Heights family establishes nonprofit to help bereaved families reconnect

Rebecca Meyer, age 5, in 2013, with a cache of carnival prizes. Rebecca's love of the boardwalk is the inspiration for the Nov. 15 fundraiser.

The number of families who deal with the death of a child every year is staggering. In 2012, the Make-A-Wish Foundation fulfilled 14,000 wishes for kids with life-threatening illnesses. That same year, 9,000 kids (ages 2-14) died from illness. For many, “there is a grieving family with siblings on the other end,” said Kat Meyer, Cleveland Heights resident and co-founder of Rebecca’s Gift.

Despite meaningful grief services for surviving parents and siblings, families often remain overwhelmed by the financial and logistical impacts of illness and loss. Just managing day-to-day, many are not able to see the potential benefits of taking a break, together. Mindy Stewart, LPC, pediatric bereavement specialist at Hospice of the Western Reserve, said, “Planning your first family vacation away, while living in this season of grief, may feel just as daunting or heart-wrenching as planning a funeral.”

It is through this lens that Kat Meyer and Karla Winans, a close friend, founded Rebecca’s Gift (www.rebeccasgift.org). A nonprofit that focuses specifically on the surviving siblings, a critical service gap previously unaddressed, Rebecca’s Gift will provide family vacations 6 to 24 months after the death of a child, giving the family the opportunity to reconnect, rebuild and relax together. According to Stewart, from a clinical perspective, “A fully funded family trip can be a part of [a family’s] grief journey, helping them regain strength for today and welcome a new normal for tomorrow.”

The nonprofit plans to start small, sending two or three bereaved local families on vacation to Cedar Point in the summer of 2016. The board of Rebecca’s Gift aims to grow and service more families, sending them to destinations of their choosing within five years. 

Meyer and her husband, Eric, talk openly about how much their first vacation helped in their process as they grieved the loss of their daughter, Rebecca, who died from brain cancer in June 2014. The following December, Kat insisted that the family take a true vacation—to a place that would be new to all of them—for respite and to get over the hurdle of the first adventure as a family of four, not five. Their eldest child, Carolyn, age 12, chose the destination based on her interests. Four-year-old Joshua got to choose specific outings. “That trip,” said Kat Meyer, “brought the focus back onto Carolyn and Josh.” On vacation, she explained, families connect differently because of “shared rooms, shared meals, and late night falling-asleep conversations.” 

“It really helped me to go on this first vacation,” said Carolyn Meyer, a sixth-grader at Roxboro Middle School. “I felt free. I didn’t have to worry about things. I could be myself.” Carolyn and her mom both stress the importance of the first vacation being at least six months into the bereavement process, after some of the initial fog lifts, so parents are able to truly connect with the siblings. “My mom could hear me more,” said Carolyn, because some time had passed and because they were away from home. “We still remembered Rebecca, and we still had a good time.”

Rebecca’s Gift’s inaugural fundraiser is quintessentially Rebecca-inspired. A family-friendly carnival, Rebecca’s Boardwalk will bring the Jersey Shore to Cleveland. Rebecca loved everything about the boardwalk—games, crafts, food, mini golf, bounce houses, face paint, prizes. Even the event logo, donated by local graphic designer Audrey Busta-Peck of Bustafeltz Designs, has a distinct Jersey Shore feel.

Rebecca’s Boardwalk will take place on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2–5 p.m. at Fairmount Temple, 23737 Fairmount Blvd. Event tickets (partially tax deductible) can be purchased at www.rebeccasgift.org/events. Contact donations@rebeccasgift.org to become a sponsor or to contribute services or goods, including items for the silent auction, Chinese auction, gift card pull and duck pull for kids.

Shari Nacson

Mostly a mom, Shari Nacson, LISW-S, is a freelance editor and child development specialist who makes her home in Cleveland Heights. More than anything, Nacson is inspired by kids and adults who build connection through kindness.

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Volume 8, Issue 11, Posted 6:08 PM, 10.29.2015