Conference 2017 Wrap-Up

On October 26 and 27, BFO-MR welcomed 100 guests to our biennial conference. We are thrilled to have had an incredible roster of speakers who tackled a variety of topics related to supporting children who are grieving.

National children’s grief expert Andrea Warnick was our keynote speaker and shared practical tips for professionals and families who are supporting children who have experienced a death, or where a death is imminent.

Here are some soundbites from Andrea.

  • “It’s never too late to go back and change what we’re doing with kids”
  • “We live in a death-phobic and grief illiterate society.”
  • “Strength and bravery is feeling your biggest, hardest feelings.”
  • “We are doing a lot more damage, not saying anything at all.”
  • “It’s ok as adults to model grief for our kids. Crying in front of kids is ok and a healthy response.”
  • “Children’s anxiety goes down when there is open conversation about death and dying.
  • “Language is so powerful. Call the illness by its name.”
  • “There are over 240 euphemisms for death. The more uncomfortable we are with something, the more euphemisms we have.”
  • “Start with the physical before jumping to the existential.”
  • “Create environments where kids feel comfortable to open up. Go for a hike, during the walk to school, talk before bedtime…”
  • “Kids need to know that even when they are grieving, happiness is ok.”
  • “Let them be devastated. Just bear witness and be with them in it.”
  • “Don’t wait until a child brings up that they think they caused the death. Be proactive.”
  • “As much as parents want to protect their kids, kids want to protect their parents.”
  • “There is never a too soon to talk to kids. But there is a too late.”

Copies of her full PowerPoint presentations can be found here:
Balancing Joy and Sorrow
Preparing Children for a Death

We also welcomed Shelley Hermer, Program Coordinator of Camp Kerry, who talked about sibling response in bereavement and shared moving interview audio of families who have experienced the death of a sibling. One theme her presentation explored was identity. “He’s the one whose sister died.” Surviving siblings can struggle with identity after a death. For Shelley’s presentation, please click here.

Susan Cadell, Professor in the School of Social Work and Melissa Reid, Clinical Social Worker at Calming Tree Counselling shared information about the recent redevelopment of BFO-MR’s Healing Little Hearts Program and how it supports children ages 4 to 7 in the community who are grieving. Sibling response to bereavement was an aspect of this presentation as well, and Susan shared the following conclusions with regard to her research:

  • Siblings play an enormous role in the lives of the dying child and their families
  • Their experiences are complex
  • They need validation and normalization of their experiences to know that they are not selfish, weak, or wrong when they struggle and that they can be supported by their family, friends, community, and professionals
  • Psychoeducation about illness and grief, supportive communication, expressive outlets, and resources may bolster siblings’ capacities to live in and through these profoundly challenging experiences.

Susan and Melissa also talked about their intriguing research study around memorial tattoos and how this form of grief expression and remembrance is being increasingly popular.

  • Tattoos are stories
  • Those working with grievers need to ask about them
  • Social act conveying meaning through visual symbols
    • dialogue
    • making grief visible
    • continuing bonds
  • Memorial tattoos are an important ritual for those who have them

For Susan and Melissa’s PowerPoint presentation, please click here.

Lori Ives-Baine, Grief Support Coordinator at SickKids, closed out the conference with tips for engaging children in remembering their loved ones. Some insights from her presentation include:

  • Grieving children are everywhere – Open your eyes. Be there. Offer support. Ensure safety.
  • Children want to know the truth
  • Kids know more than you think
  • Children aren’t mini adults, and their grief isn’t a mini version of our grief
  • Children need role models
  • Kids are different on the inside the second someone dies, and feel different from all their friends

Lori had many excellent suggestions and resources for helping kids engage in remembering their loved ones in her presentation. Please click here for a copy.

In addition to our speakers, we were so pleased to welcome a number of exhibitors to our conference who shared information and resources with our guests. This year’s exhibitors included:

Journaling Through
Hummingbird Centre for Hope
Sway Silver
More Than Words Books
Bears To Hug
Heart Cards by Ingrid
2nd Annual Children’s Grief Awareness Event
Loving Your Baby… A Gentle and Practical Guide to Parenting Through Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Death

A special thank you to our amazing sponsors without whom the conference would not have been possible.



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