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The Healing Power of Family Tradition

December 18, 2014

By: Christine Cavalieri, Executive Director, Family Lives On

The Healing Power of Family Tradition

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Dinner "out" for special occasions represents happy times, laughter and joy. For children who have lost a parent, continuing these traditions fosters lifelong emotional wellbeing. Today, I'd like to share with you the story of one family whose annual holiday tradition involves their local Olive Garden restaurant.

Years ago, the family, consisting of a single mom and her seven children, began the tradition by venturing to the Olive Garden on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. With such a large family on a modest budget, going out to dinner was always a big deal. They would huddle in a big booth for the occasion, excited to be out to dinner with each other. Following dinner, they would always stroll through the nearby Christmas Village and admire the light display at City Hall. On the way home, they would drive down two particular streets known to have magnificently over-the-top holiday decorations and “ooooh and ahhh” appropriately.

Since that mom lost her battle with cancer a few years ago, Family Lives On Foundation has made it possible for this tradition to continue. We hire a van to pick up the kids from the three different foster homes they now live in. The van transports them and three foster parents to that same Olive Garden on Chestnut Street. The Olive Garden generously reserves the booth and provides the meal, free of charge. Following the meal, they visit The Christmas Village, City Hall and the same two streets with spectacular displays before being dropped off at their separate homes.

This tradition will be fulfilled every year until the youngest child turns 18. A continuing emotional bond to their deceased parent is a clinically identified need for the healthy bereavement of children and teens who have experienced the profound loss of the death of a parent. We’re proud to be able to bring together the seven siblings every year around the holidays and we are grateful for Olive Garden’s hospitality.

In the United States, more than 2 million children and teens are grieving the death of a parent. One in 20 children experiences this loss before the age of 16—that’s one in every classroom and two on every school bus. 

Family Lives On’s “Tradition Program” serves as a therapeutic tool that enables children to move from survivors to thrivers and from “at risk” to “at promise.” Based on research and experience, Family Lives On understands that family rituals can be used to provide structure and routine to the chaos of life impaired by loss. Traditions provide a more natural context for young people to talk about the person who has passed away.

A national foundation, Family Lives On, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, serves all children ages 3-18, regardless of race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status or cause of parent's death. To learn more, enroll, donate or volunteer, go to: www.familyliveson.org or visit the Family Lives On Facebook Page or Family Lives On Blog.

By: Christine Cavalieri, Executive Director, Family Lives On

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