Children’s Grief Center offers hope to children and teens after the death of a loved one

The Center’s main campus-Midland location is now at 4708 James Savage Rd.The lighting of a candle, a painted rock with a singular written emotion, or a colored thread wound around a handmade heart are just a few ways that can help a child cope with the death of someone in their life.

When it comes to grief — especially that of a child or teen — there’s no written manual. And no one way works for everyone, says Children’s Grief Center Executive Director Camille Gerace Nitschky.

She says a candle's light can remind children, “we might have darkness in our grief, but that the spark stays lit and offers us hope,” she says. “We’re here to support them and to let them know we can get through this.”

Nitschky says children and teens need a place to grieve on their own terms and to feel safe to do so.

“It’s a slow process that has its own language; oftentimes, shared by no words at all. The process of dealing with grief and the death of a loved one or a person in a child’s life can and does look different for everyone.”

To say the word “die” can be difficult to say out loud and hear. That’s where the center serves as a safe place to meet, talk, cry and grieve. 

“Hearts are broken. [Death] is mental and physical stress. [The center] is a place to do the emotional work,” she says.

Children work on projects together, like this beading circle, to help cope with the loss of someone they know who has died.All staff and volunteers are thoroughly trained in the areas of grief with a mission to provide a healing environment for children, teens and their families grieving a death, says Nitschky.

The Center’s main campus-Midland location is now at 4708 James Savage Rd. and was established in 2014. Before moving to their new location, they met in other facilities including Messiah Lutheran Church. Their Saginaw location is at the Mid-Michigan Children’s Museum and their Bay City location is at the Great Lakes Dream Center.

A Midland family learns to communicate and grieve together

Jennifer, Dennis and Brenden Bass of Midland agree the center helped them grieve after the death of their son and brother, Theryn, age 15. 

“I couldn’t talk about Theryn without crying, and we were having a hard time communicating as a family,” says Jennifer. Attending “group” at the center, Jennifer says “helped us to open up our conversations as a family; knowing that we’re going to get through this and that other people know what we’re going through helped us a lot as a family.”

“I never felt judged. I felt I belonged," says Brenden, who is 15 in this photo (right).When the Bass’ first began attending group, then 15-year-old son Brenden participated in activities with other children and teens, while Jennifer and Dennis spoke with other adults about their loss.

“We may not have communicated as well as a family without group,” says Jennifer. “Just by people asking us questions [about Theryn] and knowing that we could talk to others and cry, helped us come together as a family.”

Brenden and Amber attend group at the Children's Grief Center in Midland.Children and teens participate in many different group activities that encourage honoring the memory of the person in their life who died. Whether it’s playing a game that promotes communication, talking about that person as part of a favorite memory or creating a craft, children are able to work through those emotions.

“It’s an amazing support system. It’s opening up their minds to a new language of grief,” says Nitschky. “It’s ok to say ‘die.’ We don’t candy-coat death. It hurts. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Brenden Bass says when he started attending group, he was filled with anxiety. He says the opportunity to talk about his brother served him extremely well and helped him cope with that anxiety and stress.

“I never felt judged. I felt I belonged. I had a lot of racing thoughts and anxiety,” says Brenden. “I really do see that it helped me with all of those emotions.”

Now, as a 19-year-old, Brenden is giving back to the center as a volunteer. 

Brenden Bass lays the new floor at the Children's Grief Center.“I’m so appreciative to everyone and I want to spend as much of my time helping out, especially in the summer at the camps,” says Brenden. “I do see a lot of light in what they do. A person can say anything and feel safe. It really helped our family a lot.” Brenden even helped lay the floor and other recent renovations at the center. 

The mission of the center is to provide a healing environment through peer support for children, teens, and their families grieving a death.

The center’s vision is “to continue to expand awareness about the impact of grief and each individual’s ability to build resilience, strength, and hope by acknowledging and working through grief. Through this creative process, we advocate, we educate, we facilitate, we connect, and we thrive.” 

The center will hold an open house of its new facility at 4708 James Savage Rd. today, Sept. 9, from 3-7 p.m. There will also be a ribbon-cutting ceremony from 4-4:30 p.m.

To join a group, donate or volunteer contact the center at childrensgriefglbr.org or call 989-495-9335.

Read more articles by Erika M. Hirschman.

A veteran freelance writer and former reporter with The Midland Daily News, Erika Hirschman has covered a wide array of topics in Midland County including education, human interest, local government and crime. Erika holds a journalism degree from Marygrove College/University of Detroit-Mercy.

 

Erika is an award-winning reporter, and has written for various newspapers and magazines in the state. When she’s not writing, Erika loves to read and travel, dance in her kitchen with her family and two dogs, and advocates for cancer treatment and research. She’s lived in Saginaw County for 25 years.

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