Oh man, you should have seen us the other day, heavy bags slung over our shoulders dragging oversized and awkwardly shaped boxes through the parking lot of the Red Lion in Jantzen Beach, Oregon. We were determined to safely get everything inside in one trip and one trip only.
“You got it?” Litsa asked
“I think I got it…” I replied
“Maybe if you hold it like….”
“Uh oh, I don’t got it.”
We weren’t off to a great start.
Litsa and I were on our way into the National Alliance for Grieving Children’s (NAGC) annual symposium. NAGC is an organization we’ve just joined and their conference is one we’d never previously attended. Although we’ve interacted with many of the people and organizations involved, our relationships had been brief and electronic on a whole.
Going in, we were hopeful but nervous. Not only were we first time attendees, but we had a table in the exhibit hall and we were presenting a session. We wondered, what should we expect? Would we be accepted? Would they like our presentation? Would they think our table looked like an 8th-grade science fair project gone wrong? Fortunately it didn’t take long before our fears were a distant memory; not only was there a strong sense of community permeating the conference, it was a community we felt welcomed into.
Reflecting on it now, it comes as no surprise. Most of the individuals and organizations represented at the conference have dedicated themselves to supporting bereaved children and their families. Their grief centers, camps, groups, and programs provide a sanctuary for grieving children. Many of the people working for these missions are practiced at the art of genuinely enveloping those they meet in a sense of acceptance, security, comfort, and reassurance without the person even realizing they’ve done it. Skills like these are incredibly valuable when working with grieving children (and adults).
People who have experienced the death of a loved one often need a little help reestablishing a sense of security and stability, this is especially true where children and adolescents are involved. Death and other hardship can irreparably change the structures we, as families and communities, put in place to support and nurture children. Kids rely on things like parents, their friend group, home, and school, to tether themselves to as they test out the world and establish a sense of self. Typically such structures provide boundaries, warmth, and a safe place to return to when the days lessons have been especially cruel, but following a death they can become stressed, depressed, absent, and fractured.
During the same conference, the Dougy Center opened its doors to allow attendees a look inside. To the naked eye there is little center-ish about this place, it seems far more like a home. Like rooms in a child’s dollhouse, each space is thoughtfully set up with the express intent of allowing imaginations to roam and play within. After walking through its hallways, I entertained the idea of hiding in a closet until the doors were locked up for the night. Once I was sure the coast was clear I would sneak out and pretend it was my home.
The centers most overt purpose is to provide a home away from home, although don’t be fooled there is therapeutic value hidden in every nook and cranny. Here is a place where you and your family can interact with people who have had similar experiences. Here you aren’t different. Here you can confront your grief with rage and tears and anger and no one will tell you cut it out or to hide your feelings away. Here you are accepted. These qualities, after your heart and your home have been torn apart, are therapeutic in and of themselves.
It’s nice to know places like these exist, where children and families can tether themselves until they’re ready to brave the storm on their own. I’m sorry to say these brick and mortar structures don’t exist in every area. I think it would be awfully nice if every community could rely on their friendly corner grief center, don’t you?
Until then rest assured, there are many professionals and organizations who, instead of frantically waving you in from out of the rain, will walk into the downpour and open their umbrellas for you. These people are found in schools, churches, online, community-based support groups, hospitals, and grief camps.
For help locating grief support centers in your area, we recommend looking here or here. For a list of resources that includes online communities as well as local and national resources, look here. For help supporting grieving students look here. For print grief resources for supporting a child and/or teen, you can head here.
Want to recommend a grief resource? Comment below. And don’t forget to subscribe.