Note from Karen: At Wisdom of the Wounded, we know that children grieve differently than adults. That’s why we’re very fortunate that organizations like Ele’s Place offer programs for grieving children and their supporters. On a recent tour of Ele’s Place-West Michigan, we learned about their Memory Pillow activity. What a wonderful way to help a child or teen process their grief. We spoke with Julie DeJong, Program Director at Ele’s Place-West Michigan to learn more.
WOTW: Tell us about your Memory Pillow activity.
Julie: We make memory pillows with all our age groups, ages 3-18. The pillows are basic “tie” pillows, so they are easy to assemble. Each pillow has a blank white fabric panel on it for kids to decorate in memory of their person. The younger kiddos need some more help with tying and what not, but even our little ones love to decorate and hug their pillows!
WOTW: How do the kids decorate their pillows?
Julie: The pillow is unique in that we let the kids decorate the outside and stuff the inside with mementos of their choosing in addition to polyester stuffing. We’ve seen kids put photos, letters, jewelry, little trinkets, etc. in their pillow. Some kids also choose to not put anything in at all. The great part is that since it is a tie pillow, they can add things or take thing back out whenever they want.
One teenager decorated her panel and flipped it around so her decoration was on the inside of the pillow. She was able to use this activity as a creative outlet, but ultimately did not want to share what she decorated with everyone else. At Ele’s Place, it’s always okay to pass.
WOTW: How does the pillow making help grieving youth?
Julie: The Memory Pillow activity allows kids and teens to have a safe space to process their grief. While the kids are decorating, we ask about their person and memories they shared with them. The hope is that the kids also use their memory pillow as a coping tool – something they can physically touch and hug when they are missing their person and/or feeling their feelings.
The reason we love the Memory Pillow activity at Ele’s Place is that it appeals to such a broad array of children and teens. We partner with schools to bring our programs directly to students who can’t attend programs at our facility. In a school group of 4th and 5th graders, there was a boy with a learning disability who did not talk or participate much in group. Yet he really seemed to connect with the memory pillow activity. He decorated the pillow in memory of his mom, wrote out her name, used her favorite colors and drew out some of her favorite things.
Thank you, Julie for sharing your wisdom on this creative way to walk the grief journey with children and teens! For more information, visit Ele’s Place and check out their tips sheet How to help a grieving friend. You may also download instructions for creating a memory pillow, courtesy of Ele’s Place.
Photo credit: Ele’s Place-West Michigan