By Zona Lewis, Navy Safe Harbor
Not every day is sunny, even on Sesame Street.
I had an opportunity to see a sneak preview of a television special made by the Sesame Workshop called “When Families Grieve”. Have a box of tissue and your mobile phone handy; you will need both. The first because the stories are so compelling; the second to call your parents, no matter your age, to tell them you love them and to feel reconnected with them. At least that was my experience.
“When Families Grieve” presents four families’ stories about coping with the death of a parent, as well as strategies that have helped these families move forward. Two of the families have direct military ties, but all four stories impact military families serving around the globe. One family lost a parent in combat, one to suicide, and the other two families lost a parent due to an illness or sudden loss.
The special also introduces Jesse, Elmo’s cousin, who lost her dad about a year ago. Jesse shares with viewers her struggles of talking about her father’s death and how she continues to cope with the loss. Elmo shares his fondest memories of his Uncle Jack as a way to stay connected with him.
A note of caution: This is not a Sesame Street special that you leave your child to watch alone. As a matter of fact, you may want to watch it first by yourself and then later with your child so that you are better prepared for the emotions your child may experience and the questions they might ask while watching the video.
It is not a coincidence that the premiere of this primetime special and launch of the “Talk, Listen, Connect: When Families Grieve” resource kits occurs during April’s Month of the Military Child. Today, there are 1.7 million American children and youth under 18 years old with a parent serving in the military. And we, as a nation, silently ask these children and their parents to be prepared for the discussion of the loss of a parent due to the reality of combat and military service.
Some military parents may be familiar with Sesame Street’s Talk, Listen, Connect resource kit series. Families Grieve is a continuation of Sesame Workshop’s award-winning outreach initiative launched in 2006 that provides resources and emotional support to military families with young children, ages 2 to 8, coping with challenging transitions in their lives. The first kit, Helping Families During Military Deployment, supports families of a deployed parent. The second kit, Deployment, Homecomings, Changes, supports military families when a parent comes home with a combat-related injury, visible or invisible.
No parent or guardian wants to sit down with a child and tell them that mommy or daddy won’t be coming home. And few of us are ready to deal with our own grief, let alone the grief of a child who may or may not understand the finality of the word “death.” even fewer of us have the skills necessary to help a child grieve and move forward.
Leave it to Sesame Workshop, and the beloved childhood Sesame Street Muppets, to help build, and re-build, strong military families.
The “When Families Grieve” primetime special and multimedia and bilingual resource kits were developed to try to help families with young children:
• Reduce the levels of anxiety, sadness, and confusion that children may experience following the death of a parent;
• Provide families with age-appropriate tools to support and comfort children, including ways to talk about death with a young child; and
• Reassure children that they are loved and safe and that together with their families and friends, they can learn ways of being there for one another and move forward.
The “When Families Grieve” kit for military families consists of:
• A DVD featuring Sesame Street Muppets and documentary footage of families who have experienced the death of a parent due to a variety of situations.
• Print material including:
o A guide for parents and caregivers providing tips, strategies, and activities to help comfort and reassure children through difficult times;
o A children’s storybook designed to comfort children as they cope with the death of a parent; and
o A facilitator’s guide with strategies for using the project’s components, as well as tips and activities, to give families with children coping with grief.
• A Web site: www.sesamestreet.org/grief, providing:
o Streaming video of “When Families Grieve” primetime television special and DVD video content, and all downloadable print resources.
o A Public Service Announcement for children going through the grieving process, featuring Sesame Street Muppets.
The Talk, Listen, Connect: When Families Grieve resource kits will be available online beginning April 15 at www.sesamestreet.org/grief and Military OneSource by phone, 1-800-342-9647, or Web site, www.MilitaryOneSource.com.
The educational resources and support Sesame Workshop provides families has come a long way since those first few blocks of Sesame Street were introduced in 1969. My first memory of Sesame Street is watching my dad build our first color television so I could watch the new, ground-breaking educational show for children. Back then Sesame Street made learning fun through whimsical Muppet characters and wove in elements of how to be a good person through fundamentals such as sharing and caring. Today, Sesame Street is the learning place where children, and parents, go for a window on reality; and the length of pavement known as Sesame Street now stretches across the globe reaching military children and families, no matter where they are stationed.
Check local listings to watch the April 14 premiere broadcast of “When Families Grieve” on PBS featuring Katie Couric and the Sesame Street Muppets. It airs nationwide at 8:00 p.m.
Zona Lewis is a communications analyst for Navy Safe Harbor, the Navy and Coast Guard’s wounded warrior program providing non-medical care for seriously wounded, ill, and injured sailors, guardians and their families.