Heights teen helps other bereaved families

This image of her brother Josh (age 7), with souvenirs, reminds Carolyn Meyer (age 13) how a getaway helped her own family connect amidst bereavement. Photo coutesy the Meyer family.

Asked to describe Rebecca’s Gift, Heights eighth-grader Carolyn Meyer said, “It’s an organization that sends families on their first vacation after the death of a child.” Meyer and two classmates are currently doing an International Baccalaureate (IB) project to raise funds for Rebecca’s Gift. The project will culminate with an ice cream social fundraiser on Sunday, May 27, 5–8 p.m., at Ben & Jerry’s at Fairmount Circle, in University Heights.

This is not the first time that Meyer has raised funds for the nonprofit. In 2017, she raised $4,700 through her Bat Mitzvah project—enough money to pay for two bereaved families to reconnect through travel.

Rebecca’s Gift was inspired by the way Meyer and her brother, Josh, reconnected with their parents during a trip eight months after their sister Rebecca died.

Traveling as a family of four, not five, was hard. Meyer’s mother, Kat, explained that—due to the grief process—she was not yet able to plan an itinerary, so the kids mapped out destinations, including six Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museums, snow tubing, and The Titanic Museum.

The trip was an opportunity for the family to reconnect, and for the kids to get one-on-one attention that they really needed. This became the spark that led to Rebecca’s Gift—helping other grieving families by lifting the burden of itinerary planning, helping them get over the hurdle of the first trip after the death of a child, and focusing on joy and connection for the surviving siblings.

In talking about the nonprofit’s mission, Meyer explained why the focus is on bereaved siblings. Amidst the grief, “siblings feel invisible,” she said. “The vacation helps you feel more part of the family.”

Families who have received vacations from Rebecca’s Gift have echoed Meyer’s observation: Siblings of terminally ill children struggle with lack of attention when parents are focused on medical crises.

“Whoever I spent time with, someone didn’t get attention,” said Jennifer Jones, whose son Isaac died in 2015. Intentionally spending vacation time together after such a profound loss was pivotal. “Staying busy is how we coped when he was sick,” said Jones. “There are parts of the grieving process that require more focus. The trip took away distractors and allowed us to focus on it in a good way.”

As part of giving the vacation, Rebecca’s Gift arranges all of the trip details and, when possible, meets with the recipient family. The presentation of the gift is a special moment. Jones recalled that when it came time to meet with the Meyer family for the trip to be announced, her twin boys and daughter were “too excited to eat.”

Connecting with another bereaved family is also a comfort—one that seems reciprocal. Meyer noticed that she has grown from being part of these moments, and said, “It was eye-opening. I realized that our situation isn’t the only one around us.” 

Working together to give this opportunity to other families has been meaningful for each Meyer family member. “No matter how alone you feel, your parents are there for you and are thinking about you,” said Meyer.

Founded in 2015, Rebecca’s Gift provides bereaved families with their first vacation after the death of a child. To date, five families have received trips via Rebecca’s Gift. Visit www.rebeccasgift.org to learn more.

Shari Nacson

Mostly a mom, Shari Nacson, LISW-S, is a freelance editor, child development specialist, and nonprofit consultant 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 11, Issue 5, Posted 12:40 PM, 04.30.2018