Liz Geller, LPC-MHSP – Program Manager
Megan Ingram Forshey, LCSW – Program Manager
As we reflect on our work in the last year and what we hope for the year to come, it is truly humbling and heartening that our days are overflowing with such beautiful moments of human connection. Entering into a new year can sometimes bring excitement for a fresh start and a sense of hope. Other times a new year can usher in a brand new loss or fresh waves of grief. But what we know about this year and this community, is that our members will continue supporting one another through life-altering and profoundly difficult experiences and by celebrating good news and successes along the way. Exemplifying our mission and the power of human kindness and holding an incredibly special place in our hearts are our Kids and Teens Grief Support Groups.
The process of how humans process and experience grief is unique at any age. Knowing that grief can be messy and unpredictable, we aim to meet kids and teens where they are emotionally and give them the time and space to express their feelings in healthy ways.
We do that in a variety of ways in group meetings, including opening with feelings check-ins and learning ways to identify and express their emotions, practicing new mindfulness skills, sharing memories and photos of their loved ones with each other, creating an expressive art project together, writing stories or letters, using drama and improvisation to act out emotional experiences and role play coping strategies. We also support one another through difficult milestones like birthdays and holidays.
While grief is the common theme, some days group is about a new favorite song, the school assignments they don’t want to do, or the fun day they just had with their best friend. Some days we break out in spontaneous dance parties, which inevitably end with them laughing at their group leaders attempting to “be cool” by testing out the latest TikTok moves. Some days it is helpful to talk about their loss, while others it’s just as helpful to remember that it’s okay to focus on the ways they can find joy in simply being a kid.
Children who lose a parent or loved one often find that their friends and peers can’t relate, which can increase feelings of sadness and loneliness. Just like adults, kids and teens need to know they are not alone. They also need to maintain connection when they lose a loved one, especially during a pandemic that has compounded feelings of isolation and separation.
We honestly didn’t know if/how our kid’s groups in the Clubhouse would translate virtually. But as they so often are, our kids and teens have been OUR teachers. They have shown us the latest and greatest memes, how to use emojis, and how to use the chat feature over Zoom. They have led us with enthusiasm and awed us with their flexibility to embrace this new, necessary, and sometimes awkward way of connecting.
Most importantly, they have reinforced what we have always known at Gilda’s Club (though a reminder never hurts). Our Kids and Teens Groups have reminded us that our members, no matter their age, are the experts, and the wisdom is in the room as it has always been.