In my past life as a teacher, I became good friends with our school counselor, Emily McClatchey. Her warmth, humor, listening skills, and supportive nurturing care instantly led us to be friends. Although we now are both in different places and careers, we have managed to stay in touch (thank you, Facebook!), so when I read about her new business, Kidolences, I knew I had to interview her. Kidolences is a care box for a kid suffering loss: divorce, death of a pet, death of a family member, saying goodbye to a binkie, etc… In each of the carefully curated boxes, there are items that help the kids cope and learn about their loss and feelings that surround it. To learn more about kidolences, go here. To shop a box, go here. And to learn even MORE, read on. Thank you, Emily! You are an inspiration!
What is your professional background?
I must say straight out that my most challenging and rewarding profession in my long string of endeavors and attempts has been motherhood. Aside from my own three kids, I have a long history of working with kids who have experienced traumas (both with a capital T and a little t). I served in the Peace Corps in the youth sector, worked in public and private schools as a counselor and school psychologist, in inpatient psychiatric hospitals for children, and as a child and family therapist. My research for my PhD in child psychology was on childhood trauma and the extraordinary capacity children have for coping and recovery, which I have had the fabulous fortune to witness firsthand in children from every walk of life.
How did you come up with the concept of Kidolences?
Do you want the short version (if so, skip to the last paragraph. If not, here we go to the long version!)? When my third child was born with unexpected, life-threatening heart defects, my whole world stopped. I realized that despite all my training and research and clinical experience, I was suddenly and surprisingly at a loss to help my two young kids at home deal with this family trauma. I was too overwhelmed and overcome by my own fear to remember the best, most appropriate way to help them.
In my son’s early months of life, I had to step away from conducting therapy. I loved the work but I was too distracted with our own family’s trauma to focus on the work like I wanted to. When it became clearer that my son was going to be OK, I felt such an overwhelming sense of relief and freedom, but also sadness because I knew that not every child’s family on that hospital’s cardiac ICU would get that gift.
I cleared space- spiritually and mentally. I read the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and followed it like a religion. I got rid of many of my possessions. I hunkered down and got some serious perspective about how sacred life is, how precious and short it is, and how I wanted to make it count.
It may sound totally nutty, but two months ago, I awoke from a dead sleep and had the whole, fully-formed idea, down the name. I purchased the domain at 4:22am and made a call to my graphic designer friend, Ben, and asked him to tell me if I was crazy. He loved it, and we have been running our hearts out since that moment.
Which boxes were the easiest to create, and why?
I think it would have to be a tie between the Divorce Care box and the Pet Loss Box. In a country where 40-50% of children experience divorce and somewhere around 60% of children own a pet, its safe to call these two experiences some of the most common losses for children. So it was easier to draw on my own clinical and personal experiences with children when I was curating these boxes.
Which boxes were the hardest to create?
I think the Sibling and Parent Loss boxes were by far the most challenging. And they still are. One of Kidolences’ core vows is that we promise to help you gently communicate compassion and empathy without inflicting further trauma on the child. I believe the special formula for these boxes accomplish that. But they are still hard: the box has been ordered because the unthinkable has happened, and some wonderful soul has ordered this box to try to help a child who is suffering in unthinkable ways. As I am packing the box, I am gazing at whatever beautiful photo has been uploaded to be placed in the box and just praying that this box hits the mark and communicates “I am here, I am thinking of you, I love you, I know you are strong.”
What boxes are you planning to roll out next?
Right now we have 64 unique items that we pack into 13 different categories, AND we have 11 original box styles. It’s mind-boggling sometimes with all the moving parts! But it’s important to produce something unique and carefully curated that resonates. I think of it like specialized prescriptions for specific losses, and each ingredient is carefully selected for that particular loss and to blend beautifully with the other items in the box.
From the beginning I wanted to do a subscription Kidolences box for terminally ill or anticipated loss that addresses one of children’s biggest fears when someone dies: that they will forget their loved one. The subscription relies on delicately selected items based on input from a surviving loved one designed to reach all five of the child’s senses. This is a complicated one, both logistically and emotionally, so we haven’t gotten there yet.
I had so much fun curating the Bye Bye Binkie and Suddenly Sibling boxes of our Lighter Side line, though, and my mind is always churning. I’m sure it won’t be long before another Lighter Side Box pops up.
How did you choose what to put in to each box?
I’m so glad you asked! It’s Kidolences’ point of pride! After exhaustive research and extensive experience professionally and personally, I extracted and formulated nine tenets that drive the item selection for each box. The tenets are rooted in our developmental understanding of how children process grief and what they themselves have said they need the most. You can read all about the nine tenets on my website “Kids & Loss” to understand more about why they drive the whole process. So I started with the tenets and then just basically went on a shopping spree to find a million items to test out from Etsy, specialty shops, craft stores, and cool ecommerce sites to answer the demands that the tenets presented. What remains is the best of the best.
Is there a specific age group that these boxes are geared for?
That’s a great question, and the short answer is: No. While I was curating the boxes I was reading every children’s book I could get my hands on designed to help them cope with loss (I review and recommend the best on my website). These books tend to be for kids 4-10, and some of the items (like the nightlight) are most appropriate for younger children. But the vast majority of the items have broad appeal, and in fact I have delivered many pet loss boxes to adults with great results. But I suppose deep down I had an 8-9 year old in mind—that is when I experienced my first real loss.
Will you potentially come up with boxes for older children (and adults), too?
Shoebox love is primal and ageless, don’t you think? We all had them (and many of us still do) to keep special keepsakes, mementos and photos. Kidolences is like the shoebox upgrade. I am fond of saying that our boxes are for people aged 3-103; I can’t imagine a person who wouldn’t be touched to receive one of our boxes! But if you are asking whether I plan to add a fleet of new boxes meant especially for different groups, no. My heart isn’t in it and I think it is important to stay focused, attentive, specialized for children.
How have you spread the word?
While I just launched on Friday, July 14th 2017 (but who’s keeping track?), I have been talking incessantly about Kidolences since it’s inception in my brain 2 months ago. To anyone who will listen. Including, but not limited to: the Staples checkout woman, my mailman, the guy behind me in line at Starbucks, my kids’ teachers, you name it. People get it immediately. Most people recognize there is nothing like it. (In fact, I just paid $90 to ship myself the best-selling children’s sympathy gift from the country’s largest florist and it was terrible). But beyond that, it resonates with people’s compassion, kindness, and empathy. And goodness knows we could all use more of that in our world these days. My hope is that now we can begin to reach as many kids as possible with givers’ compassion, kindness and empathy.
Thank you so much, Emily. Your idea is brilliant, your heart genuine, and your passion visible. I cannot wait to watch the company grow and make a difference in so many lives.