Hospice uses story of Billy Bear to help children cope with loss

January 14, 2019 | 3:00 am

Updated January 12, 2019 | 9:59 pm

With funding secured from the inaugural Impact 100 NextGen grant in 2017, Hospice of Western Kentucky's Caleb Potter created the book "The Caring Bears, Billy's Story" to distribute along with a stuffed bear to children grieving the loss of a loved on. | Photo contributed by Hospice

After Caleb Potter searched and was unable to find just the right children’s book, he wrote his own.

Potter is the bereavement coordinator for Hospice of Western Kentucky. He is a certified thanatologist, a discipline which studies the mechanisms and forensic aspects of death along with the psychological and social aspects.

For four years, Hospice has been distributing stuffed bears to children experiencing the loss of a loved one. Potter and others at Hospice wanted to expand the program by offering a book that could help adults guide children through the grieving process.

“I did what I think was a pretty broad range search,” Potter said. “The books I found just did not hit the mark for the four to nine age group.”

Potter subscribes to a dual process grief theory that “utilizes kind of an oscillation between a loss orientation and a restoration orientation,” he said.

Potter wanted to guide these children not just to grieve for their loved one, but to “grieve for them well and productively.”

“We had the teddy bears already in place, but it was on our dream list to create a series of books that chronicle different kinds of loss,” he said.

With funding secured from the inaugural Impact 100 NextGen grant in 2017, Potter said Hospice leadership gave him a lot of time and freedom to create the first book “The Caring Bears, Billy’s Story” to distribute along with the stuffed bear.

The book project was completed in late 2018 and the the book is being distributed along with the bear now through the Heartford House inpatient facility and case workers.

The book’s narrative follows Billy Bear – whose grandmother is terminally ill – through the death and dying process, the funeral and bereavement. “Children can read the story and also physically have the bear to cuddle on,” Potter said.

“It’s not exhaustive because it is a child’s book,” he added. “We condensed that into a very palatable length for children.”

According to the book’s description on Amazon.com, “Children need opportunities to speak openly and transparently about how the death (or potential death) of a loved one makes them feel, while a trusted caregiver validates those feelings and helps them identify the origin of those emotions.”

Discussion prompts for caregivers are included to use with every part of Billy Bear’s story.

The book is currently available to other agencies and individuals through Amazon. Potter says the book will be eventually be marketed to a wider audience including funeral homes and others.

For more information about Hospice of Western Kentucky, visit hospiceofwky.org.

January 14, 2019 | 3:00 am

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