear as a "gift from her little brother" so she could have something tangible to hug and talk to (because even pre-schoolers go through the grieving process).  
Stepping Stones:
Stepping stones have the same concept of a hand mold but it also allows for siblings to take part whether it be placing their hands next to brother or sister's hand, or picking out the stones to add to the stepping stone. This offers more choices which in turn gives the sibling more control of the situation. 

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep:
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is a non-profit organization that has specially trained photographers that can come to the hospital to take pictures of infants that have died. This is a great way to honor the child's legacy. Here is a link to the organization's website. 
These are just the main methods of memory making that we have personally seen successfully utilized with children and families. 

  What about you
What has worked or not worked for you? 
What special keepsakes do you have from a loved one? 

Leave us a comment and let us know. 

Links to our other death and dying posts:
 How to talk to kids about death
Child Development and Death
Children's Books to read about death