Aultman game wins over kids experiencing loss

By Cheryl Powell Beacon Journal medical writer
POSTED: 12:00 p.m. EDT, May 05, 2010

CANTON: Dealing with the death of a loved one is hardly child’s play. But a Northeast Ohio hospital is marketing a new board game designed to help children share their emotions in a nonthreatening way. Aultman Health Foundation’s Grief Services recently began selling its Doggone Grief game to counselors, schools, funeral homes, support groups, families and other customers nationwide. The colorful board game features photos of about 100 dogs submitted by Aultman employees. The pooches’ pictures represent four basic emotions that players are asked to discuss: sad, mad, scared and happy.

”The game just opens the door and helps them feel more comfortable,” said Brenda Brown, director of Aultman Grief Services. Compassion Books Inc., a national company based in North Carolina, is selling Doggone Grief on its Web site and through its catalog, which is distributed to about 40,000 to 50,000 people nationwide. The 20-year-old company sells books, CDs, videos and other resources to help people deal with death or other losses. Compassion Books Director Bruce Greene said the company opted to sell the board game because it’s ”really well thought out and appealing to kids.

” ”There have been various board games that have come out to use in schools and things like that, but most of them are pretty minimal,” he said. ”We didn’t really want to carry one until we saw this one. . . . It just had more substance than the others I had seen.” Brown came up with the idea for the game several years ago after trying unsuccessfully to find a game to use with children during grief support groups she leads in Canton-area schools. ”I knew that playing a game or something fun or interesting would grab their attention and get them to talk,” she said. ”I thought, ‘We’ll just make our own.’ ” After getting the go-ahead from her boss, Brown enlisted graphic artists in Aultman’s media department to help design the game board and cards. The Canton-based health system contracted with a Las Vegas company called Board Game Design to produce the game, which is manufactured in China. A $3,000 donation from Dr. William Wallace and his wife, Candy, helped fund some of the upfront cost for the project. Brown, a dog lover, decided to feature canines in the game as a fun way to get kids to open up about their feelings.

”There are times that dogs make you happier than nobody else can, because they love you unconditionally,” she said. As players move their dog-shaped game piece around the board, they land on spaces and pick up a corresponding sad, mad, scared or happy card. Each of the cards includes an employee’s pet depicting the emotion and a question for the player to answer. One of the sad cards, for example, states: ”Sadie has a blank look on her face like everything is just fine, even though it’s not. Do you have times you pretend that everything is just fine, too? Please share.

” On a recent morning, seven students in a weekly grief support group at Lehman Middle School in Canton shared a mixture of laughter and sadness while playing Doggone Grief. After drawing the emotion cards, the children talked openly about everything from how they deal with anger to the things they miss about their deceased loved one. ”The thing I miss the most is her saying ‘goodbye’ when I go to school,” said eighth-grader Cody Warehime, 14, whose mother died in October. ”It’s the little things you miss,” agreed seventh-grader Jessica Coram, 13, who had two relatives pass away.

Amy Harrison, a counseling intern at the school from Walsh University, said several of the children in the group refused to talk about their feelings until they started playing the game. ”It’s a tool that we can use to help the kids,” she said. ”I definitely saw them open up more when we started playing the game. They would answer questions during the game that they wouldn’t answer without playing the game.” Seventh-grader Amanda Stamper, 13, said the game helped her talk about her father, who died when she was 4.

”When I came in, I used to not talk about what happened, because it was too hard to talk,” she said. Brown said the game can be played with all ages, but it’s primarily marketed for children. Doggone Grief retails for $35 and is available in the Aultman Hospital gift shop,Some national distributors, including Compassion Books (http://www.compassionbooks.com/products/Doggone-Grief-Board-Game.html) also are starting to sell the game. So far, nearly 200 of the first 1,000 games produced have been sold nationwide and in Canada. Proceeds are used to support Aultman Grief Services, which offers support groups, school programs and other services to help people experiencing loss.


Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or chpowell@thebeaconjournal.com.