Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Holidays Can Be a Challenge for Children Who Have Suffered Lost

by Laura B. Hayden 
reprinted from the November, 2016 issue of The Sturbridge Times, pages 8 to 9.

          The late fall, chock full of feasts and festivities, can be the happiest time of the year for most families – or the most depressing for families who have suffered great loss. The holiday season, while an emotional challenge for grieving adults, is even more isolating and distressing for grieving children caught in the rough and tumble of sadness and celebration. That is why, this year, Children’s Grief Awareness Day falls on November 17 - exactly one week before Thanksgiving – in the hope of helping us all become more understanding of the needs of grieving children and of the benefits they obtain through the support of others.
November 17, 2016
            “The onslaught of family holidays and ritual can be very difficult, one holiday after the other,” says Johanna D. Sagarin, PhD., program director of The Carriage House, a grief support center for 3-to-18-years-olds and their families in Worcester County. “Even preverbal (children) grieve,” says Sagarin. They know by their sense of smell” that a parent is not there.        
            Sagarin recalls a teenager who attended one of The Carriage Houses’ support groups whose parent died when she was three. Over a decade later the teen still grieved, even though she had no clear memories of her deceased parent. Before they graduate from high school, one child out of every 20 children will have a parent die—and that number doesn't include those who experience the death of a brother or sister, a close grandparent, an aunt or uncle, or friend.
            I know only too well about the added stress grieving children face during the holidays. Eighteen years ago my husband underwent heart surgery the week before Thanksgiving. Two weeks later he died from an unforeseen complication. My daughter and son (then 13 and 11) and I faced his tragic passing in shock and with insurmountable sadness. Our mail deliveries may best serve as a symbol for our emotional turmoil as we received get-well cards, sympathy cards, and Christmas cards simultaneously, through early December. No Thanksgiving to Christmas stretch has ever been the same since, nor will be. But we survived and continue to survive. This would not have been possible without the ongoing support of family, friends, and programs like those offered by The Carriage House.
            Mackenzie Ryan found comfort in the support group she attended there while a student at Wachusett Regional High School in Holden, MA. She especially liked the monthly candle ceremony where she lit a candle in memory of her father along with other children honoring their loved one. “That had a big impact on me to know that I was not alone. I found out it was okay to be different,” Mackenzie said in an article in The Landmark last year.
            A subsidiary of Children’s Friend Inc., The Carriage House’s bi-weekly support groups are held during the school year – at no cost – for area children who have lost a parent, caregiver, or sibling. Staff and volunteers who have received training in grief support for young people facilitate the sessions. I’m proud to say my daughter Emily oversees the training.
            Director Sagarin says we can best help grieving children year-round by expressing concern about how they feel and the loss they suffered. She suggests that we convey the message to the child that we can handle whatever the child needs to express about what he/she is going through. We should not feel we have “to fix” their sadness, just unconditionally support the child. Sagarin also suggests encouraging the child to “set the tenor of the household,” during the holidays, whether it be repeating past rituals or establishing new ones.
            For those of us who wish to do more, The Carriage House trains volunteers to facilitate support groups for “littles” (three to six-year-olds), “middles” (seven to twelve-year-olds) and “teens,” two or three times a year. Volunteers commit 3 ½ hours, every- other week to the program that runs September to June.

For more information contact The Carriage House by emailing or phoning (508)753- 5425. The Carriage House, a subsidiary of Children’s Friend, is located at 21 Cedar Street, Worcester, MA 01609.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

When Less is More at a New Home Bakery


(Previously published in The Sturbridge Times Magazine, July 2016)

Food has a way of bringing us closer together. Ethel Mertz famously shared her foodie secret with Lucy Ricardo when she admitted, “I can’t help myself. Eating is my hobby.” Fiskdale resident Nicole Latch has a friend who inevitablasks, “Can I have a nibble of yours,” whenever they dine out and dessert arrives. Through the years her BFF has requested little taste so frequently that Nicole, an avid baker, would tell her“If I ever have a bakery I’m going to name it after you.” 

Nicole recently made good on that promise when she turned her small kitchen on 251 Arnold Road into a home bakery specializing in a variety of treats, breakfast and dessert platters, and cakesJust a Nibble Home Bakery has been serving the Sturbridge area in Central Massachusetts since 2015, delivering to Sturbridge, East & West Brookfield, Brookfield, Brimfield, and Holland.    

“We specialize in baked goods that celebrate small things,” says Nicole. Small as in brownies and blondies and cinnamon rolls (her favorite) shaped like bunnies for Easter and men’s ties for Father’s Day. Her frosted chai spice sugar cookies have become a popular order since she introduced them to her cookie menu in May for Mother’s Day. “ I thought of chai tea and cookies . . . I experimented a bit,” she says, referring to the cardamom that is sprinkled on the thinly rolled dough along with traditional spices. 

     I got to sample one of these – tangy, sweet, and warm– when I visited Nicole early one morning. She greeted me at the door clad in a full, ruffled peach and aqua apron, looking a lot like the silhouette on the “Just A Nibble” trademark on her web page ( “I just love the Fifties,” she admitted, referring to this iconic housewife look. Very Lucylike.

     Just a Nibble delivers to your door, a practice Nicole began long before she went into business. Melissa Beachemin, director of the Sturbridge Senior Center, has never tired of seeing Nicole or her husband Rob, along with their three children ages three to eleven, visit the Center with trays of goodies. The two women met at ServSafe class, a food safety course.  “I love herShe’s the most positive person,” says Melissa, recalling the trays of Valentine cookies the Latch family brought to the Center this year and small wedding cake Nichole baked for the annual Not-So-Newlywed Game.

     The home business also specializes in traditional and custom chocolate and vanilla cakes frosted with a variety of fluffy buttercreams (including peanut butter) and toppings (drizzles, sprinkles, cookies, malted milk balls, etc.).Customers can pair together any combination. “No judgment here,” the website assures. Lots of choices continue on the cookie and brownie menu which also features the “brookie,” a chocolate brownie topped with a chocolate-chip cookie.

     Personally I have my eye on a crunchy brownie layered on crushed pretzels and brown sugar. But then there’s that chocolate-chip, flower-pot cookie with a pretty sugar flower sprouting from a bit of crushed Oreo-cookie “dirt”, featured this month. I’ll guess I’ll just have to have a nibble of both. Join me at



Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Going Around in Circles

(Previously published in the June 2016 Issue of The Sturbridge Times Magazine). 

One would think my first whirl as a grandmother would have prepared me for the second. 

So much for supposing.

Back in 2012 I didn’t know what to expect. The parents-turned-grandparents circle around me assured me upgrading from mother to grandmother would be more fun, less worrisome, more rewarding, and much less tiring. “The kids go home at the end of the day,” many echoed. 

What I wasn’t prepared for was that, even as I anticipated the wonder of holding my first grandchild, there awaited something just as wonderfulSomething as precious as, a few days laterfeeling the intensity with which he’d fix his wide-open eyes on me, as if to acknowledge Grammy was a sight worth absorbing to his very soul

What became just as special was watching my daughter morph from wife to mother. She exuded a deeper joy than even on her wedding day, a greater seriousness of purpose than her care for her students or the house pupIn the midst of this passage she also seemed to take on the added worry and tiredness I have been – to a degree – relieved of as my son and daughter set out paths of lives and loves of their own. 

Last month, I expected to relive similar wonders as I awaited my second grandchild’s birth – this time, a girl. Yes there would be more pink, more bows and ruffles. But I had been around the block with a grandchild already. Nothing much would surprise me this time.
Nothing – except Grandchild Number One.

A month or so before her birth I asked my grandson, “Are you excited about having a little sister?’ 

He looked me straight in the eye with – I swear – the same gaze-to-the-soul he shot my way as a one-week-old, and answered“Yes no yes no yes no yes no.” 

Thus began the unexpected narrative of Grandchild Number Two: Watching Grandchild Number One take on the mantle of Big Brother. He’d been rehearsing older-siblinghood since Christmas, wheeling a little sister doll around the house in a miniature umbrella stroller. He’d read his favorite book to the make-believe sibling, telling more his story than the one in print. Those were easy scenes for him to play out in his unfolding drama of family. 

It became more difficult for him when, as his mom’s belly swelled, he had to refrain from jumping on her lap. Even less coolbeing woken up after a nighttime car ride, because he was just too heavy for his very pregnant mom to carry from car seat to toddler bed. Perhaps his “yes no” answer evolved from one sort of moment here, another sort of moment there

When the Big Day arrived my grandson joined me for our first trip to the hospital. His dad took him to meet the baby first.I followed a few minutes later, walking in to find Little Sister propped by pillows, cradled in Big Brother’s arms. “Meet Mallory Ann," he announced, having just learned her name. I’never seen him sit so straight or smile so wide.

The joyful exchange of three generations ensued in the room through the afternoon. At one point my grandson performed a Snoopy dance as he exclaimed, “Tonight I get to sleep at Grammy’s.” After a round of great hugs and kisses, the two of us headed down the hallway, ten steps or so, until he stopped in his tracks. Pointing his finger to his head, as if he had just discovered a solution to a problem, he said, “I forgot to tell Dad something.”

“Then let’s go back and tell him,” I said. We retraced our steps to the room.
Message conveyed, we once again exchanged goodbye hugs. This time we made it as far as the elevator when I felt the extra-tight grasp of his hand over mine. As we descended to the parking garage the tightness turned to tensionNext, I perceived a lip quiver, then a sniffle, followed by tears. 

“I don’t want to go,” he cried softly.

We can go back for a bit, ” I said, pressing the up button.

After our third visit Dad walked us to the car. Big Brother cried, louder this time, but fell asleep within minutes on the ride to Grammy’s. He awoke refreshed, recalling the visit with glee and eager to share the day’s news with my neighbors. 

“My Little Sister was born today,” he said, then turned to me to ask, “What was her name again?”

©LauraBHayden 2016