Grief Education
Children & Grief
Coping with Grief

Bereavement Video Helps Children and Their Families


by the Old Brick Playhouse

"Life is nothing but a continuing dance of birth and death, a dance of change…so let us then work with these changes now in life, that is the real way to deal with death," claims Sogyal Rinpoche in the Tibetan Book Of Living and Dying.

This philosophy parallels America's recent movement to improve the process of dying and grief surrounding such a loss. From Bill and Judith Moyers' recent PBS special "On Our Own Terms" to the groundbreaking work of America's Hospice organizations, we in the West, seem to be focusing on End of Life Care, and The Old Brick Playhouse has recently joined that crusade.

Through the generous support of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Old Brick Playhouse announces its release of a video for children entitled Max & Nellie's Journey with Grief that discusses the subject of death, dying and loss. The goal of the video is to provide a resource for parents and children who are facing issues of bereavement.

Max & Nellie's Journey with Grief was co-written by Linda Zimmer, a puppeteer and play therapist, and Judy Brussell, a Virginia based writer; and produced by the Old Brick Playhouse. The Old Brick Playhouse is a touring theatre based in Elkins, WV that has specialized in touring original musical comedies with social themes for six seasons in the Mid-Atlantic region. "We were interested in creating videos for children using our usual bag of tricks… singing, dancing, acrobatics, juggling and the like," states Missy Armentrout, Old Brick Playhouse Artistic Director.

Then, in a timely manner the West Virginia Initiative to Improve End-of-Life Care approached the Old Brick with a request. It seems there was a need for a product that explored the topics of loss and grief as they impact children at different stages of development.

"It was an exciting challenge due to the delicate nature of the subject matter," says Armentrout. "But we were driven by both the need for such a product and our love for entertaining children."

"Children's work is play," states co-author Linda Zimmer, "and they use play to understand and cope with unfamiliar and difficult subjects. Our aim was to create a film that would embrace the sense of wonder and playfulness that children bring to new situations."

The Old Brick Playhouse was fortunate to have the guidance, support and consultation of the West Virginia Initiative to Improve End-of-Life Care, social workers, educators and health care professionals to ensure that the video touched upon the most relevant and pertinent issues children encounter when grieving.

Directed and edited by filmmaker Tom Nicholson, the video is 25-minutes in length and incorporates fanciful masks, hand puppets, marionettes, song and dance to tell the story of Max and Nellie - two children who experience the loss of their Grandpa Gilbert.

As Max and Nellie are asked by their mother to go outside and play while Grandpa rests, they meet up with their faithful confidant and dog pal, Miles - a standard poodle puppet. Together the three embark on a magical journey where they encounter many outlandish characters - each contributing sound advice to help the children understand, ask questions, and discuss their feelings of grief. Max & Nellie's Journey with Grief was created last fall and filmed in Helvetia and Pickens, WV in the spring of 2000.

The Old Brick Playhouse hopes that the video will be both a resource and a tool for schools, churches, funeral homes, hospice organizations, and private counseling centers who are helping kids through some sort of loss. Max & Nellie's Journey with Grief has been presented at several state conferences centered on issues of bereavement, and has been presented to several thousand elementary school students in the Mid Atlantic region.

"A sensitive film that enters the child's world of loss and mourning…a must for the professional working with bereavement in the younger years." States Owen Lewis, M.D., Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The Old Brick Playhouse has also created a play, A-Mazing Passage - a live performance piece that is complimentary to the video. A copy of the video is provided free of charge to all schools and organization that book a performance of this companion show.

"Each season we write a new play to tour throughout elementary schools. This season it seemed fitting that the play should be thematically paralleled to Max & Nellie's Journey with Grief. Our intention was to provide schools with a complete program including the video and the live performance," says Armentrout.

The live show suggests to kids a variety of activities they can do in order to help themselves "Grow through Grief." Children are encouraged to write a song, create a memory box or learning to juggle many different emotions.

"We have performed Amazing Passage to several thousand elementary school students in West Virginia and the kids seem almost relieved to be able to discuss such a traditionally taboo subject as loss. We have been completely overwhelmed by the positive response from kids as they watch the video and see the show. Our hope is that the video and the production can provide both comfort and a canvas for further discussion between children and their families who are facing the difficult experience of losing a loved one," says Armentrout.

For more information about Max and Nellie's Journey with Grief or Amazing Passage please contact the Old Brick Playhouse directly at (304) 637-9090. Or, visit the Old Brick Playhouse online.

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