Help Understanding Grief and Serious Illness

The Cause

Responding to the challenges and unique needs of children and teens struggling with the serious illness and anticipated death of a loved one, Pilgrims Hospice Society is developing a 6-week program called Help Understanding Grief and Serious Illness (HUGSI).

Our Grief Support Team has found that parents with a life-threatening illness are not always able to explain to their children the complexity and severity of their disease or prognosis. As a result, many children and teens have shared with us that they were confused and sometimes scared by several aspects of the illness journey.

The innovative HUGSI program will provide a safe space for children and teens to learn about the progression of a parent’s illness and what to expect, reducing confusion and giving a safe space to explore anticipatory grief. Building an important bridge between illness and death, the program increases the likelihood of a healthy grieving process for youth, following the death of a loved one.

We anticipate running the HUGSI program four times a year, with the capacity to support 8-12 children and teens per group. The program will provide age-appropriate education in a supportive and interactive setting. The use of human anatomy dolls, for example, can help children relate to an area of the body affected by disease, such as the liver or lungs (see photos.)

Founded as a registered not-for-profit charity in 1994, Pilgrims Hospice Society offers compassionate care for individuals living with a terminal illness, enhancing dignity and quality of life, until the end of life. With a whole-family approach, our programs also support caregivers and those grieving the death of a loved one from any cause. Pilgrims has become a go-to place for innovative grief support programming in the Edmonton region – all available free of charge.

Who Will it Benefit?

As a parent, talking to a young child or teen about a serious illness and upcoming death in the family can be heartbreaking and challenging. Some parents just can’t find the words, or they may physically be unable to speak due to their illness. HUGSI provides peace of mind for such moms or dads, knowing that this delicate subject will be carefully introduced to their child(ren) in a safe and age-appropriate way.

For the child(ren) of a parent or loved one with a terminal illness, the HUGSI program has many benefits including:

• Understanding the progression of their loved one’s serious illness.
• Developing an early relationship with our grief team, in preparation for the death of a loved one.
• Learning healthy coping skills re. anticipatory grief and after a loved one’s death.
• Reduced anxiety and the ability to express emotions in a variety of ways (including talking, writing, art, and actions).
• Meeting others who have a similar journey - forming bonds with peers and knowing they are not alone.
• Attaining some emotional acceptance, contributing to an improved subjective sense of hope, ability to cope, and an improved quality of life.