(all pictures taken from their website)
A couple of months ago, right after Jill died, I met with an EAP counselor to kind of process things. She recommended The Sharing Place for Chloee. It is a group therapy site for children and teens who have lost someone close in death. They are very clear that it's not for any other purpose. Strictly children who are grieving and dealing with death.
I called, talked with the office manager and made an appointment for an intake evaluation. Since their services are rather unique, we had to wait awhile before we could get in. Today was finally the day.
(don't you just want to sit in one of these rocking chairs, rocking a little one and watching the world pass by?)
We prepped Chloee by explaining that we were going to a place that had lots of toys and kids that also had their Mommy's or Daddy's die and that it was a place where we could talk about our feelings. At the mention of toys and kids she was totally on board and was excited when we pulled up.
We got there early and had time to figure out how to change the clock in my car and soon a cute blonde head popped over the porch and asked if we were there for her.
Cute blondie is L - one of the intake counselors. She welcomed us in and explained that group therapy happens during the weekdays so there weren't any kids there, just us. She showed us downstairs and while Chloee and Poppa played in the volcano room, I filled out paperwork.
(Grief rights - it's all about the child)
The tour was unbelievable! It's in an old house so there are lots of rooms, with lots of different functions happening in them. Down by the basement volcano room where Chloee was playing was also a drawing room. She encouraged Chloee to draw a person. Any person she wanted to. She drew herself with a great big heart.
Next, we were taken to the check in circle. This is a room full of pillows that are layed out in a circle. Each person chooses a pillow to sit on and then the talking stick is passed around. The person with the talking stick is the only one allowed to talk at the time. The talking person gives their name, tells who died, and how they died. L went first. Her daddy died. His death was a suicide. His brain was sick and he chose to make his body stop working. She passed the stick to Chloee. Chloee gave her name, told us that her Mommy died and that she died in bed. The stick went to Poppa whose daddy died and he died of lung disease. The stick finally came to me. My daddy died because his heart stopped.
(a memory hutch)
Next we were shown to the Sanctuary room. We were told that this was special room and that we needed to be extra quiet and to be extra careful. The walls were lined with pictures. This room is where the kids can bring a picture of their loved one who has passed away and pin it up on the wall. They can go there where it's quiet, look at the picture and spend quiet time. Both Splenda and I got huge lumps in our throats looking at those pictures and wondering about the children left behind.
We were led to another area, where another volcano room was. A volcano room is a room that is completely padded on the walls and floor. It has huge cushions and bean bags. The kids can jump and romp and not get hurt. Next to the second volcano room was a craft room that also held their memory boxes. Boxes that the kids can create and leave memories of their parent who has died. They can open that box, and go through it's contents any time they want to feel close to them. There was a puppet show room with tons of puppets and stuffed animals. Games and toys, and then a dress up room. Literally a kids paradise but with a specific purpose behind every room.
While Chloee got busy playing, we talked with the counselor. It was nice to review everything since Christmas eve, talk about our concerns and get important feedback on what to expect and how to help Chloee. L is a great listener! She has a unique perspective herself in that she started at The Sharing Place as a child whose dad committed suicide. She never left. As she grew older, she became certified and now gives back as a volunteer. More on that in a minute. With her unique life perspective, she was able to identify with Chloee and us. She was instantly endeared to me!
They only do group therapy sessions, and they don't do them in the summertime since it's hard to get kids there when it's warm and fun outside. We have to wait for an open spot and hope that when they start back up in September that she will be able to go. I asked about cost and what we learned was quite interesting. They are a non-profit organization that functions on donations. They ask the families to offer a pledge and to pay that pledge each month. The families pledge what they feel like they can pay. They do two fundraisers a year, but don't expect the families to attend because they are expensive and the families are already dealing with enough. There is only one paid position for the center and the rest are all volunteers. L herself volunteers two days a week and then some Saturday's for intake's. Their funds are limited, and they have to stretch every dime to somehow make it a dollar.
Their sole purpose for existing is to help children. They start at age three and go up through the teens. She explained that some places do not accept children under the age of 8 because of a belief in some psychology circles that children under that age do not grieve. They believe otherwise, have research to back it up, and offer their services to the "little's" that so badly need it.
(the prayer and memory flag garden)
Chloee cleaned up the toys she was playing with, got some cookies from L in the kitchen and we said goodbye with a packet of information to read, some names of a couple of therapists for individual therapy and some reassurance that we were doing the right things.
As we drove away, Splenda and I shared our feelings and as usual, we were on the same page. Our faith in humanity had been restored. Here was an organization that exists solely to help children. No money to be made. No profits to be had. People who give hours of their own time to help children who may not have any other resource to assist them. Little ones who need to know that there are other kids just like them. To know that they are not alone, not isolated. That other kids also have Mommies or Daddies who died. To know that they will be okay. We both felt like a little burden had been lifted. We were and are doing things right. We know what to watch for, what to expect and how to help Sis. It felt good to talk to someone who is trained, certified and knows what we are up against. There are adult sessions that happen upstairs while the littles are in their group session and I think that is going to be helpful.
The center is located right next to the cemetery that Splenda's dad is buried in. We went over, showed Chloee his headstone and explained that Poppa's daddy was buried there. Just his body. His spirit was in heaven just like Mommy, but his body was here and when we want to feel close to him, we visit here. We showed her the last name on the headstone (she knows how to spell her last name) so she could make it personal. We asked her if she wanted to go to where Mommy's body was buried and did she want to take something for her grave?
We stopped at the Target, and she picked out several pinwheels. We headed to the cemetery and tried to locate Jill's grave. We found where we believe her to be. There is no grass, just the dirt. No headstone yet. That was a little confusing to Chloee but we explained that sometimes it takes awhile for it to get placed, and that they were probably waiting for spring to plant the grass. She was okay with that. She looked it over, helped push the pinwheels in, and then ran off to jump over headstones (we asked her not to step on them out of respect, so she made a game of jumping over them). While there, we also sent some love from a close friend of Jill's as well as our own love for her. It's a blessing that the cemetery is so close to our home so that we can take Chloee there often.
The Sharing Place is an amazing service. If you looking for a worthwhile place to donate some of your extra funds to, they would gratefully accept them. I know that Dave and I will most def pledge a generous amount every month and look into attending their fundraiser so that we can give back as well. There will always be children who will need these services. Death doesn't ever go away. It strikes and is an equal opportunity striker. You never know if you will be in this situation or if someone you love might end up needing their help. There is no cure. No research. No possible reprieve. But there will always be someone needing the assistance. Splenda and I are extremely grateful for L and her time today and for the help they will be able to give Chloee and other children in the future.