Military Discounts Local Info & Discounts Air Force Army Coast Guard Marine Corps Navy Moving Tools Military Education Center Military Travel Center Find Military Answers

 Installation Search

Commentary: Dealing With Loss on Sesame Street

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service NEW YORK, Oct. 15, 2009 – To the envy of all the neighborhood kids, I was invited to New York yesterday to attend the taping of a special Sesame Workshop production aimed at helping military children.

 

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Elmo's dad, Louie, helps Elmo cope with the loss of his Uncle Jack during the filming of a Sesame Workshop video aimed at helping military children deal with the loss of a loved one. Elmo wears his uncle's hat in memory and celebration of his uncle's life. The video was filmed in Queens, New York, Oct. 14, 2009. Courtesy photo by Gil Vaknin
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
I was in awe when I walked down the real-world Sesame Street. As I passed the laundromat and Mr. Hooper’s famous storefront, the years slid away with each step until, once again, I was a 5-year-old glued to an episode of “Sesame Street” on my early 1970s TV set.

I was transported back to the present when down the hall I heard the familiar, high-pitched tones of that furry red Muppet who has gained superstar-like status in recent years. Elmo and his good friend, Rosita, were rehearsing a scene on a brightly lit park set.

Used to more lighthearted shows punctuated with lessons of letters and numbers, it took me a while to adjust to the serious topic Sesame now was tackling: coping with the loss of a loved one.

The video is the latest offering from Sesame’s Talk, Listen, Connect initiative, a multimedia project that helps to guide military families through multiple challenges. The first two productions, developed with help from the Defense Department, dealt with deployments and the visible and invisible wounds of war.

“The next endeavor was how do we support families of the fallen,” said Barbara Thompson, director of the Defense Department’s office of family policy and children and youth. “That is the ultimate, supreme sacrifice that a family has to endure; and what would be a comfort not only to the child, but also to the parent who is also grieving? The result is going to be a real contribution to any family who has lost a loved one.”

As with its other military-related projects, Sesame worked closely with the department, enlisting the help of military advisors. A few of those defense experts were on the set yesterday, including Thompson and Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Loree Sutton, a psychiatrist who heads the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

You have Questions?
We have MilitaryAvenue Answers
Also there to support the project were Becky Gates, wife of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, and Deborah Mullen, wife of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen.

Sesame consulted with the department on a script that involves Elmo and his family dealing with the loss of Elmo’s Uncle Jack. Wanting to reach a broad audience, Sesame avoids mention of combat or war in hopes that the messages of hope and healing will transcend the military and reach all children.

Emotions ran high on the set as the cast and crew filmed the scenes. I saw a few teary eyes, and just reading the script brought tears to my own. Many on the set had suffered losses too and connected deeply with the script; others simply empathized with the emotions of others and the day’s purpose.

In one park scene, Elmo, his parents and Rosita are having a picnic with Elmo’s Aunt Jill and cousin Jessie. Forgetting momentarily about the recent loss, Elmo innocently asks, “Where’s Uncle Jack?” The set was so quiet at that moment you could’ve heard a pin drop. Then Elmo’s mom reminds him that Jack died. Unable to vocalize the depth of her emotions regarding her dad, Jessie asks to go play.

As the script unfolds, Elmo’s dad, Louie, finds time to talk with Jessie and encourages her to talk about her feelings. "It helps to talk to someone about the way we feel, like we’re talking now. Sometimes it feels better than keeping it all inside,” he tells her.

He also explains to her that by remembering Jack, they can continue to celebrate his life.

“It’s important to be able to have words that parents and kids can use around death,” said Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop’s vice president of outreach and educational practices. “There’s a variety of feelings involving death, often conflicting, with sad moments and guilt surrounding happy moments. We want to offer families a way to move forward, the reassurance to move forward.”

I had a chance to speak briefly with the actors who play Rosita and Jessie. They clearly were passionate about their work, and both said they felt honored to be a part of the production.

It’s a privilege “to meet military families and get to know them and realize how incredible and strong and amazing group of people they are,” said Carmen Osbahr, who plays Rosita. “Something that started as an amazing project is now a mission. It’s an amazing honor to be a part of it.”

“We always connect with our characters. It’s fun what we do, but we take our work very seriously,” added Leslie Carerra, who plays Jessie. “I certainly relate to the loss of my brother and what it did to my family. In order to connect, you go back. You want it to be light, but when that moment comes … to be able to share is a great gift. We’re offering tools and celebrating life and being strong.”

These are the exact messages Sesame Workshop hopes to impart to children using the familiar Sesame pals.

“It’s really important for us to recognize that for a child, coming from Elmo, it’s much more meaningful than coming from any other counselor or even a significant adult in their life,” Thompson said. “Because children naturally respond to Elmo, and that’s why these scripts are so important.”

The finished product will be integrated into a documentary scheduled to air on PBS in April, which also happens to be the Month of the Military Child. The documentary will include the Elmo story, along with footage of four families, two military and two civilian, who’ve suffered a loss.

Sesame will follow up the special with the distribution of a military-specific kit. The kit will include print and DVD materials, and will be available on Military OneSource and through family-support centers throughout the services.

I started the day in star-struck awe and finished it in pretty much the same way. I was really amazed by the cast and crew’s passion, caring and sensitivity and their close relationships with the military visitors. I’m excited to see the finished product and really believe it has the potential to help countless military families deal with loss.

Stay tuned for more about my day on Sesame Street, including an interview with Deborah Mullen, who gives her perspective of the Sesame production, and some experts’ tips for dealing with loss.

(Elaine Wilson, a writer and editor for American Forces Press Service, writes the “Family Matters” blog.)
 

Related Sites:
Sesame Workshop’s TLC Products
Military OneSource
“Family Matters” Blog

 

Related Articles:

 


 

Click photo for screen-resolution image “Sesame Street” actors Leslie Carrera and Carmen Osbahr relax between takes at the Sesame studio in Queens, New York, Oct. 14, 2009. Sesame Workshop is producing a video aimed at helping military children and their families cope with the loss of a loved one. Carrera plays Jessie, who's dealing with the loss of her father in the production, and Osbahr plays her Muppet friend Rosita. DoD photo by Elaine Wilson  
Download screen-resolution   
Download high-resolution


 
Click photo for screen-resolution image Barbara Thompson, director of the Defense Department's office of family Policy and children and youth, and Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Loree Sutton, head of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, enjoy a humorous moment during the filming of Sesame Workshop's new video aimed at helping military children and their families cope with the loss of a loved one. Sesame consulted closely with military experts during the production, which was filmed in Queens, New York, Oct. 14, 2009. DoD photo by Elaine Wilson.  
Download screen-resolution   
Download high-resolution


 
Click photo for screen-resolution image Deborah Mullen, right, wife of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, and Sandee Cartwright, wife of Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talk with “Sesame Street” camera operator Frankie Biondo between takes at the Sesame studio in Queens, New York, Oct. 14, 2009. The top spouses were there to support the production of a new Sesame Workshop video aimed at helping military children and their families cope with the loss of a loved one. DoD photo by Elaine Wilson  
Download screen-resolution   
Download high-resolution


 
Click photo for screen-resolution image Deborah Mullen, wife of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, takes a seat in Mr. Hooper’s store while visiting the Sesame studio in Queens, New York, Oct. 14, 2009. Deborah Mullen was there to support the filming of a video aimed at helping military children and their families cope with the loss of a loved one. DoD photo by Elaine Wilson  
Download screen-resolution   
Download high-resolution


 

Proud Sponsors

My Account

Social Media
* Share This Article  
* The appearance of hyperlinks to other sites does not constitute endorsement by MilitaryAvenue.com of that site or the information, products or services contained therein.

Military Tools


Advertisement