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Mobile hairdressers, cleaners and counsellors: website offers practical gifts for the bereaved

Kim Oakhill started a website which provides practical alternatives to giving flowers.

Thousands of dollars worth of flowers were delivered to Kim Oakhill’s friends when their three-year-old daughter died. An allergy in the family meant that the flowers were relegated to the garage, where they made a mess and died. Watching on, Kim found herself wishing the flower money had provided something more practical to support the family, which inspired a great idea.

There is a Youtube video of Maddie Tippett, made when she was just one year old, which is so cute, clever and heart-warming that it went viral and made her a little star. That celebrity is part of what sparked a mass outpouring of grief when she died, aged three, within 24 hours of having been admitted to hospital with complications from the common cold.

Family friend, Kim Oakhill, says flowers worth thousands of dollars were delivered to Maddie’s parents’ home in Newcastle, NSW, but because a family member had hay fever they couldn’t be kept in the house. They were delivered to the garage, where they made a mess before being placed in the bin.

Kim says that while it’s lovely to receive flowers for a birthday or to celebrate a special achievement in life, grieving families – even without the level of Maddie’s celebrity – can be overwhelmed by the number of bunches they receive and looking after them can represent hard work.

“When a family is grieving, they might be given 20 or 30 bunches of flowers, and who has that many vases in the house?” she says.

“Flowers can also create so much work; you have to top them up with water and eventually the leaves and petals start to fall everywhere. When someone is grieving they can’t even get out of bed half the time, so when they do, they don’t want to be cleaning up a mess from flowers.”

“I want to lead an innovative way of thinking so that people who want to send flowers take a step back and think, ‘What work am I creating for these beautiful people when I’m trying to help them?’,” she says.

“Life’s odd jobs don’t stop when you are going through grief and morning. The lawns still need to be mowed, you need to eat food and the house still needs to be cleaned.”

She says she wondered about paying for a cleaner her friends but didn’t want to risk offending them. She considered paying for lawn mowing but was unsure whether neighbours might be helping with gardening.

The experience inspired her to start a website – Helpful Love – which enables people to buy gift vouchers that can be used to purchase a range of practical products and services.

Services vary from city to city but may include home-delivered meals, babysitting, a living-room concert, garden maintenance or a photographer. Others, available Australia wide, are less practical in focus but enduring; the opportunity to name a star or have a personalised book written for a child.

Kim says when setting the site up, she wanted to make sure it didn’t cost anything for those giving or receiving.

“One of my fundamental values is that people receive 100% of the money given to them. An individual can buy a voucher and send it off, or if a community raises $1000, the recipient receives $1000 worth of helpful love credit.”

Vendors pay a commission when a voucher is redeemed, and an annual membership fee to cover the cost of maintaining their online profile.

“I found that by having a membership fee, I am attracting the right sort of vendors. They are really caring, and value being part of such a heart–centred movement.”

One vendor is Ashley Fiona, who makes porcelain ashkeepers which can be used to hold a loved one’s ashes or to store personal keepsakes.

Ashley is a keen supporter of Helpful Love, remembering the negative impact that the mass giving of flowers had when her mother died. She remembers, as a teenager not wanting to stay in their house because of the atmosphere flowers created.

“We felt like we were in a funeral home and it was a constant reminder that Mum wasn’t there,” she says.

“Flowers really don’t do anything – you can’t eat them, they don’t give you good advice, and if you have allergies they’re the worst thing you can get.

“Helpful Love offers services that will really make a difference to a grieving family’s life, so when Kim asked if I’d like to be part of it, I didn’t hesitate.”


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