After my father’s death in May 2004, I felt my life could never be the same. I just wanted everything to go back to normal. I was so tired of the sad looks, the long faces. I was tired of people telling me “Keep hanging in there, Sarah.” I was tired of other people doing us favors, bringing us food. I was tired of being someone’s charity case. I was angry, angry at what had happened. And worst of all, I was mad that there was no one to whom I could really talk. I just wanted everything to go back to normal.
A few months after my father’s death, my mom suggested going to The Center for Grieving Children. My brothers and I were strongly opposed to the idea, for sitting around and talking about what happened didn’t exactly appeal to us. My mom’s deal was to go four times and get candy after each one. She never could have imagined how much candy that would turn out to be! We agreed to go, and after the first night we all knew we would be there for much longer than four weeks.
I remember my first night. I was only 11, about to enter 6th grade. I was so nervous, so scared that I would hate this place, that I would never want to come back again. Yet, once I met my facilitators and the two other girls in my group, I softened up and tried to enjoy myself.
I was lucky; my group consisted of me and two other girls all my age! We immediately hit it off, and the three of us formed a close bond that held our group together through the coming months.
At school, I couldn’t talk about what happened. All the emotions were wound up in my head, and I had nowhere to let them out. My friends didn’t understand and I didn’t want to upset my family. I felt like I was the only one. I just followed the same routine I had in past years, yet it was always obvious something was missing. Once I started going to The Center, I met people in a similar situation. The two girls in my group had also each lost a parent, and they were experiencing similar feelings. It felt so good to just talk.
Although our group spent a lot of time talking, we also had a lot of fun. We brought in some sort of food (usually candy) almost every week, and we had a lot of parties. One week we would go a nearby playground, the next we would decorate cupcakes. We shared our highs and lows, and I felt I could tell my group anything. I was so excited to show my group pictures of my family and my father. I became interested in the lives of other people, and I looked forward to seeing them each week.
I particularly loved my trips to the volcano room, where I could rip up phone books for five minutes until the entire room looked like a snow globe of yellow and white paper.
Going to The Center gave my family peace and a time to relax, something that was often forgotten in our busy schedules. We had the best conversations in the car rides home. Each week we left The Center happier and distracted from our often stressful lives.
Everyone at The Center had a story, a reason why they were there. Many of the volunteers were once visitors just like us. About a year before he died, my father told us how sad he
was about the death of the 2 1⁄2 year old son of one of his coworkers. It was very touching to meet this child’s father, Mr. Libby, volunteering at The Center. I felt welcomed at The Center, and so happy that someone cared. One week around Christmas, my brothers and I each came home with a brand new teddy bear and a homemade quilt. To see that someone cared enough to give us those gifts really made me feel much better.
Although it is called The Center for Grieving Children, my mom really enjoyed it too. She could talk to other adults who had lost spouses and children, and she met many people feeling just like her. It was nice to come in each week and see all these families just like us who were so glad to be there. I think The Center helped my mom recover just as much as it helped us children.
When we graduated from The Center, I felt that I had changed a lot. The Center gave me much more confidence and pride, which has proven so helpful throughout my middle school years. The Center taught me to accept my father’s death and to remember him. For my two younger brothers, I know The Center helped them keep their memories strong. We can now talk about my dad without any discomfort, and my brothers feel comfortable asking questions. Going to The Center helped preserve my wonderful memories of my father so that I will keep them in my heart for years to come. The Center for Grieving Children is a truly brilliant place for which I will always be thankful. It is a place bursting with kindness and love.
Written by Sarah Cooley