When the Highmark Caring Place marks its annual Children’s Grief Awareness Day Thursday, it will be looking back as much as it is looking forward.
The Caring Place is a peer support group for kids dealing with the loss of a loved one, but that grief is just the beginning of what the 700 volunteers and staff at four locations help the children overcome.
“When somebody they love that’s close to them dies, often times their role in the family changes,” said Terese Vorsheck, director of Highmark Caring Place. “Sometimes their financial situation changes, which necessitates them moving, changing schools. Even if they don’t change schools, their peers all of a sudden don’t know what to say to them and so at a time when they really need their friends, their friends start to kind of avoid them.”
Often the kids are also wracked with fear that their other parent or siblings will also die in the very near future.
Vorsheck is hoping everyone will wear blue Tuesday to mark Children’s Grief Awareness Day with the hope that it will spark conversations about the program launched when a Highmark employee lost his stepson and realized that while there were places for adults to get help, there was little to no support for kids dealing with the loss of siblings and parents.
“Without the Caring Place and especially without being with kids who had had the same type of loss, I don’t know if I would be able to know that it was ok to enjoy my life, that it was OK to still play basketball and baseball in the street and go have a good time with my parents,” said Daniel LaVellee, whose father started the program. “I think I would have been so lost in grief and so lost in the feelings that I would not have been able to deal with.”
LaVallee and a handful of other Caring Place alumni who are now adults will gather on the eve of Children’s Grief Awareness Day to share their stories and sing the praises of the program.
As part of the healing process, LaVallee made a memory box for his brother. He still has that box more than a decade and a half later and he remembers what is inside.
While LaVallee says the Caring Place made a huge difference in his life, Vorsheck notes that it also makes a difference in the life of the staff and volunteers.
“Often times people will say, ‘Isn’t it hard to do the type of work that you do?’ But it’s really a privilege to do it because if these kids who have already suffered a tragedy did not have a place like the Caring Place to go to then wouldn’t that just double their tragedy,” Vorsheck said.
Children’s Grief Awareness Day is celebrated across the United States, in Hong Kong and in parts of Africa.
The Caring Place will also use the day to dedicate a new “Tree of Growth” at its facility downtown. When kids and their parents come into the office for the organization’s free services, they are created by an enormous tree that has been painted on the wall. Each of the more than 3,000 leaves on the tree bears the name of a child helped by the program. That tree is now full and a second wall has been painted with a new tree.