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MEET: Rachael Burtnette

Volunteer and Previous Erin’s House Participant

Losing my mom when I was just thirteen turned my world upside down. While she was walking our dog, she was hit by a car and it left me completely shocked. I’ll never forget the moment I passed the accident on my way home from a volleyball game, knowing deep down in my heart that it was her. The panic set in when I arrived home, and it was my grandma who gently broke the news.

Not long after her death, my dad and older sister took me to Erin’s House. I remember the pizza dinners and bouncing around in the Volcano Room as my favorite parts. Through the supportive community and open communication, Erin’s House normalized my grief, showing me I wasn’t alone in losing my mom. Surrounded by peers who shared similar experiences, I felt understood in a way I hadn’t at school. Recalling that sense of belonging all these years later had been on my heart for a long time. I finally decided to leap to volunteer with the organization that had supported me in a challenging time in my life. Erin’s House is such a great cause and it felt so good to come back and begin supporting others.

At each start of program, we begin with opening circle where we introduce ourselves and our person who died. I have enjoyed seeing the kids let their guard down in groups each week knowing they’re in a safe space. It feels like a full circle moment that I’m back at Erin’s House talking about my mom again, now with the purpose of helping kids with their grief. I get to share the feelings I felt when my mom died and it normalizes all the experiences the kids in my 6-to-9 age group are feeling too.

For many people, grief can be an awkward or uncomfortable subject in that we don’t know what to say when someone else experiences death. It can be even more challenging for a child to feel like an outsider to their peers after a death. Erin’s House helps children feel like they belong and feel understood.

One thing I think is important for people to know about Erin’s House is that it’s not all sadness. There’s so much laughter, play, and happy memories being made there, just how I remembered it. It’s ultimately a safe and fun place for kids to show up as they are with their emotions to be comforted and understood by all.

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