Serious illness in a family can cause many emotions like worry, fear, or sadness. Whether a child is experiencing the illness or a loved one is ill, children need the opportunity to talk about their feelings. The Gift of Gerbert's Feathers explores how a family supports young Gerbert, as he experiences a serious illness, and how Gerbert finds a way for his family to remember him when he's gone. Hear the authors read The Gift of Gerbert's Feathers aloud and see three activities related to feathers. Read two posts from the authors about helping siblings cope with grief and helping children with serious illness talk about their feelings. Read the Note to Parents and Caregivers from The Gift of Gerbert's Feathers, the Kids' Reading Guide, and access a feather coloring sheet.Read More
About Meaghann Weaver, MD, MPH, FAAPMeaghann Weaver, MD, MPH, FAAP, is a pediatric oncologist and Chief of the Division of Palliative Care at the Children's Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. She works with a wonderful interdisciplinary Hand in Hand team which strives to foster the strengths and graces of children and families in the Heartland. Dr. Weaver's favorite life moments are spent painting, dancing, cooking, and gardening with her amazing daughter, Bravery. Dr. Weaver dreams of one day returning to Africa with her family.
Having a child who is very ill is one of the most difficult challenges a parent can face. Handling day-to-day medical needs can be exhausting, but often helping the child with their emotional needs can feel most stressful of all. A child’s illness will impact the entire family. For children living with a serious illness or for those worried about someone with a serious illness, storybooks can be a starting point for discussion, a safe way to ask questions, express concerns or worries about the character, or talk about their own feelings or experiences. Magination Press picture book, The Gift of Gerbert’s Feathers, by Dr. Meaghann Weaver and Dr. Lori Wiener, provides families with an opportunity to explore how a child and his family navigate the feelings around serious illness and death. This excerpt from the book’s Guide for Parents and Caregivers provides guidance about how to engage in conversations about feelings with children experiencing serious illnesses themselves or in their families. Parents, Grandparents & Primary Caregivers Parents may want to talk about what is worrying their child the most, but are afraid if they ask too many questions, they could upset their child even more. Children may want to talk with their parents about what is worrying them, but they worry about causing their parents even more stress. Children often worry more about how their illness is impacting their parents and siblings than they worry about what is happening to themselves. In this situation: Children might talk to other important people in their life, such as a grandparent, about deep concerns before sharing them with their parent(s). This is very normal! What children need most of all is the same unconditional love and support parents and caregivers have always provided, without all the chaos of the hospital or medications. Reading a book together can provide a quiet and comforting opportunity to talk about what is happening. Other Special People Families come in all shapes and sizes, and there might be many people who play an important role in a child’s life. Sometimes children don’t want to worry their parents or aren’t sure how their parents will respond to their thoughtful questions, and so the child may inquire of others than directly to the parents. Sharing a story, like The Gift of Gerbert’s Feathers, can foster communication, providing opportunities to ask the child questions about their thoughts or feelings. This may be the only time the child feels safe enough to ask or answer such weighty questions. Make a connection to a character or situation in the story and ask the child how they feel about it. For example, “Why do you think Gerbert’s mother brings him blueberries when he wasn’t feeling well? What would bring you comfort?” Likewise, situations in a story may allow you to share and explore your family’s beliefs about death. As a special person, you can bring the child’s questions, worries, and concerns back to the child’s parents to reduce the chance they willRead More
November is Worldwide Bereaved Siblings Month Parents of children with serious illnesses face many challenges supporting their child through treatment and navigating the eventual outcome of the illness. If the family has more than one child, the parents also find themselves supporting the siblings as they experience their brother or sister’s illness, and sometimes, their death. The authors of Magination Press’s The Gift of Gerbert’s Feathers, Dr. Meaghann Weaver and Dr. Lori Wiener offer these insights and tips for supporting siblings of seriously ill children: When a child is diagnosed with a serious illness, everyone in the family is impacted. It can be especially difficult for brothers and sisters whose pain and suffering can feel invisible compared to what is happening to their ill sibling. Some siblings feel that their own needs, wants, and desires are not being valued as highly as those of their ill brother or sister. They can struggle trying to balance their love for their family and tremendous worry for their sibling with feelings of jealousy, anger, or frustration. Sometimes siblings secretly worry that they caused the illness due to something they thought, said, or did. It is important that the sibling is reassured that the sickness is not their fault. Sometimes siblings feel guilty for being healthy when their brother or sister is sick. Others may feel guilty for being jealous of the attention their sick sibling is getting from parents, grandparents, neighbors, and others. These feelings are often magnified if their siblings die from disease. They should be reassured that these are normal emotions, and that it’s not their fault. To support a child who has lost a brother or sister, try these ideas: Allow children to speak openly and ask questions about their loss Provide children with age-appropriate information about understandable and healthy emotional reactions to grief Facilitate a consistent routine including school attendance and home routines like regular family meals and bedtime Encourage children to maintain a relationship with their sibling through the practice of continuing bonds such as talking about memories, looking at pictures, creating a memory box, or visiting favorite shared places These tips are partially excerpted from the Guide for Parents & Caregivers in Magination Press Book, The Gift of Gerbert’s Feathers, by Meaghann Weaver, MD, MPH, FAAP, and Lori Wiener, PhD, DCSW, to be published in February 2020.Read More