"At a time when your life is turned on its end, when you have so many doubts, worries and financial pressures, an organisation comes along and says, ‘We'll take care of this support and nurturing for your child’. How do you express how grateful you are?"
Rebecca was only two and a half when her māmā / mum Emma was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukaemia. Emma endured years of treatment and when Rebecca turned seven, the effects of seeing her māmā / mum so unwell for such a long time began to weigh heavily. Rebecca had started kura / school but was finding it difficult and her teachers were concerned. Often tearful and uncommunicative, it was hard for her to make friends. She became increasingly isolated and was not sleeping well at night.
The whānau was under extreme stress. Emma was very ill, her husband Grant was trying to care for his whānau and hold down a full time job, and Rebecca was not coping. The Leukaemia and Blood Foundation referred Emma and Grant to Kenzie's Gift so Rebecca could receive some support.
The Kenzie’s Gift journey
Grant and Emma both knew the odds were not good for Emma's illness when they first saw Kenzie's Gift therapist Lorna Wood and while this was not openly discussed at the time, it was understood. After only a few sessions with Lorna, Rebecca began to regain confidence, make friends, sleep better, and improve at kura / school.
Lorna was a constant for Rebecca throughout her mum's declining health and her death in late 2013. Rebecca still sees Lorna and now has a good circle of friends, enjoys school, does well with her class work and is not displaying any problems with anger, depression or grief.
"Lorna is lovely," said Grant. "Becca doesn't share a lot of what they do together as they have strong confidentiality. When I do ask Becca how things are going, she'll say, 'It was good.'"
Rebecca was so young when her māmā / mum was diagnosed that she doesn’t remember a time before her māmā / mum became ill. "Becca's whole life has revolved around leukaemia and loss," says Grant, "but she has made extraordinary progress through her bereavement. She can talk about her mum, share stories and memories, and articulate her thoughts and feelings without being overwhelmed by her grief. She's actually doing a lot better than we are and I wouldn't have thought this possible. I have an eight year old daughter with a very wise head on her young shoulders who has grown through her grief to a maturity beyond her years."
Rebecca's time with Lorna has given her a slightly different 'world view' to that of other tamariki / children her age. Most of her contemporaries have not lost a parent, nor have they lived their early years with serious illness in the whānau. Much of the work Lorna does is centred around feelings of being set apart from other tamariki / children and building connections with them.
"Rebecca thinks about things differently than other children. Occasionally she will spend lunchtimes meditating and reflecting rather than joining in noisy play. She has a grasp of mindfulness that is quite incredible for a young child. I'm not sure how much is from Lorna and how much is Becca, but I do know she is an absolute credit to her mum, to Lorna and to all of the other people who have invested in her."
Grant is impressed with how much progress they have made
"If you had said to me after Emma's death that Becca would be doing as well as she is now, I would have thought that was very sweet but not at all possible. I would have expected more distress, disruption, time off school, falling grades - not a girl who is doing so very well. I'm not an expert but it's just remarkable. I have a high stress job and want to be sure I can cope day to day, so I see my psychologist and Becca sees hers. We don't ask each other too many questions but we do laugh about it."
As a grieving solo parent, Grant is continually aware of the risk of 'dropping the ball' and missing something with his daughter. "I am grieving too which could make me blind to Becca's distress or could make her feel she can't talk about things because it might upset me and we'd both be keeping up a mutual pretence that we're OK. It's been a relief to know that Lorna, through Kenzie's Gift, could take that responsibility and decide whether Becca was OK, quite independent of me, and provide appropriate support. Not having to worry about that means I can just be her dad, not her counsellor or anything else. We can talk and remember and if something is upsetting her, she can share that with Lorna, and Lorna can talk to me when needed.”
"To know there is someone more expert than I, more objective, with their eye on the prize ... there are no words to describe how important that is."
Tamariki / children up to five years of age find it hard to grasp the finality of death
They may believe the person will come back, and so experience sadness and disappointment when they don't. Unable to find the language to express themselves, the feelings of this age group are often manifested through actions.
Tamariki / children aged five to eight are beginning to understand the concept of death and the reality that the dead person cannot come back, but still lack the maturity to fully comprehend the permanence of death.
Grant said Rebecca understood death from age six onwards. "She grew up in a world where we discussed death openly and freely. Emma and I never had any secrets from her and would share things on an age appropriate basis. There was never any deception or sugar coating with Becca. We told her how it was and that's something I would recommend to people. You never have to apologise for lies you haven't told."
Grant admits the outcome for Becca could have been quite different. "If she'd had different parents, if she hadn't had Kenzie's Gift and a supportive school - who knows. I'm not sure how much to attribute to each aspect but it could have been so much worse. My grandmother lost her father young, a loss that had an enormous impact on her life. The impact of grief is horrific for the person, their nuclear family, and then for the family they have afterwards. It casts a shadow over a family. I know Kenzie's Gift and Lorna cannot undo everything, but they can certainly ameliorate it."
Many books about the grieving process state that people 'grow' through their grief and Grant feels this has happened for Rebecca. "With Lorna's help, the maturation that has occurred in Becca, her wisdom, world view, interest in and empathy for others .. it is so much to do with what she is working through with Kenzie's Gift and Lorna. We've taken a very sad experience and instead of her becoming bitter or beaten down by it, she is learning and growing through it."
Grant can hardly find words to describe the support Kenzie's Gift has provided for his daughter
"Kenzie's Gift is so remarkably generous and Lorna is an absolute gem. At a time when your life is turned on its end, when you have so many doubts, worries and financial pressures, an organisation comes along and says, ‘We'll take care of this support and nurturing for your child’. How do you express how grateful you are? We would've had to find a way financially to do this for Becca as I understand how vitally important this process has been for her. There aren't any words to describe how humble and grateful I feel to Kenzie's Gift. It is a gift. The secret's in the name. It's a gift that will go on until Rebecca dies because the benefits are enduring."
Grant feels optimistic about the years ahead. "I see a future full of hope for a girl who was unlucky enough to lose her mum so young, but thanks to Kenzie's Gift and Lorna, she was able to get the most out of her final year with Emma.”
"I am certain Becca will become a bright young lady and Kenzie's Gift should feel rightly proud to know that they have changed not one but two lives, mine and Becca's. The support we've received extends beyond us to her auntie, grandfather and family friends who have been reassured by knowing Becca is being looked after by another group of people who are invested in her future and care about her.”
"In my line of work I see lots of sad events and many negative spirals, things you know are going to haunt people for the rest of their life. Then you meet a group like Kenzie's Gift saying, 'Yes, bad things happen, but you know what? We'll fight back and we'll stand beside you'. That's a tremendous thing."
If you’d like to support the valuable work that Kenzie’s Gift does, and the life-changing impacts we have on young Kiwis like Rebecca please consider donating.