From "Blessing for the Brokenhearted"
Let us agree
that we will not say
the breaking makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.
Let us promise
we will not
time will heal
when every day
opens it anew.
by Jan Richardson
Those words, written by author Jan Richardson, will appear in the mailboxes of parents who have lost a child cared for at Mass General for Children (MGfC) during July’s Bereaved Parents Month. The poem, tucked in a small white package with wildflower seed paper butterflies, is a touchpoint from the new Pediatric Bereavement Program.
In January, MGfC launched the two-year pilot program to provide ongoing support to families for two years as they navigate their grief and mourn the life-altering loss of their child. This includes immediate needs, such as coordinating memorial services or explaining loss to a child, to long-term challenges of marking milestone birthdays and holidays.
“As a program, this is our first opportunity to honor the parents of children who have died during the internationally recognized Bereaved Parents Month,” says Mary Barber Bussiere, LICSW, a social worker and Pediatric Bereavement Program coordinator. “Butterflies are often viewed as a symbol that a loved one is communicating with them and is ok. The seeds are perennials, which come back each year, representing the everlasting love a parent has for a child.”
According to a study published in the American Psychological Association, the death of a child puts bereaved parents at risk for mental and physical health complications, including depression, premature death and suicide.
“A child’s passing is one of the most stressful and distressing life events a person can experience,” says Patricia O’Malley, MD, medical advisor for the Pediatric Bereavement Program at MGfC. “It is our job as caregivers to keep bereaved families company in their grief and provide support and guidance for them even after they have left the encompassing care of the hospital team. Their grief doesn’t end here, our program accompanies them as they learn to integrate their grief into their new lives. The bereavement program hopes to do this by providing necessary therapeutic support and connection to community resources.”
Bereaved Parents Month aims to raise awareness of the support necessary when someone loses a child. “To honor bereaved parents, we encourage individuals to reach out to loved ones or members of their communities who have experienced the death of a life,” says Barber Bussiere. “Ask about their favorite memories with their child, share your favorite memories, and most importantly, say their name.”
Barber Bussiere and O’Malley hope this small token will not only comfort parents, but act as reminder that the Pediatric Bereavement Program is available and empower them to seek out help.