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Every case is a lesson for the team. “Everyone
is different,” says the Rev. Irene Johnson, pediatric
chaplain at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA.
“This team doesn’t dismiss anything. The members
process everything they experience and try to make
things better for the next time.”
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CPCC
AND A PATIENT’S FAMILY extends beyond the
child’s death. The team members remain on-call
to families and help connect them with local
services to aid in bereavement. In addition, any
parent or sibling of a UCLA pediatric patient who
has died can attend the Comforting Hearts Family
Bereavement Group. The free group, which is
supported by a grant from The Ralph M. Parsons
Foundation and other sources and which meets
twice a month at a church in Westwood that donates
its space, is guided by Gina Kornfeind, MSW, MS,
CPCC’s support and bereavement coordinator.
Kornfeind, along with volunteer social workers and
community volunteers, leads two sessions — one
geared for parents and one for siblings.
For parents, themes tend to address issues such
as how to deal with work again, how to interact
with friends, how to handle holidays, relatives
or traveling. Everything that is the “new normal,”
Kornfeind says. That includes navigating difficult
questions such as: How many kids do I say I have
now? What about the possibility of having another
child in the future?
For siblings, the support group includes sharing,
as well as arts and crafts and a musical component.
“The idea is for them to build trust and a sense of
support with the staff and with one another, to feel
connected with other kids who are also grieving,
to learn how to cope with this loss and also to
have some normal fun and camaraderie again,”
Ashlee Malabanan’s mother attends the meetings
regularly. “It gives us a place where we talk about
the way we feel and understand that each of us has
been there,” Jeannie Malabanan says. “We can talk
to other people in our lives about our feelings and
experiences, but they really don’t get it because they
haven’t been there. So this makes a huge difference.
It’s a safe place for us to talk about how much it
hurts and how we deal with it every day.”
Top: The Comforting Hearts Family Bereavement Group offers grieving parents and siblings “a safe place for us to
talk about how much it hurts and how we deal with it every day,” says Jeannie Malabanan.
Bottom: (From left) Parent Beth Bayouth speaks with social worker Gina Kornfeind and parents Jeannie Malabanan,
Rebecca Vega and Lydia Willison during a Comforting Hearts Family Bereavement Group meeting.
Two months before she died, Ashlee, unbeknownst
to her family, created a Website to raise money for
her care, thinking she would need additional funds.
In a short time, she had raised $8,000; her mother has
donated the funds to help expand the bereavement
program. Says Malabanan: “No family should be
alone while processing the end of life of their child.”
Marina Dundjerski is a freelance writer and the
author of UCLA: The First Century (Third Millennium
To view a photo slideshow about the Comforting
Hearts Family Bereavement Group, click on the
link to this article at: magazine.uclahealth.org