Family Lives On
Podcast #84 — Aired February 29, 2016

When a child loses a parent, “you don’t move on, you move forward.” This week on BetterWorldians Radio, we’re talking about Family Lives On, a non-profit that provides grieving children and teens with opportunities for intentional remembering. Board Member Chris Cavalieri will tell listeners how the organization is helping children and their families move forward with their lives while honoring and remembers their loved ones.

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Chris Cavalieri
Board Member, Family Lives On

Chris joined Family Lives On in November, 2013, taking the helm as Executive Director. Bringing her extensive experience in strategic planning, experiential learning and consulting engagements, she was tasked with scaling the organization for accelerated national expansion. Previously she was with The Napier Group, overseeing client services and operations and managing internal and external stakeholders in multi-level client systems. Her success identifying innovative opportunities and her track record as a proven relationship-building expert have proven invaluable as Family Lives On continues to expand and make services available to more of the grieving children who need them. In January 2016, with Family Lives On serving families in 43 states, Chris left her role as a staff member to join the Family Lives On Board of Directors.

 

Episode Transcript

Raymond Hansell
Hi, welcome to BetterWorldians Radio. BetterWorldians Radio is a weekly broadcast whose mission is to uplift and inspire you to make the world a better place. Im Ray Hansell joined today by my co-host and life partner MarySue Hansell. BetterWorldians Radio is brought to you by the family team that created the popular social game on Facebook called A Better World. It rewards players for doing good deeds, while raising money and awareness for charities. To date over thirty-nine million good deeds have been done in A Better World by more than four million people. Good deeds like expressing gratitude, acts of kindness, sending notes to real world sick kids, just to name a few. This week were talking with family life, Family Lives On, a non-profit that provides grieving children and teens with opportunities for intentional remembering. Creating a safe haven for grief, communication, and celebration. Our guest today is Chris Cavalieri. Chris joined Family Lives On in November, 2013, taking the helm as Executive Director. Bringing her extensive experience in strategic planning, experiential learning and consulting engagements, she was tasked with scaling the organization for accelerated national expansion. Her success identifying innovative opportunities and her track record as a proven relationship-building expert have proven invaluable as Family Lives On continues to expand and make services available to more of the grieving children around the world who need them. In January 2016, with Family Lives On serving families in forty-three states, Chris left her role as a staff member to join the Family Lives On Board of Directors. Hi Chris welcome to BetterWorldians Radio.

Chris
Oh thank you so much Ray, Im so excited to tell you about us.

Raymond Hansell
Chris can you tell our listeners about Mary Murphy and how she, how she got this whole thing underway, with what is now called Family Lives On?

Chris
Yes, actually. Mary Murphy was a very smart, committed, loving single mom, but she was also diagnosed with terminal cancer. And in summer of 1997 she was watching Princess Dianas funeral and thinking about those boys and how they would adapt to life without their mom, and thinking of her own son who would soon be facing the same situation. And somehow intuitively she locked on the power of tradition, and ritual and how that can have, its actually therapeutically supportive in healthy bereavement for children.

Raymond Hansell
So tell us a little bit about how Family Lives On actually works?

Chris
So what we do is, we make it possible for children and teens to continue to celebrate a tradition or an activity that they used to do with their deceased mom or dad. And thats really helpful to them because just by asking them to tell us, tell us about something that you used to do with mom? Thats really helpful for them, because a lot of times adults dont want, theyre uncomfortable talking to children about their mom or dad that theyve lost. And thats because of the adults discomfort, oh I dont want to make them sad, or I dont want to trigger some kind of grief response. In actual fact kids want to talk about their parents, and when we dont speak to them, when we kind of avoid the subject, the message that they can often hear is that grief is shameful or theyll also too go into a protective mode. So if mom has died and they know if they talk about mom with dad, or they fear if they talk about mom with dad, that dad might get sad. So in caring for dad, they may avoid the conversation. So just in talking about the tradition, its really helpful and supportive for them.

Raymond Hansell
Helps them effectively get through the grieving processes right?

Chris
Thats right. And just normalize the fact that the relationship never ends. Their mom is always going to be their mom, that you dont move on, you move forward. She, their moms, their dads will forever be a part of them. So it doesnt make them feel like they have this closure, they still have this connection, its all part of healthy grieving as we know it now.

Raymond Hansell
Thats interesting. So tell our listeners some of the examples of some of the traditions that have been fulfilled through your organization.

Chris
Sure. Oh my gosh. Well the traditions may seem mundane to you or I, but theyre really powerful to the kids. So the greatest part about it is a lot of times now. I also have to go back and say a lot of these conversations as theyre telling us about things that they used to do with mom or dad, we do them over Skype, and the surviving caretaker is in the background. So theyre listening to the kids tell us, and the kids just love to tell us the whole part of the story, oh this is how we did it, and it had this nuance and that nuance. And I have to say, ninety-five percent of the time, the kids are not sad. Because theyre excited to talk about mom or dad, and they want to tell you all the little activities, and they each want to share and build on the conversation. So for an example, a really simple tradition, first of all, a lot of our traditions tend to involve food, I think thats probably because food is a very sensory thing, and when we ask questions about what they did, they tend to elaborate on questions that really give you a feel for what all the nuances were, what the smell was, what the sound was, because that actually strengthens their emotional connection with their parent. So little things like, this one little boy was talking about how his dad used to take him to fly model airplanes. And they did all kinds of model airplanes. Now I have to admit, in the back of my mind I was thinking, oh my gosh, how much does that cost? Because of course we pay for it and ship it, and provide it every year until they turn eighteen. So as Im thinking oh my goodness, how much is that? But here as he described it there was so many different ways that they would do model airplanes, they did gas or electric, one time they folded up paper airplanes and went to the second story of the mall and just flew them there. But every time they did it dad would buy them Slim Jims and beef jerky. So mom who was in the background, who was an organic vegetarian, never knew their dad did that, and as he was telling us, you know, yes about the planes but also saying, dont forget, dont forget the Slim Jims and beef jerky. And we were teasing around with him and talking about what kind of Slim Jims does he like, and as he described, you know when you crack open the Slim Jim, and if you could imagine it, youre ripping the plastic open, he was describing it and his eyes filled with tears. Because it triggered that grief response, that smell thing. Which is a great thing to have happen right there in the moment, we could immediately say, okay what youre feeling, it often happens, its called a grief trigger or grief burst. And its just a smell, the sound, the memory has brought this on and its totally normal and just feel it. Thats really important to kids, because if they feel a grief burst and they dont recognize that its normal, like a sound, or a smell, or a song triggers them, they may either deny the feeling or suppress it or feel like theres something wrong with them, but they can just feel it, because that will continue to happen their entire adolescence.

Raymond Hansell
Oh thats wonderful. Now theres a great deal of attention to detail I understand. For example, one I came across was a child remembering a family trip jumping on a bed, tell us a little bit about that?

Chris
These are two little girls who there memory was going down to the shore and so we made it possible for them to go and stay at the shore. We never paid for more than three nights, and any tradition we fulfill, its something they did more than once. So were not like Make a Wish, it has to be this kind of organic family thing. But this one little girl just described, oh we always stay at this one hotel and the one bed was really great for jumping on the bed. And so when we were, and of course we want to get the exact hotel that theyre talking about if at all possible, and if possible the same room, and most hotels can look it up. But its that nuance is that, that it wasnt the bed, it wasnt the hotel, it could have been a, you know, Super 8, or a Holiday, whatever it is, it could have been the highest one, the point is it was that hotel room, it was that feeling of freedom and breaking rules and jumping on the bed. So were going to do whatever we can to nail it. Because we want to make the memory as close as possible. Cause its kind of like you have to go backwards in order to move forward, you have to go back to the memory to go forward with life.

Raymond Hansell
You have to go backwards to go forward. Were going, thats an amazing, Im going to leave that right here because were going to take a short break. But thats a wonderful thing to reflect on, we have to go backwards in order to go forward in life. Well be right back shortly, were going to be talking more with Chris Cavalieri. In the meantime if youre a fan of BetterWorldians Radio, you should check out our game on Facebook called A Better World. A Better World encourages habits of goodness, positive mindsets, and giving to social causes to make a positive difference in the world. Players do things in the game like express gratitude, share their acts of kindness in the real world, send get well notes to real world sick kids and many, many more. This month at A Better World were partnering with YMCA of Greater Brandywine in Pennsylvania. Were challenging our players to complete two hundred thousand good deeds in the game during that month. And when they do, and Im sure they will, we will release funds to send kids in need to summer camps this year. You can find out more at A Better World dot com. Well be right back.

Raymond Hansell
Youre listening to BetterWorldians Radio. Were speaking with Chris Cavalieri with Family Lives On. And now lets welcome back Chris and my co-host MarySue.

MarySue Hansell
Hi Chris.

Chris
Hi MarySue, how are you?

MarySue Hansell
Great. Now can you share some of the feedback that youve been receiving from the families, you know, the ones who have been served by Family Lives On?

Chris
Oh my gosh, Im so happy to. So as I described, when were talking to the kids, their surviving caregiver who isnt always the other parent is in the background listening. And the beautiful part about them hearing the kids talk to us, because they get very focused on telling us the whole story, and were always, as theyre telling the story, were always trying to give them choice and control, so we want to check back in with them. Now did I get it right? Did it, was it exactly this type of peanut butter or what section exactly did you sit in? So you try to give them as much choice and control, which is really helpful to children who feel powerless in the face of the profound loss or the death of the parent. But the other part is, as theyre talking to us, going back and forth, they get very engaged with us, and often times forget that the surviving caregiver is in the background. And, which means they let go of the caretaking, and when we finish this Skype conversation, cause again, were totally speaking to the kids, letting them lead the conversation. And when we close out we say now well be in touch with your parent, and the Skype call ends. Now we have the follow up call with the parent or caregiver. And that is to kind of say, this is how well, this is how well do the tradition, well deliver these with specifics. But what it is, what we found is parents cant wait to tell us, oh my goodness that was so amazing, first of all, hearing them talk, I didnt know they remembered that, I didnt know they did that, I didnt know they thought that, or felt that. So they really value that kind of candor that theyre able to get by the kids being so caught up in telling the story. And thats really in all of this the biggest message, were trying to give grief words, were trying to validate the conversation that we have around sadness, or loss, or death.

MarySue Hansell
Thats a wonderful program, its a wonderful service, Im so happy youre doing that. Now, I imagine you have a lot of volunteers working with you. I was interested in what their roles were, and how maybe some of our listeners might want to get involved.

Chris
Oh we have so many different volunteer roles, and whats fascinating is our volunteers really love to get involved. Because once you hear a story, we all have traditions, we all have memories of our mom and our dad, or with our own kids. So you just kind of get hooked, it just gets you at the heart. So volunteers help us in so many ways, they help us in the office with social media, with preparing for events. The big part of volunteers, and this requires a little bit of training is when were Skyping with kids and the families, we have one staff member whos leading the conversation, and we have volunteers who take notes. And we very specifically explain to the kids, Im, so and so is a staff person, and so and so is the volunteer, staff persons going to be talking to you, you know, looking at you with the screen, but volunteers heads going to be down because shes taking notes. We want to make sure we get every single detail, because we just want to explain body language to the kids. But the volunteers are taking all the notes because they will then go out and shop for the package, and put it together, and ship it for us, and Family Lives On reimburses them the expense. Ideally our most amazing volunteers are soliciting donations for the packages so it just helps us serve more and more kids. So a lot of volunteers help us in fundraising, but also in putting the pieces together for the tradition packages.

MarySue Hansell
Wow, thats great. You know, I see that the, up in April your 2016 Race for Traditions is coming. Now what exactly is the race, how big is it, and how can we get involved with that?

Chris
Im so glad you asked. So on April 30th in Eagleview, which is a development out in, right off the Pennsylvania turnpike in Exton. It is our twelfth annual Race for Traditions, and its a 5k, but its a family event. So unlike most races where maybe one parent goes and does the race and the other parent stays home with the kids, in this one the whole family goes. So we have a one mile fun run, we have a 5k race, but we have a Tot Trot. The other thing we do is the Hankin Development Corp. shuts down the entire square and we set up this kind of family activity site. So we have stations where kids can do some of the traditions that our kids do, plus they can have face painting and all kinds of different activities and its really a lot of fun, and we really do design it for families. But this year it is the best year yet because as Family Lives On has been fortunate enough this year to be one of the five Philadelphia Eagles Cares partner, which means they took us under their wing. Because of our incredible growth, giving us as much sustainability not only in knowledge, but also in technology, to make us, to make it possible for us to continue to grow. So long story short, they will be supporting our event so we will have cheerleaders and we will have Swoop and we will have players and Jennifer Frederick will be back to MC our race, and we have a special guest coming that day, its one of the Philadelphia Eagles players is a phenomenal magician, so hell be there doing a lot of activities and actions. But its going to be very, very exciting and we hope that families will come and participate and make it part of their tradition.

MarySue Hansell
Well it sounds like so much fun too. And its healthy, all that running.

Chris
Thats right, thats right.

MarySue Hansell
Now how can our listeners help support Family Lives On? As I mentioned Ray and I have been donors for years and we really think its such a wonderful cause. But Im sure our listeners want to donate after hearing your story.

Chris
Oh yes please. If you go online to www Family Lives On dot org. Theyre many different ways that we can receive donations, yes we can receive it online, but we also have different races that we participate in, or events, and we certainly could use that help because now that we are in so many different states and weve grown so big, were actually, our program is at capacity and we have a waiting list. So as much funding as we can do, we can continue to support more and more traditions.

MarySue Hansell
Chris, one last question. How do you hope Family Lives On is helping to make the world a better place?

Chris
Honestly, were just trying to change the conversation about grief and loss and sadness. And not to turn away from it, to recognize that sadness is just the counterpart to joy. And if we can as models for our children be really uncomfortable with the discomfort of sadness, were not making it possible for the capacity, the tremendous capacity for joy. So our feelings are normal and natural, and death and loss and sadness are normal and natural and like anything else, sometimes they can be painful.

Raymond Hansell
Well thats really an amazing episode this week for our listeners. You can learn more about Family Lives On by going to Family Lives On dot org. Chris thank you so much for joining us today on BetterWorldians Radio, its been a great show.

Chris
Thank you so much for all of your continued support, were so glad to be part of your families tradition.

Raymond Hansell
And you have been for many, many years and so were very proud and happy to be a regular participant in your journey. By the way for our listeners if youve enjoyed this episode of BetterWorldians Radio, please be sure to subscribe to our show on iTunes and give us a great review. Were always listening to your feedback, so let us know what you think. As we end our show each week we like to share our BetterWorldians mission. We strive to make the world a better place by encouraging the very best in everyone. We focus on positive thinking, positive values, and positive actions. In short, our vision is to bring out the BetterWorldian in everyone, so we can all make it a better world. So until next time, be a BetterWorldian.