Words by Abi Scaife
Losing a loved one is devastating - and, when grieving, it is important to have a way to memorialise the time you spent with them. For young children, the adjustment is even harder and more traumatic.
Sarah Hext is a mother to Olivia, age 20, Spencer, nearly 18, and his twin brother Harvey who has now, sadly, passed away. Their loss led Sarah to create the Harvey Hext Trust.
“Unfortunately, Harvey was diagnosed with cancer just before his fourth birthday,” explains Sarah. “He was the only child in the world to be born with Down Syndrome and to have neuroblastoma - he was a complete rarity. We lost him when he was nine, so he had years and years of really harsh, nasty treatment - the treatment for children's cancer is quite brutal.”
Harvey’s death was incredibly hard for the whole family, including his two siblings. When Harvey passed away, the children’s hospice gave them each a memory box, designed by the children, to keep pictures and other memories in.
Unfortunately, the Hexts live in a damp valley, and a while after receiving the box, it began to disintegrate - the cardboard ripping and falling to pieces. That was when Sarah reached out to a friend to create something more durable.
“Really bizarrely we became friendly with Harvey's undertaker, who was a really lovely man," she explains.
The family designed a memory box for the undertaker to produce that was very similar to Harvey’s casket. When he brought them the box they loved it but asked for a few more alterations. "It was lovely, but in my mind it needed a bit of tweaking,” Sarah says.
After a few weeks of work, the casket was complete. When Sarah saw it she was extremely happy with the result, saying: "Every child that loses a brother or sister should have something like this."
"It's something of their own that the child can have and not have to give back to mom or a dad,” she adds.
That’s how the Harvey Hext Trust was born. Sarah runs the charity and helps to create memory boxes for children who have lost a beloved sibling or parent.
The boxes are sturdy, long-lasting, incredibly personal and big enough to fill with an assortment of treasures. They’re built from solid wood that will help them last forever.
To add a personal touch, children can decorate the boxes with the help of a parent or child bereavement advisor. They are encouraged to select images that remind them of their sibling and the time they spent together: a musician they loved to listen to together, a game they both played - whatever helps to remind the child of the good times they shared with their siblings.
Sarah doesn’t know exactly how many boxes they have given away but she estimates that it must be about 800. The boxes don’t just hold memories of the past - their creation is an important part of the grieving process.
“Each child in the family has their own memory box because they choose their own memories, their own designs, and photographs,” explains Sarah. “When they're making the memory boxes with the professional or with their parent or whoever, they can say to them ‘why did you choose that photo? What do you remember about that day?’ and they learn that it's okay to talk about their brother or sister.”
Producing each box costs around £200 - all paid for by the charity, through donations.
The trust also provides ‘heartbeat bears’. “He has he has a pouch in the back so that if they want to put pyjamas or a favourite toy or anything in there then they can carry that around with them in their memory bear, which is really, really lovely.” says Sarah.
“Lots of parents like these as well. They also have a pouch that you can put ashes in if that's what you want to do.”
“We had a family in the early days … the lady had four daughters and the youngest daughter passed away quite suddenly. They'd been planning this huge holiday, and she sent me a picture from the airport of her three daughters holding the bear, and she said ‘I'm taking all my girls with me’.”
Their most recent idea is 'Harvey's Holdall' - a bag they will provide to hospitals and hospices in which parents can carry home a deceased child's toys and clothes they were last wearing. Often, parents are given a plastic bag, like a bin-liner, to take home their child's belongings and Harvey's Holdall serves as a far more respectful option.
The charity plays an important role in families' lives, providing items that keep memories alive. Their memory boxes aren’t just containers - they are a physical embodiment of a bereaved child’s love for their sibling.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Harvey Hext Trust, or organising a donation or fundraiser, you can learn more on their website.
At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.
Sands. They are a charity that supports grieving families that have been affected by the death of a baby. Find out more.
Hospice UK. This is the national charity for hospice care. It champions and supports the work of organisations providing hospice care across the UK. Learn more here.
Barnardo’s. This is a children's charity that protects and supports children and young people in the UK who need them. Find out more here.