When I was first asked to help out at the Good Mourning program, I assumed I would be an extra set of hands to help set up, serve dinner and clean up. Little did I know I would be one of the three facilitators for the teen support group. When I found this out, I was hesitant, because I didn’t know how a public relations major would be able to help kids deal with their grief.
After training with Nancy Carst, a bereavement coordinator at Akron Children’s Hospital, I read different articles and watched several short videos explaining how to help teenagers deal with the loss of a loved one. With more information, I realized I was in for a new learning experience, and I was excited to start.
I remember driving home after the first week of Good Mourning feeling so sad for these grieving teens. I couldn’t imagine going through the loss of a parent or a sibling. But I knew these teens needed help, not pity, so I focused on helping them work through their grief.
After the second meeting, the teens began to open up to the facilitators and explain what they were feeling inside. We had them make worry bags, filled with scraps of paper stating what they worried about the most. They had at least 10 pieces of paper in their bag, if not more.
On the third week, we had the teens participate in an activity called “sand play.” For those who aren’t sure what this is (I had no clue before witnessing it firsthand), sand play consists of individual boxes of sand and hundreds of figurines and objects that participants choose to describe how they are feeling. It was amazing to see the teenagers so quiet and focused on their sand trays. After successfully placing their objects, the teens were given a few minutes to describe why they made their sand tray the way they did. As the facilitator, my role was to sit back and observe. By listening to the teens’ explanations of their “perfect world,” I got a better sense of the coping skills they needed over the remaining weeks.
I was also introduced to art and music therapy during the fifth week of the Good Mourning program. During the hour-long session, the teens were able to play a variety of different instruments and create one-of-a-kind art projects to take home. The teens made “talking sticks,” wrapped with colorful string and beads. Art therapist Barb Greenwood explained that the teens could write the name(s) of their loved ones on the talking sticks to honor them. The talking stick could also be used in a group setting, where the person holding the stick is the only one allowed to speak.
The last week of Good Mourning was my favorite week. Not because it was ending, but because of the transformation I witnessed in all of the teens. They were able to find closure in some way, and were given activities to help them throughout the rest of their grief journey. My co-facilitators and I decided to return each teen’s grief bag during our final session. Three of the teens took out their original pieces of paper, full of their worries, and ripped them up. They explained they didn’t have those worries anymore, and that, to me, was the most rewarding part of the program.