This is Part I of a blog series about ‘closing’ at The WARM Place – What does it mean to close? When is it time to close? and What happens after I close?
Sometimes in grief, the most difficult feelings to work through are feelings of “unfinished business.” One of the biggest sources of unfinished business is not having a chance to say goodbye to loved ones. At The WARM Place, our children often participate in activities that allow them to say goodbye in a symbolic way through journaling, letter writing, balloon releases and other meaningful ceremonies. These activities allow children to externalize unexpressed emotion in a way that helps them achieve a sense of completion.
The more complete their story feels, the better equipped they are to move forward in their grieving process.”
Unfinished business doesn’t just apply directly to the death of their loved one. We are a people of “story” after all, and sometimes it is necessary to look back before moving forward. At The WARM Place, we provide open-ended support groups, meaning children and their families start and end their groups at various times. Once a family is placed in an on-going group, the family attends for as long as they feel it is needed. We encourage families to collaborate with staff members for help in determining when their children are ready to ‘close’ and no longer attend their group at The WARM Place. In Part II of this series, we will discuss ways to determine how to know when your kids are ready to close.
When a family is ready to stop attending group, we plan a special “Closing Ceremony” as a way to help the children reflect on their experiences at The WARM Place and say “goodbye.” They are invited to share with their group the strengths and coping skills they have learned, how other group members have helped and supported them on their grief journey and identify special things gained from The WARM Place that they plan to take with them as they continue their grief journey on their own. A special closing card is passed around to all the group members to sign and write words of encouragement and inspiration for the child to take with them.
Children are also given a special keepsake, a small bag of seashells, that is a physical representation of their time spent at The WARM Place, and a metaphor for their grief. The smooth side of the shells represents times in our grief when things seem to be going “smoothly.” The ridged or rough side of the shells represents times in our grief when we hit challenges or “rough” patches. Children are invited to identify personal strengths and coping skills they developed at The WARM Place that can help make “rough patches” easier to navigate. To finish, the children participate in a group hug and share a final goodbye with their peers.
Formally “closing” out from the groups at The WARM Place is a powerful way for children to gain a sense of completion. It symbolically represents their acceptance of the death of their loved one and the sacredness of their time spent at The WARM Place. It allows them to move forward free from “unfinished business” and optimistic about their future. We encourage all our families, when possible, to participate in a closing ceremony. If you have participated in a closing ceremony at The WARM Place in the past, we invite you to share your thoughts and experiences below.