In honor of Volunteer Appreciation Month, we want to make time to reflect on the beautiful hearts who choose to serve our bereaved youth by giving selflessly on the frontlines of our peer-support programs. The death of someone important to us is a life-altering event, especially to a child or teen who has never experienced such a devastating loss before in their young life.
The death of a parent, sibling, or other important person in a child’s life is one of the most frequently reported disruptive childhood experiences. The Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model (CBEM) approximates rates of U.S. youth who will experience the death of a parent or sibling by the time they reach adulthood. According to the CBEM report, 1 in 12 children in Indiana will experience the death of a parent or sibling by age 18.
So, how can we as adults support the young people who are trying to make sense of something so devastating?
Being present to their pain is the first step.
Because we know children can be extremely resilient, we may find comfort in this belief and unknowingly we allow them to become invisible in their pain. Instead, our volunteer facilitators walk alongside them in their grief journey, validate their experiences, and give them a voice to express their pain. By being a calm and consistent presence, our volunteers can initiate trust that opens a door to vulnerability.
Creating a safe place for them.
Here at Erin’s House, children and teens are given an opportunity to participate in support groups with their peers that have experienced a death. Our volunteers create a safe, inclusive space for them to express themselves without judgment. When a child’s feelings are validated, we often see a decrease in the feelings of isolation that often accompany a death and grief becomes much less overwhelming.
Providing creative outlets for children.
Our volunteers engage our participants in activities such as drawing, journaling, active games, including music and movement to foster individual expression of their grief and the emotions surrounding the death. We believe there is no wrong way to grieve. We know children can become confused when they have competing feelings of sadness, joy, and guilt at the same time. We think that is not only normal but okay to feel multiple emotions at once while trying to process our grief.
Erin’s House volunteers are the heart of our programs allowing our youth to embrace all the emotions, good and bad, related to the death. Our volunteers allow themselves to become small so our children and teens can grow through their grief. When we recognize that grief is bigger than we are, we give ourselves freedom to embrace the pain and allow it to transform us.
Do you know a heart healer? Please take time to thank them for building hope and making a generational difference for a healthier future.
Do you want to join our team of heart healers by volunteering as a facilitator? We need you.
Ellen Roemke | Director of Volunteers