Encore March 2014

Page 16

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The Youngest Grievers

Journeys program helps kids, families cope with loss Theresa Coty O’Neil

Courtesy/Tina Kaiser


Dr. Michael Kaiser poses with his children Evan and Alanna on the first day of school in 2011. He died five months later.


Nico Studios

hen Tina Kaiser’s husband, Dr. Michael Kaiser, died from cancer in February 2012, she began a new life as a single mother to her two children, Evan, now 8, and Alanna, now 7. While both of Kaiser’s children were able to talk about their father’s death, she found that her son, in particular, would sometimes hold in his sadness because he didn’t want to make her sad too. She wanted a way for her children to find support in their grief and to learn about ways to support them herself. “After the death of someone close, it can take all of your energy to physically get up in the morning to take care of your family and household,” says Kaiser, who also has two college-age stepchildren, Megan and Danielle. “You don’t have the energy for anything else. Just because the kids are at school and you’ve actually showered that 16 | Encore MARCH 2014

day, and you look OK on the outside, it doesn’t mean you are exactly OK.” Her husband spent his last few days with hospice services, and she felt fortunate to learn through them about Journeys, a support group for grieving children, teens and their families started by Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan in 2002. Journeys, which meets the second and fourth Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each month at Grief Support Services at Oakland Centre, 2255 W. Centre Ave., offers an ageappropriate support program for preschool and school-aged children and teens, along with their caregivers, who may also need help recognizing and understanding the symptoms of grief in their children. “At school, kids who have experienced a death may have 20 kids surrounding them, but they don’t have any idea who has lost

someone important in their life. Here they can look around them and know and see others who have lost someone,” says Amy Embury, a grief support counselor with Journeys. “We give kids a language they can use about what it is they’re going through. One of the things kids say they want is to be told the truth. We talk about death and what it’s like, and we help caregivers answer questions about what it’s like. They can go beyond, ‘I don’t feel well. I’m sad.’” Journeys isn’t just for people who have used hospice services, as many might assume because it’s under the Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan umbrella; it’s for any caregivers and any children who have lost someone close to them, whether a parent, grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle or friend. “Support groups like Journeys help normalize grief too,” says Laura Latiolais,

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