In the course of being kids, the expressions are the same - even in the face of tragedy. "They often look like they are doing ok because they have to be kids first," says Patricia Duff of the Bereavement Center of Westchester in Mt. Kisco , New York . So it follows that the true effects of losing a parent or sibling shouldn't be looked for on the face of a grieving child.
Mired in feelings like guilt, anger and regret, which are typically frowned upon in daily life, children reflexively repress them and later in life they can return
Under the umbrella of the Bereavement Center and begun 15 years ago, the Treehouse is set up to bring young families together in a forum structured toward children. "When they come to us, they have to feel safe in the group before they will talk," she says.
So every other Thursday, families come to The Presbyterian Church of Mt. Kisco at 605 Millwood Road , start off with a pizza dinner and then break down into groups based on age. The kids may sing a song to begin and gradually move into sharing their feelings of loss or fears of a future that has only one parent.
At the same time, the Treehouse realizes that kids cannot just sit and talk for 90 minutes. They may play feelings bingo or a musical chairs game that follows a theme geared toward bereavement. On the other hand, she says, "If we feel they just need to play - we let them play."
All in all, the atmosphere lets them move in stark contrast to the way they instinctively proceed in school. Knowingly in the minority, letting others in on their pain is not the norm. "Kidswant to be like everybody else at school so they don't want to show their emotions," she says.
That could possibly be the case in some homes but even if families are open, a similar silence could emerge without outside intervention. "A lot of kids worry about their surviving parent or guardian so often they will not want to talk about it for fear that it will upset the parent," she says.
With that said, the Treehouse helps provide parents the tools they need to move forward with their kids, but the feelings of adults aren't left out either. This gives them one place where they can go, see other young families and realize they aren't the only ones going through this, she says.
In turn, the healing is not simply the shortest distance between two points but a circular journey without endpoints. Not only do you receive help but you give help and that's a wonderful feeling to be able to help another young parent by sharing what has worked for you, she says.
In other words, she adds, "It makes you feel more normal in an abnormal situation," and the proof is in the members who return as volunteers to take their turn as group leaders at the Treehouse.
Nonetheless, the children taking part in this process at the Treehouse are much more the exception to the rule. "We're not reaching every kid that this is happening to by any stretch of the imagination," she says. Currently, with only 30 families enrolled in Mt. Kisco - and none from the large immigrant community - she seems sadly right.
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