In 2014 I signed up to be a part of the outreach team for the Children’s Grief Center (CGC) and while I know it’s important to share information about the grief center and the services they provide to grieving families, it felt a little weird, macabre maybe because I get a little excited when I hear about someone who is grieving. But really it’s because I know just the place for them! I know the CGC can help!
The first place I shared my grief story was at a Kiwanis Club meeting:
I started, “My name is Jennifer and my mother died when I was 13….”First there was shock which slows everything down to a pace that allows your mind to catch up with the loss. Shock after the death of a loved one gets you through the phone calls, able to say, “I just wanted to let you know that Donna died,” or nod in agreement, “Yes, she is no longer in pain.”
Shock lets you choose a casket, select music for the funeral, write the eulogy, arrange food for after the funeral.
Only then do you realize that everything has changed.
My family stopped having family dinners, and picnics, and parties. We stopped going to church. My mother had been the lynch pin that held us together.
I quit horseback riding and dance classes and by the time I entered high school I was hanging out in the school back parking lot to smoke pot, and spending Friday and Saturday nights cruising Maple Avenue, drinking rum and cokes.
My 19-year-old sister Debby moved to Chicago.
I became The Girl Whose Mother Died, a label that I clung to for too many years. I let it define me.
My father coped by working long hours, dating, and drinking– falling “asleep” on the sofa. In the morning he’d ask, “What time did you get in last night?”
“Before you,” I’d say, laughing.
It’s funny, they say there is no WRONG way to grieve, but I’m pretty sure that the way we handled grief was not healthy. We could have used some help, but my Dad was a Captain in the Navy and one grandfather was a retired Admiral, the other Commander of the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station BY GOD and my great grandfather was an Old Salt who lied about his age and joined up when he was 13. Rightly or wrongly my dad feared any kind of “therapy” would damage his career. There was no grief center for kids.
So we muddled through the best we could and pretended everything was fine. “Soldiered on” I guess you’d say. We didn’t talk about the grief, or my mother.
For a long time my grief was a heavy blanket that I dragged around, a fog that kept me from remembering the times before cancer and death and kept me from imagining my future. Once a straight A student, I didn’t take the SATs and didn’t apply to any colleges and ended up instead at the local community college, dropping out before the first semester ended.
Thankfully a year after I graduated high school I figured out that pot and booze and a minimum wage job at Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theater was NOT the life I’d dreamed of so I moved from my father’s house in northern Virginia to California where I lived with my grandparents and started college for real. In many ways I got my act together… but I still hadn’t really finished grieving.
My grief became an overabundance of black sweaters, black headbands, black shoes, my black leather coat. If anyone asked I’d say, “My mother’s death made me stronger.” As if speaking the words aloud would make it true. I didn’t learn to tell stories of my mother until much later, after I started writing a book about her, and after I became a bereavement group facilitator at the Children’s Grief Center.
One of the most important things they do at the Grief Center is create a place for kids (and their parents) where they know they are not alone, a place where they don’t have to carry a label like The Girl Whose Mother Died. Instead, they learn to talk about their loved one, they can cry, and they can laugh again, too. It’s a safe place for families not to get OVER grief, but get through it, learn to live with it.
The Children’s Grief Center is where I learned the true power of remembering and sharing our stories. It is in constructing our stories that we reconstruct ourselves.
I’d like to think that had there been a Children’s Grief Center in suburban D.C. in 1978 my dad would have taken me there. Maybe we would have gotten the help that we needed. Maybe we would have learned to talk about our loss, and maybe we would have shared our stories, our feelings. Maybe we would have handled our grief differently, better.
I volunteered at the Children’s Grief Center for several years because it is a place that every child who has experienced a significant loss deserves.
The Children’s Grief Center serves young people ages 5 to 25 who’ve experienced the death of a parent (or primary caregiver) or sibling. They also offer optional groups for their caregivers. At no charge.
Groups meet every other week during the school year and dinner is included! They couldn’t do this work without support from people like you.
There are lots of ways you can help and you don’t have to have suffered a significant loss to make a contribution, you just have to have an open heart:
• If you know a young person who has lost a loved one, make sure the family knows about our services.
• Get on the volunteer list and help by serving meals, or putting in time on special projects like raking leaves or pulling up goatheads…
• You can become a bereavement group facilitator …. ask when the next training session takes place.
• The Children’s Grief Center also hosts a summer camp in July open to kids throughout the state of New Mexico who are grieving. And there are plenty of volunteer opportunities there.
• In February you can attend our Healing Hearts fundraiser luncheon—and buy something from the silent auction
• And of course, you can straight up write us a check
Volunteering at the Children’s Grief Center was the most rewarding volunteer job I’ve ever had. I learned so much about grief, and enriched my understanding of how my mother’s death affected me and my family. I’ve taken a break from volunteering but expect I’ll be back at some time…
Now my grief is an altar in my entryway, a poem, a memoir-in-progress, a heart tattooed on my arm. Grief is something I carry with me, a small rock in my pocket, fingered smooth. Sometimes I take it out and show people. Look at my grief, I say.
Visit the website at http://www.childrensgrief.org to learn more.
I've been involved in a lot of nonprofits over the years, and volunteering at The Children's Grief Center has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me. You see my mother died when I was just 13 so I know how difficult it is for a kid to lose a parent-- or any family member. The CGC offers support groups for kids (and their parents) so that they can learn to live with the loss, and just as important, get to know others who are going through or have been through similar experiences. I wish there had been a Children's Grief Center for me...
When my son died violently and unexpected, it seemed that the shards of our broken hearts would never mend. His children felt helpless, as did his brother and I, to know how to go on. Life would never be the same. Thanks to the Children's Grief Center we were able to piece the fragments together, bit by bit, and though the scars remain, we move through this day by day. With ever gratefulness we remain devoted to the Children's Grief Center.
I serve at the Children's Grief Center as a Facilitator and It gives me great satisfaction each time I go, knowing that we make a difference in the lives of grieving children, teens and their parents/guardians. We are trained as group facilitators by the Center to clear and center ourselves, so that we may be fully present when we meet with the group and then we have a post-group meeting which allows us to take care of ourselves. Sometimes our own personal losses can be awakened, so we have that opportunity to acknowledge the impact of that on ourselves. One of the needs of grieving people is to be able to tell the story of the loss and its impact on them and sometimes they need to repeat the story and externalize the emotional pain of the loss. Each evening, the group unfolds, sometimes with humor and lightness and more often with emotional pain and suffering. However it rolls out, it has been a chance for participants to face their loss of their loved one with the support of others who know exactly how they are feeling. Without the group sessions, these folks and the little ones would not have addressed their loss on this day.
I have volunteered with Children's Grief Center for 10 years as a group facilitator. It has been deeply rewarding because my experience there confirms that families and children are able to address their normal grief needs fully when they make a commitment to participate and come regularly. Adults and particularly children and teens in grief feel isolated and separate from their peers. Coming to the Grief Center facilitates contact, play and sharing with peers who understand exactly where a participant is. Though they often come for help for their children, adults also find empathy and social support during such a difficult life transition. Working with CGC makes a real difference in the lives of people in our community.
I meet with the adult family members during orientation. Their emotions are raw at this point in the grief journey and they tear at my heart, reminding me of the early days of my own grief at the loss of my husband. However, I know they are entering an incredible program that will give them (and their families) the support they need at this challenging time. I share their pain and try to give them hope for a "new normal" life that can still be rewarding. The staff and programs offered deserve strong support because they make a profound difference in many lives.
I work as a volunteer with the Children's Grief Center and feel it is an exceptionally valuable organization. The people involved are incredibly committed to serving a community of people in emotional pain and helping them through the grief journey. I know the entire family benefits, although the primary emphasis is on the children who have lost a caregiver. Since there are also adult support groups it helps everyone understand how differently children grieve and ensures they get the support they need. Grief is a journey that can be made much less lonely and painful when you have the Children's Grief Center.
I am a mom of 3 small boys and felt the need to step away from the home and volunteer in a place that was just time for me. My heart for kids led me to CGC and I instantly jumped in and became a support group facilitator. Volunteering for the grief center has been, by far, one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. So much so, in fact, that my career goals have changed to encompass grieving children. Watching kids come into orientation feeling scared and overwhelmed... Then watching as they help one another through the grief of losing someone is both beautiful and moving. Nothing compares to the feeling of knowing that I have a small part in such a healing place.
I met Jade Bock, the ED of the Children's Grief Center, approximately 4 1/2 years ago. I was taking a class on bereavement and needed to interview someone in the field. By the end of our meeting, I was hooked. After hearing about the great work CGC was doing, I wanted to be involved. I joined the board shortly thereafter. Since then, I have had the privaledge to work with the extraordinary staff at CGC and have witnessed their incredible commitment to this agency. I have also had an opportunity to talk with families who have been served by CGC; their stories and their bravery is remarkable. I am honored to be a part of such a wonderful organization that is filling a need in our community - giving families a place to grieve their loss with others who are going through the same experience.
Working as a volunteer at the Children's Grief Center of NM continues to be extraordinarily rewarding for many reasons: supporting families through loss and healing, and working with or learning from fantastic staff and volunteers. Many people assume this is very heavy work, and in fact there is much that goes on that is uplifting and very positive. Saddened, disrupted lives find hope and security in this caring community. New Mexico is very fortunate to have such a well-run organization to support children - young adults, and their family members and caregivers.
CRACK! SPIN! SMOTHER! That's how I felt when the police came to my door to tell me my son was dead. The reality didn't sink in until long after the initial shock. I had been a volunteer at the Children's Grief Center for years--listening to the stories of many others with this traumatic event looming in their hearts, but now it was ME. Now the value and worth of the CGC was mine to experience, mine to own. It was my time to talk, cry, scream. Thanks to this organization of beautiful, faithful, devoted souls, I did crawl through the abyss of the greatest sorrow ever known. I will always support these precious souls and be ever grateful that they are there for all of us who face the unimaginable happening. Thanks CGC.
I was dealing with grief in a context other than bereavement in my life when a friend suggested to me that volunteering might be a way to help move through my own pain and loss. So I started researching volunteer opportunities on the Internet and found the CGC back in late 2008. The idea of being around people who were also hurting was very appealing to me. I had just missed the facilitator training, so I began volunteering in the office, coming in on my alternating Fridays off and helping out with everything from solving IT problems to working on mass mailings to updating documentation. I eventually became a bereavement facilitator as well and can only say that central NM is blessed to have to have the CGC. Not only do they help adults and children move through one of the worst experiences they can have, but they also care about their volunteers. Facilitators participate in post-group meetings to help them address any issues that may have been stirred up for them around something a child or adult attendee said during a group. There are also regular appreciation events and the staff is always looking for ways to address frustrations and issues experienced by volunteers. I believe that working with or around the bereaved is not something that everyone is cut out for, but for those who are, it is highly rewarding to see people realize they are not alone, forge bonds with one another, and gain the strength to move through their grief.
When my wife and I first came in contact with the Children's Grief Center of New Mexico, we heard a startling statistic; 85% of prisoners on death row had a parent die before they turned 18. And when we heard the testimony from one of their former patients on how the CGC had helped him turn his life around after the death of a loved one, we immediately became supporters of this organization. We saw first-hand how effective it is in working with young people facing that prospect. With a combination of therapy and peer groups, the CGC helps their patients overcome the shock, deal with the grief, anger, and confusion, and get their own lives back on track.
My experience as a bereavement facilitator has enriched my life in so many ways. Sharing this experience helps me put my personal problems in prospective, allows me to meet wonderful people who are struggling to understand their pain and hopefully I can help make their journey a little bit easier. The other volunteers and staff are absolutely wonderful to be around, their encouragement, support and dedication is limitless.
My daughter Livia and I started attending the Children's Grief Center in March, 2008 following the sudden death of my son, Livia's brother in January, 2008. CGC not only helped my daughter tremendously but myself as well!!! Livi realized she is not alone. Shes not the only third grader who has lost someone very close to her. This had a huge impact on her!! She felt safe, accepted and loved by total strangers!! She never wanted to miss a session and she made some lasting friends there!!! It was a healing place for me as well as I was able to talk about my loss in a safe environment. We attended until April 19th, 2011. Livi decided she was better and no longer needed the grief center. What a great day that was to know that Livi felt ok and was ready to move forward!!! Thank you CGC, Tammy
Our youngest son died very suddenly, at the age of 21 months, in April of 2005. I didn't know how to care for myself, much less help my 5 and 10 year old sons, who were devastated by their brother's death. I was told about the Children's Grief Center and called immediately, only to be told that their sessions had ended and they would start up again in September (they run on the same schedule as the schools). It was a rough summer for our family and I wasn't sure CGC would be of any value when we did start attending. After the first meeting, my son said he didn't "know why they call it the Grief Center because all we did was have fun." He didn't realize how much he was being helped but he refused to miss a single meeting. We attended CGC for almost two years and I can't tell you how much it helped our family. It was a lifeline where we could all express our feelings in a safe and understanding environment. We received so much help that I am now volunteering as a Bereavement Facilitator and trying to give back a little of what CGC gave to me and my family. If the children in your life have lost a loved one, the very best place to bring them is CGC. The support they will receive from the staff and from the other participants is life saving and life changing.
I have donated to the Children's Grief Center for a few years - I am consistently impressed with how effectively they spend their donor dollars to maximize the impact to the children they serve. Their mission is extremely important to the community and I'm very happy to be involved!
I have volunteered for the Children's Grief Center for over two years now and I have enjoyed working with people who have so much passion, heart, and understanding in working with children who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Working with Jessica and Jade I have been very lucky to see first hand how to promote this very important non-profit and their success has been due to their passion for the children and families they help each year. I will continue to help the Children's Grief Center anyway I can because I believe in this non-profit and the people who created a wonderful place where children can go to not be alone in their time of grief.