The Caring House
By Ann Marie Martin
“I was 7 when my daddy died, too.”
The little girl, 9 at the time, spoke calmly. We’d just finished our group sharing session in the Opening Circle Room at The Caring House of Hospice Family Care. One by one, children and adults had said their own name and the name of the person who’d died in their family.
“I remember,” I replied, just as calmly. “That’s something you and I have in common.”
She nodded. We smiled. Then she went off with the other “middles” kids, ages 7-12, to play in the Game Room, paint in the Art Room, or toss stuffed animals at padded walls in the Volcano Room.
Losing a loved one hurts no matter how old you are. It’s a hole ripped out of your soul that never completely closes. But when you’re a child who’s lost a loved one, especially a parent, you face fears unique to your age.
“Who’s going to take care of me?” worries the child who’s lost a primary caregiver. (If death can come once, it can come again.)
“Who can I talk to?” wonders the child whose friends don’t want to think about death or maybe just don’t know what to say. (Children may hide their true feelings from grieving family members because they don’t want to upset them.)
“Children grieve differently, which requires a specialized support group,” said Lee Shaw, Hospice’s business development manager. “We are trained and modeled after the Dougy Center, the National Center for Grieving Children, and have the expertise to provide that support in peer–to–peer groups.”
The Caring House offers a safe place for children ages 3-18 to talk honestly about their loss and learn how to live with it. It’s okay to cry at The Caring House. In fact, that’s one of the rules.
A grief journey is never a straight path. Emotions go up, down and all around. Waves of sadness alternate with bursts of anger. But sometimes you feel like laughing and having fun. While I was a volunteer facilitator, a couple of our kids came up with this variation on the rule: “It’s okay to feel how you feel.”
An evening at The Caring House may be managed by adults, but it’s very much driven by the kids, their needs and the connections they forge. Another rule written by our kids addressed the feelings of isolation that can come with loss: “Don’t leave others out. It’s not right.”
“Children are often known as the forgotten mourners,” Shaw said. “With the support of The Caring House, they do not have to grieve alone.”
Hospice Family Care, Madison County’s only not–for–profit hospice, has been helping people navigate the end of their lives with as much comfort and dignity as possible since 1979. Hospice opened The Caring House in 1995.
I started volunteering with The Caring House when Hospice was located in a strip of offices on Drake Avenue. Then we moved to a larger office building off Ivy Street. During all that time, we dreamed of having a real house. Now that dream is a reality with a white picket fence.
“It has been such a blessing,” Shaw said. “It would not have been possible without our community and Huntsville Hospital Foundation.”
With a new home, she said, the program has grown to offer specialized support groups for parents who have lost children, families affected by suicide, and children whose loved one has a serious or chronic illness.
“We also are now able to host our Caring House summer camp, Camp Good Grief.”
Learn more about The Caring House at hhcaringforlife.org.