The paper has an article today about the grief group Julia attends.
Oh, and why are the parents’ ages worth mentioning? Seeing my age in black and white in the paper is not that appealing.
Care center helps children grieve
The room at the end of the hall could be any children’s play area. Stuffed animals and books sit on a bookshelf. Artwork hangs from string tacked up across the ceiling. Toys sit tucked away in bins and corners, and a bold-colored mural covers one of the walls.
But there’s nothing childlike about the sorrows brought here.
Crayon scribbles convey sadness children sometimes can’t articulate. The toys tap into the memories of lost loved ones, or provide welcome distraction from emotions most of us don’t deal with until adulthood.
For nearly three decades, Pikes Peak Hospice & Palliative Care has been comforting the dying and helping their families grieve. Recently, it created the Children’s Grief Counseling Room, where volunteers and staff members help children cope with the death of parents, siblings or other loved ones. Children need the special service because they don’t process the concept of death in the same way that adults do, experts say.
The program began in October after administrators noticed an increasing number of children coming through the hospice system. They received a $25,000 Inasmuch Foundation Grant to remodel and furnish the room and provide training. The program now serves about 35 children. Two sessions are held each week, one for younger children and another for older ones.
Sessions begin with a circle for group interaction. Then, the children are turned loose to play. At the end, they re- convene and are reminded they are not alone in what they’re going through.
On Tuesday evening during a session for young children, Julia Gentry, 6, played with tiny dolls, setting them at a toy dining table beside their dollhouse. Her brother, Nathan, died in July after a four-year fight with cancer. He was 7.
“They were best friends. They did everything together, so I knew she would need support dealing with his death,” said her mother, Susan, 35,
Gentry credits the sessions with helping her daughter to focus on her happy memories of Nathan, not just the sadness of losing him. She’s noticed that Julia seems “more even-keeled.”
Parents say they don’t always know what to tell their children, especially when they’re struggling with their emotions.
Ken Frederick, 31, lost his girlfriend and the mother of his three children, Jackie Richardson, nearly four years ago. She developed cervical cancer while carrying their youngest child, Mariah. Treatment began as soon as Mariah was born, but Richardson died a couple of years later.
Frederick has since remarried but in recent months Mariah, 5, began crying at night and talking about missing her mother.
He hopes Mariah, who attended her second session Tuesday, will benefit from interacting with other children coping with the same sense of loss.
Fran Roberts, manager of bereavement services, said children tend to grieve naturally, while adults generally don’t. If a child cries, a parent will often tell them not to. Or if an adult feels angry, the person may judge that emotion as unacceptable and dismiss it. The children’s room, she said, is a way for kids to cope in whatever way comes to them.
One young boy whose mother died played privately in each session with a toy train, making choo-choo sounds, Roberts said. Eventually, he told a facilitator that each day after day care he would go behind his house with his mother, and she would let him play on the train tracks. The toy train made him feel close to her.
At the end of Tuesday’s session, the children gathered in a circle with their volunteer helpers and lit candles to honor their loved ones. Volunteers and children each shared memories or thoughts of that person.
“I like this candle,” said Mariah, a brown-haired girl with a fondness for wide grins. “My mom passed away . . . and I miss her a lot.”
For Julia, words didn’t come at first. She passed her turn and only spoke when it was time to blow the candles out and go home.
“I liked playing with him a lot,” she said.