Children and Grief Educational Film by Bend Company Wins National Awards

A Central Oregon filmmaking company,Professor Child, has won two national awards for the latest installment in a film series it is producing about and for children going through challenging life events.

“Children and Grief,” a 40-minute film featuring 10 children who lost family members such as parents, a brother, an uncle and a grandfather, was named a “2014 Notable Children’s Video” by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. In addition, the November issue of Creative Child Magazine will list “Children and Grief” as a 2014 DVD of the Year, according to an email the magazine sent to Professor Child.

Omamas chatted by phone with Jenni O’Keefe of Bend-based Professor Child about “Children and Grief.” Her comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.

On what motivated her to make “Children and Grief”:

“Many years ago, I had a nephew who passed away and I was searching for something for his sister, my niece. I just couldn’t find anything appropriate that I felt was something good to give her, that would really offer her kind of a sense of hope. I wanted her to understand that she wasn’t the only child who had ever lost a sibling and that she would survive.”

O’Keefe eventually decided to use the medium of film to offer “messages of hope” to such children, teaming up with therapist Sharon Richards and former elementary school teacher Rory Kidder. Their film stands apart from other educational films in emphasizing one-on-one interviews with children, intercut with photo shoots of the children looking alternately somber, cheerful and even goofy. There is no narration or elaboration.

“Children and Grief” is the third Professor Child film, following “Children and Divorce” and “Children of Military Families.” A fourth film, featuring kids who have siblings with autism, is in the works.

On how children were chosen for the film:

“We worked with two Central Oregon hospice associations, in Redmond and Bend. They forwarded us the names of parents who were interested. We also had the opportunity to speak at Camp Sunrise (for bereaved children in Central Oregon). We presented our film idea to the families that were participating and got most of the kids that day.”

On why there is no adult presence in the film:

“We really wanted the focus on kids being the teachers. Hence our name, Professor Child. We really think there’s so much value in kids hearing from each other. Kids are hearing from adults … but in so many instances they don’t have another child to talk to this about.”

In “Children and Grief,” boys and girls ranging in age from 4 to 14 discuss what they know about their loved one’s death (some still aren’t sure what happened); what grief means to them (nearly all mentioned not only sadness but also loneliness); their worries and challenges (“I thought I wouldn’t get any new clothes because she went shopping for me,” “He was the only person … who would play with me outside”); what has helped them in their grief (a cat named Bobo, playing video games); and their advice for other children (“It’s OK to cry because it helps get your sadness out of you,” “Talking to people doesn’t hurt and it really helps.”)

The film concludes with the children giving “I am” statements: “I am courageous,” “I am strong,” “I am happy.” “It really ends on an uplifting message,” O’Keefe said.

On advice for parents after making this film:

“Kids just want to be heard and listened to. They want people to ask them if they’re doing OK, even if they say, ‘I’m fine’ or ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ It means something to them that people ask and care,” O’Keefe said.

“They want to talk about the loved one they lost. We can learn so much from them in the way they go about grieving because they’re honest. … They want to keep those memories alive, and it’s so important to them that they do.”

Resources for grieving kids:

Camps: In addition to Camp Sunrise, run by Hospice of Redmond, O’Keefe recommended Camp Courage, run by the Partners in Care home health and hospice organization in Bend. There’s also Camp Erin, which has locations nationwide, including in Oregon.

Support groups: “There’s absolutely a need for kids to have support groups,” said O’Keefe. Find a group through Portland-based The Dougy CenterProvidence Health & Services or the National Alliance for Grieving Children.

Therapy: “We are not a replacement for one-on-one therapy,” O’Keefe said. “We are huge proponents of therapy with adults.” To find a therapist, consult your pediatrician or family doctor.

Written by Amy Wang for The Oregonian.

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