The Kids' Place

 

Written by Amy Dee Stephens in the November 2015 Issue

No one goes through life without experiencing the death of a loved one—but sometimes it’s a child who loses a parent, sibling, friend or other family member. The Kids’ Place: Grief Support Center was established to offer them a safe setting to express feelings of anger and sadness, to provide coping skills, and to assure children that they are not alone in their mourning process.

Jen Foster, administrator of The Kids' Place“Our aim is to allow children to learn that it’s okay to get emotional and to feel what they feel,” said Jen Foster, administrator of Kids’ Place. “We are not a counseling center, but we are a place where small groups of kids can talk about their feelings through guided peer discussion with other children their own age.”

The Kids’ Place formed in 1995 in response to children who lost loved ones in the Murrah bombing. Since then, nearly 400 families have attended, seeking help for children who’ve faced death due to natural disasters, car wrecks, suicide, disease and so on. Because Kids’ Place is a non-profit organization, there is no fee for its services, and although the Edmond Church of Christ has oversight, there is no religious preference or pressure. The facilitators are trained volunteers who have helping hearts and a willingness to serve others.

Rex and Micki Carney have volunteered at Kids’ Place for nearly 20 years. “We don’t have a magic wand and we can’t rescue them—but we can walk with them on their journey,” Rex said.

“Grieving is not a process you go through and then you’re done,” said facilitator, Teresa Townsend. “It’s a slow process of finding a ‘new normal.’ Until then, people need to know that they’re not crazy for feeling devastated.”

Townsend understands this firsthand, as she attended Kids’ Place as a child. Her father passed away when she was twelve, and she and her sister participated in the peer-support group for several years. Later, in adulthood, Townsend was invited to become a facilitator herself. It has not always been easy, but it has been rewarding. 

“These families have been dealt a tough situation. I hand them a tissue and take one myself,” Townsend said. “By the end of most sessions, I feel better, though, because I gave these families a chance to have this positive experience they need. Many of them come in angry or closed off, but as they attend meetings, they see others facing the same problems and start to find their own ways to cope.”

Because grieving looks different to a four-year-old than a ten-year-old, the children are broken into very small groups by age. Two adult facilitators lead themed discussions, which cover topics ranging from mourning techniques to dealing with holidays. They talk about how it feels on Donuts with Dad Day or Muffins with Mom Day at their school. Some children attend a few times, others attend for years.

Jen Foster, administrator of The Kids' PlaceAlthough Kids’ Place is focused on children, parent support systems are held in conjunction with the children’s sessions so that adults can grieve separately. Caregivers or parents who have lost a spouse have to learn healthy mourning techniques for both themselves and their children. It’s common to find that while parents are putting up a good front to protect their children, the children are also hiding their emotions to protect the parent.

As the administrator, Foster understands that this process never really ends. “Grief is never over,” she said. “You live with it, but hopefully, over time, things get easier, and you learn which triggers to avoid and how to face them. It’s okay to feel sad and to talk about your lost one.”

Foster’s infant son, Brett, passed away in 2006. She shares the story of driving past a cemetery five years after he died. “I had a nervous breakdown, crying hysterically,” Foster said. “I called my husband and said, ‘I have a baby in a cemetery, and I don’t know how to handle that!’ You never know when grief is going to strike.”

“The facilitators can make sure that families are having healthy reactions by giving them tools for their emotional toolbox that can last a lifetime,” Foster said.

“Life is never the same after you’ve lost someone,” Rex said. “But you move forward, one day at a time, and things get smoother.”

“The best thing is when a family says they’re ready to go,” Foster said. “We love them and miss them, but we know we’ve done our job successfully.”

The Kids’ Place is located at 801 S. Bryant Ave in Edmond. Visit www.edmondkids.org to learn more.

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