As I write this, it is Children’s Grief Awareness Day. Our family has had our share of grief, as many families have, some monumentally more than others.
Grief never really goes away. Like a companion, we learn to live with it. Just as your love for your child never really goes away. It only changes.
In an interview between Anderson Cooper and Stephen Colbert on the podcast “All There Is” Cooper plays a clip from “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” with Andrew Garfield. On it, Garfield discussed his grief, “So if I cry, it’s only a beautiful thing. I hope this grief stays with me because it’s all the unexpressed love that I didn’t get to tell her.”
Grief is unexpressed love.
The new companion does not come into our lives easily. But if we are willing to make a space, and allow it to pull up a chair at the table, grief becomes the mode through which we stay close to those who have died, through which we feel the nearness of those lost.
Often children grieve when their caregivers are also grieving. I first toured Jessica’s House in 2018, when the grief around my heart was still raw. The mission of Jessica’s House is to provide “support in a safe place for children, teens, young adults, and their families, at no cost, because no child should ever grieve alone.”
No child should ever grieve alone.
In that same interview, Colbert referenced this act of “going down with that person into their grief.”
Cooper said, “the loneliness of grief is extraordinary. And just someone acknowledging that you’re going through it is a consolation.”
Jessica’s House began in 2012 to bring grief support to the community through peer support groups for children grieving a loss.
In 2021, Jessica’s House opened its new permanent home in Turlock in 2021. Jessica’s House currently supports more than 800 individuals from 38 surrounding cities through nine specialized peer support groups as well as a school group program at various school sites in Stanislaus and Merced counties, including in Hughson Unified School District.
Grief Support Groups include parent loss, sibling loss, hope after suicide, hope after homicide, hope after accidental overdose, COVID-19 loss, grandparent loss, HeartStrings (pregnancy loss, infant loss and stillbirth), and groups offered in Spanish.
A tour of Jessica’s House
Approaching Jessica’s House, one walks up to an expansive wraparound porch, a welcome open door and seasonal decor. Inside the door, a wall of hearts dresses the wall. On the other side of that wall stands the circular talking room, the heart of Jessica’s House where groups open and close their evenings, inviting attendees into a vulnerable safe place where they can share without judgment or stigma about the loved one who has died.
I took a tour with Natalie and Colleen. At the mention of a loss, they pause, make space, and ask the name of the person to whom I referred. The tone is loving, respectful and makes room for conversation to go where it will, but still with a gentle plan in mind and guidance in place.
The tour began with that Circular Talking Room, where the roundedness of the space creates an architectural challenge and wonder in how it affects those sitting in the room. It feels safe, somehow, where even I on duty felt free to participate honestly in the check-in they modeled for me.
After the Circular Talking room, which feels a bit like a hug, they showed me the many play spaces, art spaces, dramatic spaces, outdoor spaces, music spaces and so much more. Each room is designed intentionally from its colors to the objects that inhabit it and how they are stored to create stability, beauty and predictability for children whose home life may be caught up in the chaos of grief.
But beyond the spaces is the philosophy that acts as the structure of this house. Jessica’s House approaches grief with a companioning model. “It’s an invitation for them to share about their person and for them to honor their person and keep their memory alive by being here and having that safe place to share about,” Colleen said. As peers facilitators and staff reflect back the words said by children and parents during group sessions and activities. “There’s a lot of healing power and having a witness,” Natalie explained.
We grieve in community
We grieve community, they explained, and so many activities are designed to act as a metaphor that help teach these lessons, in a place where the children and families know someone will hear them and walk with them.
To learn more about these resources, contact us at (209) 250-5395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.