Rick’s Place, located at Post Office Park in Wilbraham, MA, offers grieving young people and their families a place to remember their loved ones and avoid the sense of isolation that loss can produce.
PV Team Members Kelly Haber and Karen Nogueira recently visited Rick’s Place for volunteer training. Although they were nervous with anticipation, they immediately felt welcomed by the warm and comforting hospitality of the Rick’s Place staff. They joined a small group of peer volunteers from all walks of life.
One of the most moving activities the volunteers participated in was the partner grief exercise. Each person was asked to sit across from a partner and recall their first memory of grief. The partners were instructed to listen to the other person’s story without interruption.
“It was a very emotional experience sharing something that you don’t talk about often,” says Kelly. “And then to sit in silence while the person across from you shares their story of loss, that was even more challenging.”
The exercise revealed many lessons about grief support. It’s often our immediate inclination to say, “I’m sorry,” when a person starts to talk about loss, but that’s not always the best way to offer comfort. Volunteers learned that many people who are grieving want to be able to share their story of loss. They want to be heard and supported without feeling as if the listener is trying to fix their grief. Grief is not an illness; it is a natural and healthy response to death. Over time, those who are supported in their grief begin to integrate the loss into their lives.
The full-day intensive training covered a lot of material to prepare the volunteers for the challenging conversations they may face when supporting youth navigating through grief. The volunteers were taught suggested language, as well as non-verbal communication skills.
“The training helped me understand that grief is different for every person, particularly children,” says Karen.
The volunteers were taught the different developmental stages of grief relative to every age. Karen and Kelly were surprised to learn that children as young as three years old can begin to verbalize grief. The instruction included real-life videos and different exercises focused on learning the best ways to respond, such as, “I’m here for you if you need someone to listen.” Volunteers were encouraged to recognize that every person reacts differently, and it can be expected that their behavior will evolve over time.
When we asked Kelly and Karen how the volunteer training changed them, they both shared that they went home and hugged their families a little closer. “The experience changed my understanding of grief and how I can better support people in my life who experience loss,” shared Kelly.
“You don’t need first-hand experience to make a difference,” shared Karen. “We aren’t doctors or psychologists, but the volunteer training made us better prepared to support our community in moments of grief.”
While Rick’s Place often sees a lot of tears, it’s not a sad place. Its walls are filled with games, laughter, happy memories, and unlikely friendships. Volunteers can expect to feel comfortable through the collaborative learning process and take away a better understanding of how to support children and families who have experienced unimaginable loss.
To learn more about grief support services for children, teens, and families, please visit RicksPlacema.org. The next volunteer training will be held in the Fall. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
“The volunteer training was a rewarding experience,” feels Kelly. “It was emotional, life-changing, and made a difference in my life. I’m looking forward to giving back to the families of Rick’s Place.”
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