Every year, Sarah helps her son and daughter send balloons up in the air on Memorial Day, to remember a very special serviceman: their father. Sarah had one young daughter and was pregnant with her son when her husband took his own life over six years ago. “There’s nothing really good about that,” she says, noting how much it has changed her family’s life. It was a crazy and stressful time for Sarah and her daughter, and they ended up moving to Utah before her son was born a few months later.
As hard as grieving is for adults, it can be even more confusing for children, as there is often very little help available for them. When a preschool teacher recommended the Family Summit Foundation: A Center for Grieving Children, Sarah decided to try it out. Her daughter, Charlie, started attending grief group sessions every other week. “It’s not like group therapy,” Sarah explains, because kids often have a hard time talking about their feelings. “Kids aren’t going to respond to sitting in a group and telling sad stories and crying for an hour. They have a theme or lesson and do a craft to practice that skill, read a story, then just play. There’s a focus on solidarity.”
After a while, Charlie asked to stop attending group sessions. The family moved out of state for a year, and when they came back she decided she wanted to try again. “We’ve been going ever since, and they love it,” said Sarah, now that her son, Holland, is also old enough to join grief group sessions. (Minimum age is 3 years old.) Even though it has been years, grief is part of the kids’ reality; it can be hard growing up without one parent, and it’s helpful to be with other kids who understand and are in the same situation. Sarah also appreciates that her kids are learning skills that will “help them handle life, know what to do with anger, and learn
that it’s okay to be sad.” It’s so important to the kids, now ages 6 and 9, that they’ve juggled other activities and classes to make sure grief group takes priority.
The Center is not a daycare, but parents stay while their children meet separately in another room. Parents can participate in group discussions if they want, but there is no agenda or curriculum. In addition to the children’s grief support groups, there are also support groups for divorce and separation, children in foster care, and anticipatory support groups for children and teens with a loved one who is dying. All groups are open to children ages 3 to 19.
Sarah has been amazed by the kindness and dedication of the staff and volunteers that run the Center. She notes how Pat, who runs the grief group, “has seen this need and attended to it; it’s amazing that she’s been able to take this sense of sympathy and apply it to a demographic that doesn’t get help.” There is also a constant flow of volunteers, often students from Weber State but also adults from the community. Sarah appreciates how consistent they are and how her children have adults who are not their parents to love and accept them and help them through hard times.
After attending Ogden’s recent Suicide Awareness walk, Sarah has realized what an epidemic it is. Whether children lose loved ones through death, divorce, or other unfortunate circumstances, their grief is real and can affect them the rest of their lives. United Way is honored to provide grant money to help support the Family Summit Foundation: A Center for Grieving Children in their important efforts on behalf of these children and their families.