Healing with heart

When her grandson’s agenda came home from school with a note from his teacher, Bijma’s* heart ached. As though providing care and support for her ailing daughter wasn’t painful enough, she was being asked to discipline her beloved grandson for acting out in the classroom.

Bijma suspected the 7-year-old was probably seeking attention at school – reacting to stress at home because his mother’s illness had been progressing toward end-of-life in recent weeks.

There is no doubt an individual like Bijma’s grandson can get lost in the shuffle when a loved one is ill. How much more difficult must it be for a child who is expected to behave as though nothing has changed?

Compounding this problem, coaches and teachers in a child’s life are not always equipped with the skill set required to manage grief and bereavement in the team or classroom setting, which results in frustration for everyone concerned.

Heart House Hospice, located in Mississauga, recognizes issues such as this one in families like Bijma’s, and is exploring opportunities to address these needs. Their research showed four – five per cent of children will lose a parent before the age of 16. In 2011, there were 318,605 children and youth in the Region which means at least 12,744 children will lose a parent before they are 16.

The HUUG (Help Us Understand Grief) program, designed to support caregivers and individuals with life-limiting illness as well as children, youth and families who are coping with the dying or the death of an immediate family member, is being shared broadly, paying it forward to community partners such as schools as well as other jurisdictions so that more families will benefit from their research.

Heart House’s HUUG program received 196 referrals in its first year, 27% of those referrals came from external sources such the Children’s Aid, with the majority of referrals coming from schools. Most referrals are for children aged 6-12, followed by youth aged 13-18 with a lesser number of referrals coming from those aged 0-5.

“We seek opportunities to work with community partners. We have made tremendous progress overcoming the barriers preventing members of our culturally diverse community from seeking hospice palliative care based on cultural factors. When we identified this need, we knew we could help to address childhood grief,” says Jodi Pereira, Director of Heart House’s Community Programs.

Bijma and her grandson were connected with a HUUG coach who supported them through their grief and bereavement before and after Bijma’s daughter died.

In praise of the program, a social worker from the Peel District School Board says, “What a great program,” continuing, “I have always said that Heart House Hospice has been one of the most helpful agencies I have worked with,” and suggesting the care is “truly amazing at helping families in the most difficult of times.”

“What people may not realize and understand about hospice is that we support not only the individual, but also caregivers and family. Hospice palliative care is a philosophy of care that addresses the medical, spiritual, practical and psychosocial needs of individuals and their families, so by overcoming the barriers and identifying needs in our community, we are able to offer better solutions,” says Pereira.

For more information about Heart House programs serving The Region of Peel, please visit hearthouse.ca or to identify a hospice palliative care provider in your community, call the Hospice Ontario Infoline at 416-304-1477 ext. 28.

*name changed to protect family’s privacy