Last week, more than 450 grief counselors and administrators from all over the US and Canada gathered in Richmond, Virginia for the 21st Annual National Symposium on Children’s Grief, hosted by the National Association for Grieving Children. WARM Place Counselor, Gina Brown, and I were fortunate to attend.
The conference is such a moving experience. Gathering together with people who have a shared passion lights a fire of inspiration in me each time. We learn together and we learn from each other. Gina and I visited different workshops so we could receive as much information as possible to share with the rest of our team at The WARM Place. Some of the topics we learned about included:
- Talking with Children about Suicide and Violent Death
- Tools and Strategies to help Parents of Grieving Children
- Hands-on Art Activities for the Grief Journey
- Utilizing Therapy Dogs in Grief Support Groups
- Deconstructing the Case for Complicated Grief
My biggest takeaway happened during the plenary sessions. On Thursday, we heard from Harold Ivan Smith, D.Min., a grief specialist and author, as he shared stories about US Presidents who experienced the death of their children. It was deeply sad to hear how some of our most stoic Presidents experienced so much child loss during their presidency. Abraham Lincoln experienced the death of 2 sons while he was President. His youngest son, Tad, grieved the death of his brothers and then the assassination of his father three years later. Tad (who was named that by his father because he “wiggled like a tadpole” as an infant) sat with his father on his death bed. The next morning, after President Lincoln died, Tad stated,
Pa is dead. I must learn to take care of myself now. I am not a president’s son now. I will try and be a good boy, and hope to go someday to Pa and brother Willie in Heaven.”1
Sadly, Tad died at the age of 18 from complications of tuberculosis. President Lincoln’s wife, Mary, survived the death loss of three children and her husband. You can learn more on this topic through Dr. Smith’s book Grief Keeping: Learning How Long Grief Lasts. I was greatly impacted hearing so many stories of child loss in the White House; reminding me that grief is timeless and personal, and that everyone does their best to survive.
Another poignant address came from Andy McNiel, the departing Executive Director of the NAGC. He made a tearful plea for all of us to remember our calling to this mission: always find the grieving child; the one who is hidden; the one who is lost and cannot be seen. His reminder was simple but powerful: companion that child through their grief journey. Grieving children need all of us. They need adults who give them permission to grieve, a safe space to grieve, and they need the guided support of their peers. As I listened to this important reminder from McNiel, I felt such pride to be part of The WARM Place and our mission.
If you would like to join us in that critical mission, we have a new Group Facilitator Training coming up in September! Contact Natalie for more information about volunteering at The WARM Place or fill out our online application.
All my best,
Lisa Nichols, M.A., LPC-S
1 Wead, Doug (2003). All The Presidents’ Children. New York: Atria Book