Creative Expression and Grief

Written by Emily Beauchemin, BS, CCLS at Seattle Children’s Hospital

To explore Art with Heart’s new resources visit artwithheart.org/learn

During a recent discussion with a colleague, I got asked the question of how a three-year-old could understand the complexities of their sibling who was actively dying. The colleague stated they believed that a three-year-old didn’t have the capability to grieve. My response was simple, “no matter the age, everyone can grieve, it may just look different.’”

As a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) in the Intensive Care Unit at Seattle Children’s Hospital, I work daily with kids and families who are actively grieving. I am continually witnessing and supporting all types of grief. Grief takes on different shapes and sizes and doesn’t have to be directly associated with the loss of someone. Grief can also look like a kid experiencing the normalcy of a new life-altering illness, loss of mobility due to the complications of a disease, or change of routine due to hospitalizations. With my background as a Child Life Specialist, I have had the unique opportunity to directly support kids in their grief. My clinical experiences have been in hospitals, primarily in the Intensive Care Unit, where emotions are heightened, and families tend to be experiencing increased emotional distress. Being able to be an advocate for kid’s grief is where I find the most meaning in my work. Through a collaboration with Art with Heart in creating guides for caregivers, I was able to assist in providing content that advocates for the unique needs of children undergoing grief and provide a tool for both the caregiver and professional.

Materials like Art with Heart’s grief resources help to create a global awareness that kids of any age can grieve and can recognize how their grief looks different than adults.

Materials like Art with Heart’s grief resources help to create a global awareness that kids of any age can grieve and can recognize how their grief looks different than adults. These grief resources are an excellent tool for professionals who may work with kids but need new support to understand how to work with a kid who is grieving. These are also tools for the caregiver who may face the unthinkable tragedy of having to tell a kid that someone they know is dying. Often, caregivers are wading through their own grief and stress and are unsure of how to talk to their child about the anticipated loss and these resources help both begin the healing.

The caregiver guides and other interactive grief materials add immensely to the grief community. There are currently minimal accessible tools for caregivers and professionals that target anticipatory loss and how to address kid’s unique grief as well as how to support kids after a death. These free tools for both caregivers, kids, and professionals working with kids help fill the gap of addressing kids’ emotional needs when experiencing grief with a unique approach of using creative expression as a support tool.

What makes this suite of resources unique?

Both caregiver guides are unique in the sense that they incorporate creative arts, which is essential to assist with children’s processing of their grief. The Caregivers Guide: When Talking to Kids when Anticipating a Death gives a direct language for caregivers and professionals to utilize with kids and ways to support their grief. These tools can be printed and used in any setting where kids are undergoing grief. Specifically, in the hospital setting, I am going be able to share this tool with my colleagues at Seattle Children’s hospital to provide education on kid’s grief, and I personally will also be utilizing them with caregivers. The tools offer a unique way to connect with kids by incorporating suggestions for creative and interactive activities that allow children for exploration of their grief in a safe and healing way.

Why is creative expression significant in grief work?

Creative expression is essential in grief work as it allows for a safe, and therapeutic avenue to give kids the opportunity to authentically express their emotions. Utilizing play, art, music, writing, provides kids the opportunity to communicate what they want to say verbally in a non-threatening and expressive way. Creative arts foster the kids’ ability to make sense of their world, especially when navigating the complexities of grief. It gives kids a natural bridge to connect their emotions with their thoughts.

To explore Art with Heart’s new resources visit artwithheart.org/learn

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