Support for Grieving Children: Grief Centers and the National Alliance for Grieving Children

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.

March 28, 2017

14 responses on "Support for Grieving Children: Grief Centers and the National Alliance for Grieving Children"

  1. I have recently discovered Whats Your Grief, and I want to say “thank you” for all you do for others through this website. I am a Bereavement Counselor with Lower Cape Fear Hospice in Columbus/Bladen County of North Carolina. I am privileged to extend bereavement services to hospice patients/families, and also community members that have experienced a death. I facilitate a grief camp once a year also, for children and their family members. The services extended are offered at no cost, donations only. I hope to be of service to anyone in the service area of Columbus or Bladen County, NC.

  2. I have searched to find help for my preschool age child in Las Vegas but we seem to have no support groups here for either young children or young widows. everything I have found is geared toward seniors. any suggestions on how to get some help for my child?

    • Suzanne,

      Have you looked into Adam’s Place for Grieving Children? I only know a little bit about their center, but it looks like they are located in Las Vegas and they provide services to children and their families. For what it’s worth, we recently met a few women who work for this center and they seemed to have a great energy.

      Website: http://www.adamsplaceforgrieflasvegas.org/
      Phone number:(702) 339-0848

      Eleanor

      • Thanks for your quick response. We actually tried Adam’s Place and it wasn’t the right fit/environment. It is probably a good place for some people and the volunteers were kind but it wasn’t going to work for us.

        • Hmmm…there are a few other grief centers in Nevada but not in Las Vegas. Only other thing I can think of for your child is to see if there are any grief camps that might be running this summer. It’s not a long term solution but grief camps can be a really nice opportunity for kids to spend time with other kids who have had similar losses in a fun environment. Also hospices in your area may have something….although it can be limited.

          The sad reality is that many communities just don’t have great services and, as you’ve described, services are not one size fits all. When there are no services a person can look for a counselor but beyond all one can really do is access online sites like here, find ways to cope privately through things like journaling, or go out and start their own group (although when you’re grieving taking such initiative doesn’t always seem ideal).

          As far as widows go, I’ve noticed the Soaring Spirits International has a ton going on and a lot of engagement from those who are involved. I know they hold conferences and events nationally and regionally. I searched for events in Las Vegas and found they have a few coming up Truthfully this is all I really know about them, but they may be worth checking out. I know you were looking for something for children primarily, but an added benefit of connecting with other widows is that they might be able to give you the low-down on grief support in your area.

  3. We just opened a grief support program in Bucks Co. Pa. Since there were none in the area! We feel honored to be able to help children through Hands Holding Hearts

  4. Thanks for your blog regarding children’s grief. I have been a volunteer facilitator for a children’s grief center for almost 10 years. In that time I have witnessed the many positive effects on children and their parents for hundreds of families. These grief centers are certainly important and needed.

  5. It was great to meet you at the conference! Thanks for all you do! 🙂

  6. I’m fortunate to live in a community that has one. Lory’s Place in St. Joseph, MI is a remarkable place that has helped me, my daughter and many others for years.

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