When I lost my lost my mother – who was my world – at age 13, I slipped into a depression that made me unrecognizable. I would come home from school every day and sit in a chair that I often sat in with my mother, and stare out the window for hours.
When my father got home from work, I would make dinner for him and my brother, (not gourmet), do homework, and stare at the TV until I fell asleep. This went on for years.
There was no talking about the obvious loss. There was no sense of community. There were no friends to drag me out of the house – just darkness.
As I watch my 8-year-old daughter grieve the loss of my spouse, although it feels like a knife in my heart, it is a very different experience. We cry together, do art projects together, and most importantly, we belong to a community of kids her age that have also lost a parent. She attends a weekly bereavement group at The Hospice of the Conejo in Thousand Oaks, Calif. The group has enabled a sense of belonging which helps fill an enormous hole.
Comfort Zone Camp is an amazing three-day, overnight camp for children who have lost a parent, guardian or sibling. CZC hosts camps all over the country at no charge to the families. The camp touches the hearts of children in a non-intrusive way.
My daughter, together with her Big Buddy Susan, figured out a way that an anxious little girl could belong to a family of other grieving children.
She came home visibly different. As a grief and trauma psychotherapist and devastated spouse, I know how hard it is to find a safe community to hold onto and express every spectrum of emotion without judgments. For a child, tween or teenager, this camp is a must-do.
I can’t say enough about this unique weekend. It increased her ability to cope with her enormous range of feelings. Finding a place to rest while looking into the eyes of a child your age that is looking back at you with the same ache is priceless. And, this is offered at no charge!
Camps and bereavement groups are not the only places to create a sense of belonging. Online forums and websites such as Hello Grief allow kids to creatively express themselves. These virtual communities are just as important. They are always there — day or night.
In my day, I escaped to the endless well of the television. Today, Hello Grief offers support and a community for children to connect all over the country with shared experiences. The support of a peer — or even reading a peer’s story, provides a security that says, “I am not alone.”
How beautiful is that?
Jean Wolfe Powers is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in grief and trauma. She runs an organization called Dialysis of Healing. Here, she provides families with free counseling and guidance through the spectrum of grief whether it is over the phone or in person. To read more, visit Jean’s blog.