Circled together in a room, children work through their grief by each taking a moment to share the name of a loved one that has passed away.
“Sharing to the group is the first step of the healing process,” said Gail Cohen, satellite group support specialist. “We believe that no child should grieve alone.”
Serving the community for more than 15 years, Tu Nidito, a non-profit organization, puts on support group sessions every month for families who either have a seriously ill child, seriously ill parent or are going through the death of a loved one. About 1,200 people came to Tu Nidito last year – the only agency with these services in Southern Arizona.
Twice a month, families can take part in one of the groups - each are divided into three age groups: 3.5-7, 8-12 and 13-18. If young adults ages 19-29 want help, they can go to an off-campus support group that meets twice a month.
One staff member, along with volunteer helpers, lead a support group. When families arrive, the children and parents are separated. The staff member always starts off the evening with a question. On Sept. 19, it was ‘what do you think your special person who died would be most proud of if they could see you now?” Answers ranged from accomplishments in sports, being part of a club at school to just being happy in every day life. Answering the question is optional for the children but most find it to be helpful.
“They’re separated into specific age groups because we want for them to know that they’re not alone and that they can talk to the other kids,” said Cohen. “No one has to speak but we’re bringing them together so they can support each other.”
Being able to share in confidentiality is important for the children to work through their grief, says Cohen. Although talking can be helpful, activities like playing games, sports, dress-up, craft activities, and memory boxes often prove to be the most beneficial for the children.
“Kids work through their grief through play. They don’t necessarily talk like adults do. We do grief-related activities,” said Cohen.
Monica Montes, 20, is a volunteer but used to attend the support groups at Tu Nidito in order to help her through the difficult time of her mother passing away. Looking back, Montes saw how Tu Nidito was instrumental in helping her move forward.
“It was good because I was able to come here and feel comfortable and relate with the others here,” said Montes. “I could talk with them and it’s neat to see them (Tu Nidito) still doing the same things for the children.”
Teena Sandstrom, one of the lead support group specialists who started volunteering at Tu Nidito about 11 years ago, has been an employee for the last four years. Having no kind of support when her son and husband died, Sandstrom sees Tu Nidito as a safe haven for families struggling through grief.
“They can come here and feel safe,” said Sandstrom.
In the Northwest, Tu Nidito staff members are currently hosting an eight-week grief support group session, which started on Oct. 15 at Thornydale Elementary School. Each group session runs from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Whether it’s through satellite groups or support groups, Cohen says seeing the growth in a child from when they first attend to when they leave is the most rewarding part of her job.
“The biggest difference is usually the transition of being able to see them talk about the person, talk about their feelings and being able to share that with others,” said Cohen. “It’s so good that we can help them and amazing to see them grow.”
If one wants to volunteer in a future satellite or support group, they can contact the Tu Nidito office at 322-9155.