Kim Kerrigan is truly one of our WARM Place heroes. Kim attended The WARM Place as a young adult and then later gave back as a volunteer facilitator for 10 years. As Kim ends her time as a volunteer with The WARM Place, she shares how meaningful her experience has been. Her words speak to the mission of The WARM Place and the impact it can have on just one life, which can then impact so many more lives.
Tonight was the end of one of the most amazing experiences in my life. After a truly wonderful 10 years, I am hanging up my volunteer facilitator hat at The WARM Place. “What About Remembering Me” is a grief support center for children, and I have had the pleasure of facilitating groups of young teens through the grief of losing their mom or dad.
What a ride it has been. My journey with The WARM Place began in January 2008. I had just moved to Texas seven months prior, was working full time and in the middle of studying for the CPA exam, when my dad suddenly died of a heart attack. My coworker, Sharon, knew of the WARM Place and quite literally dragged me there, and I began attending the Young Adult group. I attended the spring, summer, and fall sessions in 2008 and learned how to deal with my grief and how to live my “new normal.”
In February 2009, I attended training and then began my journey of facilitating on Sons and Daughters (S&D) IV night. In 2011 due to a new job schedule, I switched to S&D II and began volunteering with my two amazing co-facilitators, Laura and David.
Words seem inadequate to describe what TWP, the kids, and my fellow volunteers have meant to me on this journey, but here’s the best I can do.
I have said many times that The WARM Place literally saved me. I am a huge proponent of TWP (if you know me, there’s a very good chance you’ve heard me talk about it) because I can’t imagine being where I am in life without it. TWP gave me the tools I needed to handle my grief, but more importantly, it taught me that I am not alone. The value in walking through the death of a loved one with others who have experienced what you are going through absolutely cannot be measured. I have spent 10 years and approximately 1000 hours “giving back” to TWP, and I don’t think it will ever feel like enough. I can’t ever repay the kindness and comfort TWP and its people have bestowed upon me.
In my years of volunteering, I have walked beside hundreds, probably thousands, of children who have experienced the death loss of a parent. Although I’d like to say that I made a difference in their lives, in reality, they have made a difference in mine.”
Anyone could have been there for those children, but I feel blessed that I was one of the ones who got to be part of the experience. I cannot tell you how much I learned about resiliency, hope, determination, and strength from these amazing children who experienced the tragedy of losing their parents at such a young age. The impact of these children will not be forgotten. Over the years, my co-facilitators and I have continued to reminisce over those children who tugged at our heart strings. I imagine I will continue to reminisce the rest of my life. I hope that all the children we have encountered will have learned to be at peace with their circumstances.
Over time, our group of volunteers on S&D II have become like a family. Seeing them every two weeks and sharing our lives together has been such an amazing part of my volunteer experience and one that I never would have imagined. You guys have seen me through so many ups and downs in my life and supported me through it all. Thanks for teaching me that “it’s okay to be happy and laugh” and “it’s okay to be sad and cry.” I am better for having known each of you, and I am grateful.
Laura, David, and I have facilitated a group together for the last 8 years. I really can’t imagine better people to get to work with. Laura, every single group I am blown away by your positivity. It’s 100% authentic, and it’s a beautiful thing to witness. You have brought light to our group, and you are a wonderful example to the kids of how you can find joy even after losing so much. David, you have an uncanny sense of being able to read what the kids AREN’T saying. Your insight is amazing, and I love that you aren’t afraid to ask the kids hard questions to make them work through what’s bothering them. You guys know that one of the hardest parts of leaving TWP is leaving our group.
If you’ve made it though reading this far, bravo! I’ll just close with this last memory. When a child has attended TWP for awhile and has gotten to the point in their grief journey, where they feel that they are ready to move on from TWP, we do a closing ceremony for the child on their last night. At this ceremony, we give them a bag of seashells, and I am usually the one who explains to the child what the seashells represent. I pull out a seashell from the bag and explain that the seashell is representative of their grief journey. When you arrive at TWP, you are like the outside of the shell- rough, bumpy, beaten by the waves. You don’t see how things will ever get better. But through your time at TWP, you learn that there is a smooth side to the shell. There are good times, happy times, and easy times. We hope that by the end of a child’s time at TWP, they have more “smooth” days than “bumpy” ones, but the shells are a reminder that in life, both types will always exist. But our hope is that the tools from TWP can help carry you through those hard days. I know they will for me, too.
I led a closing ceremony my next-to-last time at TWP, and I cried, knowing that my time at TWP was also coming to a close. One thing I’ve said to almost every child that has been in our group is that we are all part of a club that no one wants to be part of. No one wants to lose someone they love. But together, we have found the strength to keep going. I am forever thankful.
In our group, I’m kind of known for my love of quotes, so instead of goodbye, I’ll leave you with this:
“If there ever comes a day where we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay there forever.” -Winnie the Pooh