Monday, November 14, 2016

Hope. Healing. Peace. : Helping Little Ones Grieve Well

The Junior League has brought so many good things into my life but one of the most beautiful is the McClean Fletcher Center.

I've mentioned it a lot but I haven't shared many details, but this year for my Junior League placement I am serving at Mississippi's only grief center. Some families drive over an hour both ways to help their children heal as they work through the grief that comes with the death of a loved one. The deceased can be anyone the child was close to- a sibling, a parent, a grandparent, or a friend. And these services are provided at zero cost to these families.

This has been my absolute favorite placement and I loved Book Buddies last year. It's a lot of things- logistically, it has been the best fit. It's every other week and it's at night. It's the whole school year, but for me spacing it out like that seems to work really well. It's also a mix of adult interaction (we- the volunteers and staff- have a pre-meeting and pot-meeting before each session) and interaction with children. I LOVE the age (eight to twelve year olds) that's I'm working with and I LOVE the group leader in my room. And they feed the volunteers supper as well as the children. It's simple stuff but it's a fun bonus and it's so nice that I'm not having to try to gobble something down before I get there. And I think it's one of the most well-run things I've ever been a part of. It's extremely well-managed and that makes a huge difference for me. But mostly, I just love the actual work. It's funny that I enjoy it more than I did the reading placement last year since I have a degree in education. It's just great to help those kids process such big emotions and be a place where they are heard and validated. Where it's acceptable for them to say whatever. It's also neat because sometimes kids will go home and say things after they seem to have gotten absolutely nothing from group. That's one way it's really different from Book Buddies, where I sort of knew if my efforts were in vain or not.

It's just a really wonderful place. We have group sessions in the talking room with games and posters and crafts and exercises and questions to help kids open up and then they have free time where they can draw, write notes on a dry erase wall to their loved ones, dress up, play games, or take out their anger and emotions in the "tornado room" in a healthy way.

 I was so nervous about if I'd have the emotional reserves for this (and that was BEFORE I realized what an intense post partum experience I would have this time). I used to talk about possibly wanting to be a therapist and Peyton told me when we were dating he just thought it would be too hard on me emotionally. And I assumed the same could easily be said of a place where children go to process difficult- the most difficult- emotions. But I ranked it first. Several people over the years had told me it was a really great placement and I knew I wanted to try it at least for a year. I can't overstate how glad I am that I did! 

I've already learned so much. About how in our culture- and especially in the South- we try to fix things and get over things fast. You can't rush grief, and you sure can't fix it. About how we are afraid to talk about death. We talk about someone passing away or going to heaven or we say we lost a loved one. We need to become comfortable saying "dead" and "died". About how one of the best ways to help a child process is simply to reflect his own words back to him; he'll feel heard and validated. About how it's best to be as direct as possible and disclose as little as possible (e.g. if a child asks about if you believe in heaven it's fine to share honestly but a simple answer and a focus on THEIR feelings is best). I'm learning how important listening is and how much I don't want to force my ideas and beliefs (even my most important ones) on anyone. It's been really beautiful interacting with these young people- watching them heal and learn to work through their grief.

I can't think of many things more important than helping children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling, or loved one process their grief- I know it's some of the most important work I've ever done . I'm so grateful I get to be a part of this.

Thankful wheels at the grief center last week. No shame in my game. 

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