Helen Mirren once said:
“I don’t think there’s anything on this planet that more trumpets life that the sunflower… Not because it looks like the sun but because it follows the sun. During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky. A satellite dish for sunshine. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. And that’s such an admirable thing. And such a lesson in life.”
Seeds for Siblings is an organisation that uses sunflowers as a symbol by which to honour the life of a young child who has passed away. It is the brainchild of Jamilla McCoy who watched on as her “second family” Meneka and John experienced a miscarriage – the loss of their twins Nelson and Selma at 25 weeks.
Studying early childhood and primary school teaching at Deakin University Jamilla noticed a gap in the understanding of childhood grief. There is a general perception that children don’t feel death on as deep a level as adults and can adapt to change faster than their adult counterparts, and therefore such events don’t affect children to the same extent. However Jamilla witnessed that Meneka and John’s eldest child four year old Indira yearned for an outlet by which to remember her siblings. Resources being frustratingly scarce, Jamila created Seeds for Siblings in 2015, a non-for-profit project which offers a productive way for children to express their grief.
Sunflowers were chosen for four main reasons: they are Indira’s favourite flower; they bloom reliably at the same time each year; they are open and bright; but most importantly the seeds can be harvested so that they can be re-planted the next year. In this way, the person honoured by Seeds for Siblings lives on through the flowers continuing to bloom for different families in different gardens. Many families choose to give some harvested seeds back to Jamilla – the seeds go ‘full-circle’.
A package from Seeds for Siblings consists of a collection of sunflower seeds, gardening instructions and a stone marker painted with a sunflower and/or the name of the deceased child. The recipient can either plant the marker alongside the seeds or keep it on their person, as a symbol of their lost loved one being with them always.
Consistent with Jamilla’s part-time employment as an ethical grocer at The Common Good Store in Hawthorn, her website proudly states that the Seeds for Siblings gift bags “use ethically sourced hemp/cotton that has been hand-printed in Melbourne using water based, solvent free inks”. Fabrics have been generously donated by Ink and Spindle, and Maze and Vale, while companies such as Bulleen Arts and Crafts, Sow ‘n’ Sow, Melbourne Rooftop Park, Kuranga Nursery and Ceres Community Environmental Park have provided seeds.
At The Common Good, Jamilla works with Meneka, the mother of Nelson and Selma whose experience inspired Seeds for Siblings:
“From a business perspective I admire the way she remains true to her core values and has created a beautiful community of people who celebrate, support, nurture and care about each other. That’s what I hope to do with Seeds for Siblings.”
Jamilla started a GoFundMe Campaign in April 2016, and has raised $2,042 to date. This money will go towards the purchase of any items within the Seeds for Siblings bags which have not previously been donated, and cover the postage of individual orders.
Since its inception, Jamilla has partnered with St. John of God – Berwick and Royal Hospital for Woman, Mercy Hospital, St. Vincents Private Hospital, Frances Perry House, The Royal Woman’s Hospital, and from April will be available for distribution through Cabrini Hospital Malvern. Seeds for Siblings has provided over 600 gift bags to grieving children and expands on the empirical research base linking gardening with healing. Indeed this finding gave rise to a new area of study – Horticultural Therapy.
Gardening assists with working through the grieving process as it serves as a reminder that life goes on and there is a natural cycle. Dr. Kirsti A. Dyer wrote a paper
“There is evidence of decay, destruction and death; there are also examples of rejuvenation, restoration, and renewal”
The predictable arrival of the seasons provides a stability that people yearn for when they are experiencing change. Caring for a living thing reinstates a sense of purpose and responsibility in the lives of those experiencing hardship.
Spending time in nature has been linked to reduced stress, faster rates of recovery and decreased symptoms of physical and psychological conditions including depression. These findings contribute to the concept of biophilia, human’s fondness for nature. It is a type of meditative practice where energy is directed towards tending to our garden and leads to the brain secreting greater levels of dopamine and serotonin and less cortisol, a stress hormone. Additionally soil contains within it a bacterium that leads to the release of serotonin. When outside in the sunshine our body absorbs Vitamin D which helps to decrease the symptoms of many psychological conditions.*
As part of her university course, Jamilla is producing a resource for primary school teachers exploring childhood grief and ways to assist children who are processing loss. The guide consists of anecdotes, quotes, advice and lessons from psychologists, social workers, teachers and people of all ages who experienced a significant loss as a child.
Jamilla is a regular volunteer for Camp Magic, a three-day camp supporting bereaved children from 7 – 17 years who have experienced the death of an significant figure in their young lives. The camp includes outdoor survival tasks, grief counselling and group activities and offers psychologists and a range of grief resources. Each participant is paired with a volunteer mentor such as Jamilla who provides emotional support and friendship throughout the camp. The camp was borne out of a desire to create a community of people with shared experiences who can help each other through the healing process.
Jamilla’s involvement with these camps aligns with her passion for ‘nature-based approaches to grief and healing’, a passion she is living out through Seeds for Siblings.
To find out more about the work of Seeds for Siblings please visit the official Facebook page or Instagram page. To order a bag of seeds please visit http://www.seedsforsiblings.com/order-a-bag/ or to show your support through a donation please visit https://www.gofundme.com/seedsforsiblings