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Grieving kids get support during holidays

Kenny Kemp
Aiden Pratt, 5, works on a Christmas ornament Thursday as part of a HospiceCare workshop. The workshop was intended to help young people through grief during the holiday season.
Kenny Kemp Hayden Fowler, 7, places stickers on the front of a picture frame in memory of his grandfather. The two liked to fish, go to the movies and watch fire trucks together.
Kenny Kemp Hayden makes a snowflake in memory of his grandfather, who passed away two years ago.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Aiden Pratt used both hands to press a golden halo around the pizza photograph pasted to his Christmas ornament.

"This one is for me," the 5-year-old said, pointing to the completed amulet that featured his favorite food.

Next to Aiden was a wooden picture frame -- the top crowned with pastel scrapbook stickers that read "Grandma."

Aiden's grandmother died earlier this year, said Kim Ayers -- a nurse at Kanawha HospiceCare and confidant to Aiden.

"How do you spell you?" Aiden asked.

"Y-O-U," Ayers replied.

The eager speller then asked how to write the letter y, and Ayers walked over to the craft table to help him complete his message to Alice: I love you. He planned to tuck the piece of paper inside a heart-shaped box -- a keepsake in memory of his grandmother.

HospiceCare hosted an ornament-making workshop Thursday for kids facing the pain and confusion of grief.

Mike Dupay, director of bereavement at HospiceCare, said the workshop is a way to help young people through their grief during the holiday season.

Hayden Fowler, 7, has been processing the loss of his grandfather for about two years, said Yvonne Hill, Hayden's grandmother.

"He told me the other day, he'll keep him in his heart," Hill said.

As he pasted racecar and fire truck stickers onto an ornament, Hayden spoke fondly of the time he and his grandfather spent together.

Some of Hayden's favorite memories: watching fire trucks leave the station near his house; getting hot dogs at Sam's Hot Dog Stand; going for a drive.

"Sometimes we'd just ride the road, see where we'd end up," Hayden said.

Hayden acknowledges his feelings.

"Sometimes I feel a little sad when I see a picture of him," Hayden said as he was comforted by Marla Coleman.

Coleman -- a bereavement counselor at HospiceCare -- told Hayden it's okay to feel sad. Hayden affirmed the notion, responding with "Everybody does."

While kids might have a tough time verbalizing their feelings, Coleman said art is a helpful coping mechanism.

"When they start creating," she said, "the memories come out."

Kids, though, can be resilient when it comes to dealing with stress caused by grief.

"It's amazing to see that [kids] do as well as they do, sometimes better than adults," Ayers said.

The Wallace Grief Support and Education Center focuses on validating grief -- letting kids know the pain they're feeling is a normal response to the death of a loved one.

"This is a new and strange experience for [children]," Dupay said. "Reaching out and getting support by professionals . . . can help develop coping skills and strategies that can carry [children] through their life."

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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