Kaweah Health CUBS program helps children with grief

Kaweah Health reintroduces Children Under Bereavement Support (CUBS) first the first time since pandemic restrictions were lifted

VISALIA – For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, children grieving over the death of a loved one can get support through a Kaweah Health Hospice program to help them better understand and communicate their feelings.

The four-week program, Children Under Bereavement Support (CUBS), is a support group that meets weekly on Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. in Visalia. Their first meeting was on Tuesday, Sept. 6. For the first time in three years, since COVID-19 restrictions took effect, the program is back in operation, according to James Susee, Kaweah Health bereavement coordinator. Susee said the program was recently greenlighted to get volunteers again, so Kaweah Health Hospice was able to reinstitute the program once more.

The program ends Sept. 27. It is recommended that people RSVP for the meetings to give staff an idea of how many children will be in attendance. Due to Kaweah Health taking caution by accommodating COVID-19 restrictions, there are currently only 15 seats available for children.

The support group is an hour and a half long and designed to aid children ages seven through 12 who have experienced the death of a loved one. This could be their parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, sibling or anyone significant to them. 

According to the Kaweah Health website, the kids will be put in small groups with other children their age, or of similar age, and who share similar circumstances when it comes to their grief. The website states that children can be frequently forgotten in the cycle of grief, and their grief is often overlooked due to adults becoming unsure of how to console their child.

“Children who are grieving often become quiet, withdrawn and may even act out,” the website states. “They do not want to make the adults in their life cry or feel bad.”

According to a Kaweah Health press release, through this program, kids will learn ways to better communicate their feelings, understand that they are loved and there are people around to help if they feel sad.

The meetings will be led by Suzanne Tovey, a Kaweah Health grief counselor and life specialist for children and adolescents. Children will get to participate in three to four craft opportunities connected to processing their grief, according to Susee. The goal of the crafts is to help children remember the deceased person, which they refer to as a “VIP” because of their importance to the child. One of the activities, called “blasting your emotions”, includes supplying the kids with sidewalk chalk to draw and convey what they are feeling, and once it’s completed, they can throw water balloons at the drawings. Susee said this is to demonstrate that tears are important to “wash away” the negative feelings and heal.

Another activity kids will be asked to do is make and keep a memory box of the deceased person, according to Susee. Children will be given a small craft box that they can decorate however they like. In the box they can put pictures of the deceased person, mementos that remind them of the person and pictures cut out from magazines that have important value or memories for the child.

The adult that brings the child to the support group will also receive help in the process. They will be required to attend an adult program that can help them learn and better understand what their child is going through. By understanding the way their children think, Susee said parents can have an easier time communicating with their children if they understand how kids perceive the things they are told. Sometimes, parents can confuse their children in their attempts to hide the truth about the death of a loved one, according to Susee. By trying to prevent trauma, Susee said parents can become unclear.

“[We’re] trying to let the parents know that you don’t really traumatize them when you tell them the truth,” Susee said. “If you tell them in a safe setting and with a good motive, at most, they’ll get extra sad.”

Additionally, Susee said adults in the program will likely have similar experiences of grief. He said by helping parents better understand how to help their children deal with the grief of losing a loved one, they can better help themselves in the process.

“It’s basically equipping the parents with more tools on how to process their own grief and their children’s grief,” Susee said. “But also giving them a safe place where they can see they’re not alone, and they can process with other parents, even right on the spot.”

According to Susee, the next CUBS program will take place in November and start on Nov. 8, so parents and guardians who could not make the September dates can utilize the next round of support groups. People interested in signing up for the program or sending in an RSVP can call the number 559-733-0642 or go to the Kaweah Health website to register.

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