I admit there are some days I don't want to drive across town to the Children's Grief Center. Their facility is near the Rio Grande Nature Center and as a bereavement group facilitator I have to be "on" which for a writer, and someone who is naturally an introvert (though I hide this trait well), it takes effort. Then there's the part where we listen to stories. We listen to kids talk about their mother, their father, their sister, their brother, who died. Sometimes we see their lip quiver just a bit and tears well up in their eyes.
Sometimes we want to reach out and hug them, rock them back and forth and tell them it will get better. But we can't do that. As bereavement group facilitators our job is to witness their grief, to listen with an open heart, to be a place where they don't have to pretend that everything is fine. To be a place where they learn to tell their story, where they learn to live with the loss, not "get over it" not "get through it," a place where they can cry and a place where they can learn to laugh again too.
I lost my mom when I was 13. (Who am I kidding, we didn't lose her, she died. She had cancer). There was no Grief Center. There was no counseling. There wasn't even Dr. Phil! Instead there was my father who didn't know how to handle his own grief let alone help me through mine, a father who began staying too late at the office, who began dating again, and drinking more than the after-work-martini.
I became The Girl Who Lost Her Mother and everything my friends were interested in, things like boys and Barbies, became instantly unimportant, irrelevant even and by the time I entered high school I'd become The Girl Who Hung Out in the Back Parking Lot and Smoked Pot. Clearly this was not the right way to handle grief and fortunately I managed to get through that phase relatively unscathed. I should mention that I did have help in the form of loving and wonderful grandparents, an older sister, and a father who although he lacked the proper tools, he loved me.
A couple of years ago I saw a posting on this very site, a call for volunteers for the Children's Grief Center and I was intrigued. I'd never heard of such a thing. What if there had been a Children's Grief Center for me? The Grief Center also offers support for parents--how could that have helped my dad? Our family? I called and soon began volunteering: first in the office, then I attended the training for facilitators. I learned so much about grief, how it manifests in children, how facilitators model grieving for the kids.
And I continue to learn each and every time I facilitate a group. I learn about myself, I learn about my own grief process, and I learn about how the loss of my mother still affects me today. It is the most rewarding volunteer job I've ever had. Sometimes I feel guilty that I'm getting more out of it than I put in.
I'm posting this now in the hopes of intriguing someone else, someone who suffered a loss as a child, someone has more to give than he** or she may even realize. The next training is August 11th and 18th. Space is limited, and if this one fills up, there will be another. Find out more at the Children's Grief Center website.
Facilitating requires a year commitment (no groups during the summer) after the training, a year of two times a month, seven hours total. A year I am sure you will find as rewarding as I have. (I'm starting my 3rd full year of facilitating.)
** most of the volunteers are women and I personally would like to see more men volunteer. Little boys suffer grief too and it would be nice if there were more male role models for them.
NOTE: the photo above is me (left), my mom, and my sister.