Melanie: "We always had someone we could talk to."
Melanie, now a law school graduate, attended the Caring Place as the oldest of five children with their mother.
Between Crying and Fighting
When I was 18, my father died very suddenly in his 40s, leaving my mother to raise me and my four younger brothers and sisters on her own.
We went through several months of a whole wide range of emotional episodes. One brother would lock himself in his room. The youngest would never leave my mom’s side. My sisters and I would rotate between crying and fighting because of the anger that we felt.
Finally, after six months, my mom contacted the Caring Place. She spent over an hour on the phone talking to one of the staff there, who she often refers to as her angel. He was able to reassure her that what we were going through was normal and he said that she should consider bringing us to the Caring Place.
"None of Us Wanted to Go"
Of course, when she told us that she wanted us to go to a grieving center, none of us wanted to go. We didn’t want to have to talk about what happened. We didn’t want to have to talk about our feelings. We didn’t think that this was something that we needed.
All we knew was that we had lost our father and coming to a grieving center wasn’t going to bring him back.
My mother asked us to go, she asked us to please go, please go to the Caring Place and give it a try. If we didn’t like it we didn’t have to go back. We finally gave in and it was probably one of the best decisions that my family has made.
I and my older sister and older brother were in the teen group. My other sister was in a group of her own, as was my youngest brother, who was only eight and I believe was probably the biggest objector of coming to the meetings. I think it was the pizza at the beginning that initially changed his mind.
I really don’t know what we expected when we first refused to come. I think we probably expected a more clinical setting where we were forced to talk about our feelings and what happened to us. I think we expected it to be more confrontational and intense.
One thing I do know is that we did not want to have to talk about our feelings to strangers. But it didn’t take long before we found out that we wouldn’t have to. With the "I PASS" rule, no one ever made us say or do anything that we weren’t comfortable with and it didn’t take long before we were volunteering to talk about my dad, and about the things that were going in our lives.
So the Caring Place was not the clinical, confrontational setting that we had expected. The projects and the things that we did in our groups were a way for us to express our feelings and share our thoughts and memories with the rest of the group. And they were also a way for us to express our feelings privately if we didn’t feel like sharing at that particular moment.
Not Alone in Grief
One of the best things about the Caring Place was that we always had someone we could talk to, someone who was in a similar situation and was always willing to listen. My brothers and sisters and I became very close with the other people in our groups and with the volunteers who ran our sessions. Not only did we become more comfortable talking but we became interested in their stories.
The groups were also extremely important for my mother. With five of us to deal with, someone was always in some different stage of grief. With the parent groups, my mom had other parents who knew what was going on, who experienced the same situations and who could understand and reassure her that what we were all going through was normal.
Most importantly, the Caring Place gave us a way to always remember, and it showed us how similar to my father we all were. The people at the Caring Place always encouraged us to remember our loved ones and keep them alive in our hearts. One way that we did this was the quilt square that each family made.
Another way was the memory boxes we made. I still have and use the memory box that we painted and filled with special mementos to remind us of our loved ones. My mom still has many of the paintings and collages that we made and I often look at pictures of our group and the letters and things that we have written to one another. Our groups became an extended family.
The volunteers were always wonderful and so understanding. They became a major part of our lives as did the other families that attended. To this day we still exchange Christmas cards.
Although we had some very good friends and a very supportive family who are always there for us, they didn’t truly understand what we were going through. Unfortunately, we even lost some good friends that didn’t really know how to deal with the situation. At the Caring Place, there was always someone who understood and listened.
After a number of years since the death of my father, I still think about him every day. Although there are still sad moments at birthdays and graduations, I think my family has been able to move on with life and I think that we have done a pretty good job. My mother always says that we had a good foundation to build on but I don’t think that any of us could have done it without her. She’s worked very hard to help all of us get through this and has made sure we all work our hardest everyday to achieve our dreams.
I’m very proud to say that my older brother and sister have graduated college, and my other sister is a junior at college, while my youngest brother is a high school sophomore. I myself have graduated from law school.
"We Are Here for Each Other"
We have had to make dozens of choices along the way and I think one of the best choices that my mom has made was bringing us to the Caring Place. The Caring Place helped all of us get through that terrible time in our lives and helped us to deal with the emotions that we all faced.
When somebody we know has lost a loved one, we know that the best thing you can do for them is to be there and be ready to listen while at the same time understanding that everyone grieves differently and you should give them the space that they may need.
The volunteers and staff understood this and were wonderful people. I feel that if I needed someone to talk to today I could go to any one of them. We would always begin and end each of our sessions with:
"I am here for you,
You are here for me,
We are here for each other."
And I believe with all of my heart that this was true. Because the volunteers, staff and families became [people] we could depend on and they knew that they could depend on us if they needed to.
I only hope that some day I can have an impact on someone’s life in the way that the Caring Place and the volunteers and staff have had an impact on ours.