New program helps children deal with death | SierraSun.com

New program helps children deal with death

Renee Shadforth
Sierra Sun

Death can be a pill that’s difficult to swallow, especially if you’re a child, said Kathryn Hill, Tahoe Forest Hospice bereavement coordinator.

The local hospice recently received funding that will fill a void in their bereavement counseling services, which didn’t provide any support specific to children.

“Adults grieve very differently than children grieve,” Hill said. “We wanted to provide that education that children process grief very differently than adults.”

Tahoe Forest Hospice has always provided bereavement follow-up care to clients 13 months after the death of a family member or friend, but the support has never been specifically for children and their families.

Hill was looking for ways to create a child bereavement program for the local hospice, but Tahoe Forest Hospice already operates with a 12 percent shortfall that is paid for by Tahoe Forest Hospital, according to hospice statistics.

That’s when Randy Hill, no relation to Kathryn Hill, came along. The Tahoe Vista resident recently lost his wife, Renee, to cancer and wanted to make a donation to Tahoe Forest Hospice in her name. Renee Hill loved children, so hospice saw an opportunity to start a bereavement program for children.

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The donation, which Kathryn Hill would only describe as “very generous,” will fund two hospice programs.

One, called Renee’s Place, will provide 20 to 25 books on child bereavement this fall to six public libraries and 16 public schools in hospice’s 4,900-square-mile coverage area. The books will have age-appropriate information for children and adults on grief.

“What you tell a 5 year old is not what you are going to tell a 15 year old,” Kathryn Hill said. “Their concepts of life and death are very different.”

The second piece will be Griefbusters, modeled after a program that started in Monterey, Calif. Hospice will train volunteers to go to all public schools in the area once each week to talk to children who may need help dealing with grief.

Hospice is looking for volunteers to participate in training for hospice bereavement programs, including Griefbusters, in September.

Truckee resident Carol O’Brien will be a Griefbuster volunteer after the training. She said the program is something the community needs.

“I don’t think our community has addressed children’s grief,” she said. “Children don’t always know how to express themselves.”

Lynette Eddie decided she wanted to be a Griefbusters volunteer based on her personal experience. When she was 10 years old, her mother died.

“I have real insight,” said Eddie, a two-year hospice volunteer. “I can tell them it’s OK.”

A program like Griefbusters can make a difference for children, who will take the grieving experience with them for the rest of their lives, she said.

“If a kid has a tragedy going on, it can crack their soul,” Eddie said. “It’s a crucial time, and they take it with them when they’re adults. You can’t have too much support.”