Big Feelings in Little Bodies: Denver’s Resources for Grieving Kids
You suddenly start crying and you can’t figure out what triggered it. You feel angry at the world because you’ve just learned that life isn’t fair. You’re grieving because you are living without someone you were never meant to lose.
Now imagine that you’re seven years old.
Most of us already know that parenting is not for sissies. We all have a hard time trying to figure out what our children are thinking, what’s motivating them to do what they do and how to keep them moving in the right direction. Throw a minefield like grief in there…it’s like trying to decipher an emotional code that would stump the Pentagon.
I have been a stay-at-home mom for years. I know my kids well and we have always been close. But after my husband died, it was like I was living with three strangers. I had no idea if, when they behaved badly, it was because they had lost their father or because they were toddlers. I didn’t know if, when they started to cry, it was because they were tired or because they were short the more patient parent. And I didn’t know if I had it in me to do it all alone.
No small thing.
Soon after he passed away, I began to seek out programs that would help my kids through their grief and give them tools to recognize what was happening when it was happening (something even I struggled with). I wanted them to know that it was okay to be angry, sad and confused all at the same time. And I wanted them to know that if they felt that they couldn’t talk to me, I would find someone else who would understand.
In my search, I found three amazing Denver resources (all of these resources help kids, toddlers to teenagers, through the loss of anyone significant in their lives): Footprints at the Denver Hospice, Judi’s House and Camp Comfort (hosted by Mt. Evans Hospice).
I know, I know. When I decide it’s time to heal, I don’t do it halfway. To this day, if I tell my 5-year-old a problem I’m having, she’ll usually respond, “And how do you feel about that?”
A few months into our grief, I signed my kids up for Footprints at the Denver Hospice. Between interactive play, art and caring counselors, my children finally started to comprehend what had happened and deal with our new reality. Footprints even has what they call “The Volcano Room” that’s padded and has tons of stuffed toys for the kids to hit, throw and vent all of their frustration.
If I ever become a millionaire, I’m installing one in my house. (Oh c’mon. If Tori Spelling can grow up in a house with a Gift Wrapping Room, surely I can have a Volcano Room.)
Since we participated in the program at the Denver Hospice back in 2007, the program has changed. They still offer grief assistance, either at home or at their facility in Cherry Creek, but they now work with more anticipatory grief: Helping children understand what is going on when someone close to them is terminally ill. This program is not only open to those who have a loved one under Denver Hospice care, but is available to anyone in need of these services. One of the many resources they offer under this program is assisting with the explanation of what is getting ready to happen. They also give the kids a little extra attention at a time when their world is usually filled with chaos.
No small thing.
Since my youngest daughter was too little to participate in Footprints at the Denver Hospice at the time of my husband’s death (they prefer to take children ages 3 and up), we had to wait a couple of years to get her into a program. By that time, the Denver Hospice had developed a relationship with Judi’s House and recommended that we contact them for group therapy.
Now, you know the volunteers are doing something right when you bring your kids in for “grief counseling” and they have no idea that’s what they’re doing. My kids were young and just excited to go hang out with other kids. But watching the transformation in the teenagers who attended (who started the session dragging their feet and not making eye contact as they walked in the door, to greeting new friends with enthusiasm after a few short weeks) was nothing short of astounding. That program has helped so many kids just feel normal again.
Again…no small thing.
New “grievers” are asked to complete a ten week program (free of charge) that includes peer group sessions and a dinner that’s provided through the program. Kids meet in different rooms based on age at the same time (making it easier for parents to get everyone there) while the adults meet and gain strength in each other. They complete art projects, write letters to the people they’ve lost and talk to each other about how they are navigating this new road, all with enthusiastic volunteers who light up the second the kids arrive. And after the ten week program is complete, Judi’s House offers ongoing group meetings so that you can bring your kids back whenever they need it.
Of course, I still hadn’t completed my peer support odyssey (I’m a very pro-active griever).
Both Footprints and Judi’s House recommended Camp Comfort through Mt. Evans Hospice, which hosts kids 6-12 years old at the Easter Seals camp up near Empire, CO. Never one to pass up a chance to fight the Grief Monster (or get little weekend break for myself), I signed my kids up.
This weekend is any kids’ dream come true. Horseback riding, swimming, zip-lines, talent shows…you name it they did it. Therapeutic crafts and projects were outlined for the kids as they made “Memory Jars” and dolls representing the person they’d lost. The most amazing thing is that each kid has his or her own counselor who stays with them the entire time. They receive individual attention from an adult who is there to be their buddy, listen to them and help them in their journey. Most of these counselors have suffered a loss at some point in their own lives, so they truly come from a place of love and understanding.
At the end of the program, as you pick your kids up, Mt. Evans Hospice invites you to take part in a closing ceremony there at the camp. Each child is invited to come forward and talk a little bit about the person who is gone. And in the peace and beauty of that spot, I can’t imagine a better way to honor someone’s memory.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “How are your kids doing?” And my response has always been, “They’re doing really well. We have great resources in Denver.” During a time in my life when I was doing all that I could to put one foot in front of the other, I found places that welcomed my children, my grief and my memories. They helped us figure out how to move forward, how to look back and how to be a family again.
No small thing.
Catherine Tidd is a writer, widow and mother of three. She is the founder of www.theWiddahood.com, a free peer support website dedicated to anyone who has lost a significant other and has a Facebook peer support page under the name Widow Chick. Along with being published in several books on grief and renewal, Catherine is also a humorous motivational speaker who focuses on ” finding joy in a life you weren’t expecting.” She is also a volunteer speaker with the Donor Alliance of Colorado.