One out of five children will experience the death of a parent or sibling before they reach 18, explains Dorothy Mockensturm, managing director of Good Grief of Northwest Ohio. In the greater Toledo area, that’s approximately 40,000 children.
Good Grief provides services for local children who are processing grief. “We provide a place and a time for grieving children to come together with other kids their own age who are experiencing a lot of the same things because a death has impacted their lives,” explains Mockensturm. “When they’re together, they can hear other people’s stories and truths, and in doing that, it helps them proces their own stories and their own truths. This thing that has happened to them–this death–can become part of who they are and how they operate in this life without the person they loved.”
Helping to heal
Good Grief is a peer-support organization—not counseling or therapy—where children, teens, and adults can meet and discuss their thoughts and concerns with peers in similar situations. The sessions begin with circle time, where individuals have the chance to introduce themselves and talk about the person who died. Age-appropriate grief-related activities follow, and each meeting allots time for playing and self-expression exercises.
There are no charges for services provided at Good Grief, and “families decide when to step away,” clarifies Mockensturm. “We’re here to hold their hands while they take the journey.” Good Grief only employs three people; everyone else is a volunteer.
Besides helping grieving children along their journey, Good Grief aims to bring a greater awareness to childhood grief. “There are risk factors for kids when childhood grief is left unaddressed,” discloses Mockensturm. “Death and grief are difficult things to talk about. People don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want to make you sad. For children, it can often make them feel ‘less than‘ or ‘different than’ because people don’t know how to talk to them anymore.”
“[Death] is something we need to talk about and address in the school room, home and churches—really everywhere,” continues Mockensturm. “We…need to hold space for that child to process [the death] in their own way. We can’t well-wish them into being happy again. We need to sit with them and be fully present and accept that things aren’t the same and never will be. The beginnings of that start in this kind of setting [at Good Grief].”
Tips for Grieving Children:
Be purposeful and clear with your language. “We always say ‘dead’ or ‘died;’ we avoid ‘lost’ or ‘passed away.’ For a child, that creates a vagueness that is difficult for them to process,” explains Mockensturm.
Be honest, open, and available. “Let a child know that you hurt, too, and you’re always there, willing to talk,” Mockensturm encourages.
To learn more about peer support groups or to volunteer, call 419.360.4939 or complete the online form: goodgriefnwo.org/enrollment/
Families can schedule a time to meet Dorothy or Shana (the program director).