Losing a parent as a child is a loss like no other, leaving kids scared and scarred. But with the support of family, friends and their community – including many resources on the Internet – they can survive and thrive, learning a resiliency they never knew they had.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in 20 children under the age of 18 will experience the death of a parent. In Michigan, that represents more than 117,000 grieving kids.
Fortunately, many online resources exist locally in Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties to help children metro Detroit children – along with state and national lifelines. Read on to discover the incredible groups that truly “get it” and are here to guide children through the unthinkable.
Many grieving kids have linked into this site to share common experiences – including Casey Papp, 12, of Brownstown, Mich., who lost her mother to cancer when she was 9. An only child, the middle schooler found comfort in a variety of people and programs, including HelloGrief.org, a Facebook-style site solely for those with a loss or people helping grieving kids and their families.
Established by Comfort Zone Camp, the nation’s largest bereavement camp for children who have experienced the loss of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver, HelloGrief.org’s online community allows users to create a profile, share photos, create memorial walls and seek support in forums.
Users connect with others experiencing a loss, share stories and learn that they are not alone in the grief process. The site’s goal is to provide information and resources about grief in order to break through the current culture of avoidance that surrounds death and loss.
Jim Henson’s beloved puppets provide guidance for little ones once again in perhaps their most challenging topic yet – grief. Families and children will find a familiar faces in Elmo, Rosita and a cast of Sesame Street’s most popular characters.
Elmo’s Uncle Jack has died, and Elmo’s cousin Jesse is struggling to come to terms with her father’s death. At the SesameStreet.org grief site, videos show Elmo talking to his own dad about Uncle Jack’s death and Elmo’s dad comforting his grieving niece. Another features Jesse showing her family what’s inside the memory box she made to store memories of her father. And one video has real kids talking about how they keep their mom or dad’s memory alive – and how they express their sadness, anger and frustration.
The site also has a downloadable “feelings journal.” Each page prompts grieving kids to write how they are feeling that day, and one hard thing and one good thing that happened to them. The site also provides “When Families Grieve,” a special guide for parents and caregivers with 20 pages of tips for sharing, talking and finding comfort together.
Finally, “Caring Cards” are available to download, too; they include tips for families on finding strength together. Each features a suggested activity to encourage talking, crying, listening, connecting and hoping. The “hope” card, for example, instructs children to trace their hand and, within the outline of each finger, write or draw one thing they are looking forward to (like spotting the first butterfly of spring or learning to ride a bike).
Parents and caregivers are encouraged to preview the site and its contents before introducing it to the grieving child.
Other sites for grieving families
Myriad other resources exist for grieving children, their families and those who love them. Here are a few that may help you in your journey.
Ele’s Place: With locations in Ann Arbor and Lansing, this nonprofit, community-based organization offers peer support group programs to help kids cope with the death or life-threatening illness of a parent or other close family member or friend.
Michigan Network for Grieving Children: A site designed to provide assistance to Michigan families seeking information on how to support a grieving child.
National Alliance for Grieving Children: A network for nationwide communication among hundreds of children’s bereavement centers that want to share ideas, information and resources with each other to better support the families they serve in their own communities.
National Center for School Crisis & Bereavement: Provides information on how schools can support kids who are dealing with loss and crisis.
New York Life Foundation: A site providing support to parents, family and teachers of bereaved kids.
SandCastles Grief Support Program: Established by Henry Ford Hospice in 1997, this group is focused on providing a supportive and nurturing environment for southeast Michigan kids. It has eight metro Detroit meeting places, including Detroit, Clinton Township, the Downriver area, Livonia, Rochester, St. Clair Shores, Southfield and West Bloomfield.