In our grief support program, families break into small groups by age, where the children and parents/guardians meet separately. Each group has its own volunteer facilitators who lead the discussion and direct age-appropriate activities designed to help participants express their emotions constructively. One of our favorite things about The WARM Place is seeing our peer-support model at work. It is so inspiring to see children, adults, and families from all life arenas walk alongside each other in grief. No matter what the cause of death, circumstances or situations, people connect through giving and receiving support.
This is apparent in the friendships that developed in one of our Pre-K groups recently. MaryBeth Koenes, a WARM Place parent, tells her story:
You never think you’ll experience the death of a loved one. You don’t picture yourself ever sitting in circles of grieving spouses and parents. You can’t imagine your life without all the very important people in it. But when it happens to you, all you can do is hope it won’t take you down, never thinking about the people you will meet because of it.
It was the afternoon Pre-K group at The WARM Place where we first met. Our spouses had all passed away within months of each other and we were still trying to find our feet again. We sat through painfully emotional afternoons together for weeks. It was only when the group was coming to a close that we realized what a sweet connection we had made in that room- hearing and sharing our stories. We shed tears, passed kleenex, divulged the deepest struggles of raising grieving children while we tried to manage our own grief. It was not the sort of thing for the faint of heart and some days we didn’t want to talk or even listen, but somehow we kept showing up.
A few of us exchanged numbers on the last day of our group, we were desperate to keep a line connected to the only people we knew who were going through exactly what we were. Although it wasn’t a sure thing, we all hoped we could meet for a playdate sometime. We had no idea what we were in for. In less than six months we were in a daily group text unloading our raw distaste for our new normal, planning much needed getaways together, meeting regularly for brunch, tears and an ever-growing morbid sense of humor, and wrangling our kids for play dates at the pool “with the other kids who don’t have a daddy either.” All of the sudden, we were in this together.
It’s been about a year since we traded numbers and if we go more than five days without seeing each other, we can feel it in our bones. Our kids are best of friends. The life that has come from our shared experience with death has changed the course of our journey forever. I have always had amazing friendships, but I never thought I would meet the kind of friends I found during the darkest time of my life. We are each so different and so much the same. We all have unique yet eerily similar stories. And most of all, our children have found a cluster of best friends who know exactly how they feel when the daddy-daughter dances come around when their mom is the only one at their game on the weekend, and that uncomfortable feeling when people ask “Which one is your daddy?”
It’s invaluable, these relationships we found right in the middle of our sorrow. And we are thankful for it every single day. We treasure each other, support each other, and fight for each other. We cry, laugh, and whine together. And when we’re out and about roaring with laughter, our favorite question to answer is, “So, how did all of you meet?” We sweetly exchange cunning smiles across the table and then, like a bomb, we drop the answer on whatever poor, unsuspecting soul dared to ask us such an innocent question that day. We enjoy it thoroughly. But even more than that, we often end up walking away from very impactful moments with complete strangers where we’ve exchanged stories of some of the darkest pains humanity ever feels- love being ripped away unexpectedly, the grave slowly creeping up on those closest to us, the ache of loss, the agony of emotional torment, and so much more. Strangers become friends.
We love each other deeply, and for that, we will always be thankful for The WARM Place. They created a space for us to never have to walk this journey alone.