Children shouldn’t be excluded from funerals, advises York prof

What should families consider when involving young children in a parent’s funeral? asked the Toronto Star’s Jan. 20, in a story about the funeral of Toronto Police officer Ryan Russell, which his two-year-old son Nolan attended.

Opinions on the subject have shifted from the days when children weren’t expected to attend funerals at all. “A large part of it was trying to protect them,” says Stephen Fleming, professor of psychology in York University’s Faculty of Health and a consultant to Bereaved Families of Ontario – Toronto, “and I don’t think that’s necessarily the best way to proceed.”

A two-year-old like Nolan will understand very little at a funeral, but attending one may help in the grief process down the road. “The chance of the child being traumatized in the worst case scenario, or being able to recall a whole lot, is very slim,” says Fleming.

To make the day easier, children should be allowed to interact with the proceedings in an age-appropriate way, Fleming says. They may want to write a letter, or place something inside the coffin.

Kids should also be free to be kids. At an open-casket visitation, children should be allowed to touch the body if they are curious, and free to play during the funeral, Fleming says. “They don’t know what mourning behaviour is” – and that’s okay.

Once children are eight or nine years old, their understanding of death deepens. Younger children don’t comprehend that death can’t be reversed, or that it happens to everyone. “As children age, they grapple with and eventually get these types of concepts,” he says.

Above all, says Fleming, keep open lines of communication. When kids are left in the dark about important but scary events like the death of a loved one, they tend to “fill the gaps in their understanding, usually with things that are much more threatening.”

The Great One nears milestone 50th

Alan Middleton, a marketing professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, said Wayne Gretzky defies a well-known Canadian star phenomenon, wrote Halifax’s The Chronicle-Herald Jan. 21, in a story about the hockey star’s upcoming 50th birthday.

“It’s called the tall poppy syndrome,” said Middleton. “We lop off the heads of anybody who gets too big for their britches. The only way (to escape) is if they still position themselves as an everyday kind of guy who gets up in the morning and puts his pants on like everybody else.” Gretzky, said Middleton, “has managed that extremely well.”

FES prof says some communities aren’t following growth plan

“I think the Star article raises a bunch of questions,” says Mark Winfield, a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, who also sits on a provincial advisory committee on implementing Ontario’s Places To Grow program, in an article in the Toronto Star Jan. 21 about development in GTA communities.

“The growth plan calls for a minimum of 40 per cent growth in existing urban space. If Markham is proceeding with about 65 per cent, but Brampton is at about 30 per cent, it’s clear some communities are responding to the plan – others aren’t.”

Marketing by celebrity CEO has its attractions

The temptations for a company to build its CEO into a brand are obvious, and multi-layered, wrote CTV News in a recent undated story about the relative benefits of using a celebrity CEO in marketing campaigns. [The story was written following an announcement that Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs was leaving his company for medical reasons.] “When you have somebody like Steve Jobs or Richard Branson, their exploits are automatically something that are of interest to the media in ways that even a new product launch isn’t,” notes Eileen Fischer, a professor of marketing in the Schulich School of Business at York University. “It generates that higher visibility for the brand by the person.”

But it’s more than that. “Having a persona paired with your product helps to create that elusive authenticity for a brand,” Fischer adds.

War service led to UK commendation for York prof’s mother

At the front door of the Sandilands home in Saanich is a small, framed certificate signed by former British prime minister Gordon Brown, wrote Victoria, BC’s Times Colonist Jan. 21, in an obituary of June Sandilands, mother of Catriona Sandilands, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, who died Nov. 6, 2010. “The government wishes to express to you its deepest gratitude for the vital service you performed in World War II,” reads the message from 2009.

June Sandilands, then English teenager June Hayward, spent 1944 and 1945 doing her part to help break the Germans’ Enigma code at an outstation of the now-famous Bletchley Park installation.

Daughter Cate remembers her mother, who was 39 when she was born, volunteering for several years at the G.W. Pearkes clinic, working with children with Down syndrome. “She loved it. She loved the children for themselves,” she recalls.

Cate remembers June as a wonderful but distinctly unprissy gardener, wrote the Times-Colonist. “She liked wild things. She loved chocolate lilies and shooting stars long before they were trendy. She could also make begonias grow year after year.”

AR artist and researcher explores wonderment and play in exhibit design

A few months ago, I was introduced to Helen Papagiannis, an artist, designer and researcher working with the emerging technology Augmented Reality (AR), wrote Rob Rothfarb in Museum Virtual Worlds Jan. 10 in a published interview with the student in the York/Ryerson Joint Graduate Program in Communication & Culture.

Papagiannis: “I began experimenting with AR in September 2005. When I saw AR for the first time, I was so entranced I think I entered a permanent state of wonder with the technology. And it was all very simple: a bare bones 3D virtual cube seemingly appearing in my physical space. It was completely astonishing! I went into mad scientist mode from there, tinkering, prototyping and dreaming of the creative possibilities for AR. Five-and-a-half years later, and I’m still riveted.

“I strongly believe AR is emerging as a new medium and it will come to play a large role in entertainment and information sharing…. I’d like to see more work move beyond the single-viewer experience in AR and engage larger audiences in a simultaneous viewing and even collaborative interactive experience. I think this is particularly relevant for museums in designing and producing AR experiences.”

Helen Papagiannis is currently completing her PhD at York University and is a senior research associate at the Augmented Reality Lab in York’s Department of Film in the Faculty of Fine Arts. Helen’s mixed-reality art installations were recently featured in a solo exhibition at the Ontario Science Centre, and at TEDx, where she was also an invited speaker. Prior to her augmented life, Helen was a member of the internationally renowned Bruce Mau Design studio, where she was project lead on Massive Change: The Future of Global Design, a touring exhibition and book published by Phaidon Press.

  • Wired also published an excerpt of the interview, Jan. 18.

Writing grad ignites passion with her romance novels

Unlike the characters in her novels who have steamy affairs and help crack high-profile criminal cases, Leeanne Kenedy (BA ‘05) leads a rather dull life, wrote Jan. 21.

“If I drew from my own life, my books would be so boring,” the 29-year-old Vaughan romance novelist said. “I’m really not very exciting. I just like to read and play Scrabble. I don’t really go out. I don’t like clubs and parties and I don’t drink. I don’t really do much, except work.”

Kenedy, who writes under the pen name Elle Kennedy, has had three novels published by Canada’s renowned romantic fiction publishing house, Harlequin Enterprises. The most recent, Her Private Avenger was released last November. She has two more books slated to hit store shelves in the fall.

Kenedy set her sights on becoming an author at a very young age. “I never wanted to be anything else,” she said. “My grandmother just found my first book. It’s 30 pages long and I wrote it when I was six. It’s about these ducks and it’s actually pretty complicated.”

Asked what advice she’d offer other aspiring authors, Kenedy said to develop a thick skin and keep trying, even when the rejection letters start piling up. “Too many people will submit something – maybe one, two things – and get two rejections and then give up,” she said. “I have a huge stack in my filing cabinet. They’re fun.”

Now that she has realized her dream of becoming a published author, Kenedy aspires to crack The New York Times Best Sellers list. “It doesn’t have to be No. 1, but maybe in the top 50,” she said.

On air

  • A study that showed bilingual babies have advantages over unilingual children, by a team that included York University psychology Professor Ellen Bialystok of the Faculty of Health, was featured on Global Television and several radio stations in Ontario and BC Jan. 20.
  • Joel Lexchin, professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health, was one of the few Canadians invited to a closed-door meeting about drug testing at Health Canada, reported CBC Radio Jan. 21.
  • Irving Abella, J. Richard Schiff Chair for the Study of Canadian Jewry, spoke about a new memorial commemorating Canada’s refusal of entry to Jews in 1939, on CTV News, Halifax, Jan. 20.
  • Peter Victor, economics professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, spoke about green jobs and sustainability on CBC TV’s “Power & Politics” Jan. 20.