Help us understand grief

My Memory Jar is one of the children’s activities offered as part of the HUUG program (Help Us Understand Grief).

     “I’ve told my children that when I die, to release balloons in the sky to celebrate that I graduated. For me, death is a graduation.” - Elizabeth Kubler Ross, psychiatrist and pioneer in grief studies


The last conversation most parents want to have with their child is the “death talk.” “Lily has gone to sleep”. “Nana lost her battle against cancer. She is in a better place.” Because many parents are uncomfortable talking to their children about death, dying, and bereavement, they sometimes turn to phrases like the ones above to soften the message. These statements often confuse children because, as we know, children can take words quite literally. Utilizing euphemisms for death, rather than being clear and direct, can unintentionally cause the child additional worry and fear. As a guardian, navigating these conversations is often difficult. Parent wonder, ‘Where do I start? What agency can help my grieving children?”

In the spring of 2021, Hospice Northwest’s grief program coordinator Jessica Bruce began exploring the availability of programs in our community that support children and their caregivers during times of loss and grief.

Bruce explains, “Upon consultation with various community partners, it became evident that there were no programs available in Thunder Bay that were dedicated exclusively to supporting bereaved children. Our community partners all agreed that a support program designed to help children process their emotions and educate parents on how to have death discussions with their children was definitely wanted and needed.”

Once the need was recognized, Bruce began the work of researching what children’s grief programs were already in existence outside of our area. She was looking for developed material that had been tried and tested in other communities, rather than trying to create something new from scratch.

At this time, Hospice Northwest reached out to Heart House Hospice, located in Mississauga ON, who had received an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant to develop the HUUG program, (Help Us Understand Grief). Heart House Hospice is well known for their Camp Erin, Canada’s largest grief camp. HUUG is a children’s grief program they developed and implemented which is led by trained facilitators and is designed to help children identify their emotions and express themselves through creative and interactive activities.

Heart House Hospice was very helpful in assisting with the development of a HUUG program here in Thunder Bay. Their HUUG coordinators were quick to offer ideas, training and material,

along with helpful advice gained after several years of successfully running the HUUG program in Southern Ontario.

Hospice Northwest will be launching the HUUG program in Thunder Bay with our Family HUUG Day on June 11, 2022 from 10:00AM-2:00PM at the Nanabijou Child Care Centre. This day will be filled with activities and discussions that help children learn how to process their grief. Activities include planting, crafting, and designing personalized grief tool kits. Caregivers will be provided with information on how to talk to their child regarding a death in the family or the community, and support caregivers in navigating the “death talk”. This event also provides participants with a free lunch.

In the fall, Hospice Northwest will also be hosting monthly HUUG workshops which include a fun filled event for a few hours where families can come together to support grieving children. These workshops are designed to help children cope with difficult feelings related to a friend or family member’s death. Other components of the program will include providing outreach and education to local schools, daycares and children’s centers. We also have a free community resource library, and coping kits available to children and youth to provide support in their grief journey.

Annually, Hospice Northwest supports 450 families through their end of life journeys. The launch of the new HUUG program was made possible through donations received in November 2021 on Giving Tuesday and a generous grant from Thunder Bay Community Foundation, allowing us to offer this much needed program to families at no cost.

If you feel you and/or your child(ren) would like to join us for any of our HUUG events or would like more information regarding these events, please contact Jessica Bruce, Hospice Northwest Grief Coordinator at or at by telephone at 807-626 5570.

This monthly column from Hospice Northwest examines various aspects of palliative support and bereavement services. It appears on the Healthstyle page of The Chronicle-Journal on the first Tuesday of each month. Call Hospice Northwest at 626-5570 for more information.