By Avani Papadopoulos
In Central Indiana, there is only one place children can receive support when they are grieving the death of a loved one, and that is at Brooke’s Place. Brooke’s Place is a safe place for children and their families to grieve and share the stories of their loved ones. Children sometimes need a large support group to mourn, and Brooke’s Place provides just that. They give children and their families healthy coping resources, acceptance, and time, allowing these children to express their grief through play. By volunteering at Brooke’s Place, you could help do the same!
When a child comes into Brooke’s Place, they are given a paper saying, “You Are Loved.” Many children who have lost somebody close to them forget this and feel that they have been abandoned or that they are unloved, so Brooke’s Place facilitators and volunteers want to remind them that that isn’t true. National statistics from brookesplace.org reveal that, “Five percent, or about 1.5 million children, will have one or both of their parents die before age 15; one in every six children will have a parent die by his or her 18th birthday; 63 percent of a sample of 190 high school students experienced the death of a peer. Of those, 96 percent stated they were ‘emotionally impacted’ by the death.” These rates are extremely high and show how often grief affects children’s lives and how Brooke’s Place can serve as an effective resource for many of them.
To understand these numbers at a more local level, statistics obtained through the Indianapolis Star from January 1, 1998 to March 31, 1998 (right around the time Brooke’s Place was created) revealed that, “3,389 people died in Indianapolis and the surrounding areas. During that period of time, 41,289 children’s lives were touched by those deaths. Using these numbers, it is estimated that during 1998, 13,556 Indianapolis area residents died and more than 165,156 children were affected.” Again, there are many children who are affected by death, however, not all of these children have a support system to turn to, which is why Brooke’s Place is here to help them.
One of the many ways Brooke’s Place guides children through the healing process is by providing them with different options of how to express their grief. Because grief comes in many forms and expressions, Brooke’s Place sets up activities for children that allows them to express those emotions. For example, when a child is feeling very angry, Brooke’s Place has a room full of punching bags, which the child can use to hit and express their anger in a way that doesn’t hurt themselves or anybody else around them. When a child is wanting to calm down, they go to the Expression Room where they can listen to calming music and draw and make crafts. Such coping skills allow the child to grieve safely.
On Brooke’s Place’s website it is written that, “After attending Brooke’s Place Ongoing Support Groups, 70% of those aged 6-29 felt they had increased their healthy coping skills, and of those in Brooke’s Place Therapy Services, 86% expressed an increase in healthy coping skills.” So, most people claim that Brooke’s Place is effective and that it has provided additional support through their healing process.
Brooke’s Place also allows children to meet other children in the program and helps decrease the feeling of isolation during the process. Their website states, “After attending Brooke’s Place Ongoing Support Groups, 73% of those aged 6-29 reported decreased feelings of isolation, while those in Therapy Services saw a 93% decrease in feelings of isolation.” This demonstrates how families reported an improvement in their mental health with decreased feelings of isolation. Therefore, if more people volunteered as Brooke’s Place facilitators, then more children would be able to meet each other, relate to, and help each other.
Many children who don’t have the proper tools to mourn safely tend to act out and can potentially harm themselves. Brooke’s Place gives these children the tools they need to protect their mental, emotional, and physical health and well-being. Such tools can prevent many children from dying by suicide. Because many children don’t have the resources to go through a healthy process of grieving, they are more likely to die by suicide than those who haven’t been affected by the death of a loved one.
One study from the National Library of Medicine suggests that, “young people who had lost one biological parent showed a significantly increased risk of attempting suicide (relative risk = 1.71, 95% confidence interval = 1.49-1.96). Losing the remaining parent nearly doubled the risk (relative risk 2.7, 95% confidence interval = 1.48-5.06).” Essentially, what this means is that the relative risk or ratio of suicide when neither parent dies versus when one parent dies is 1:1.71 while the ratio of suicide when one parent dies to when both parents die is 1.71:2.7. By not giving children the proper tools to mourn, one can see how they are affected by a parent’s or both parents’ deaths and may harm themselves due to it.
To protect the safety of a child, all Brooke’s Place facilitators have been trained to notice any warning signs that a child may indicate when he or she has suicidal ideations or is going to attempt suicide, so they can stop the incident from occuring.
Unfortunately, children who aren’t taught healthy coping skills have a higher chance of abusing drugs or alcohol in the future. After a study was conducted by David Brent, MD, results found that “Major depression and alcohol or substance abuse 21 months after the parent’s death were more common among bereaved youth than among comparison subjects. Offspring with parental suicide or accidental death had higher rates of depression than comparison subjects; those with parental suicide had higher rates of alcohol or substance abuse.” According to the study’s results, there is a link between grief and alcohol/substance abuse, which can affect the child the rest of their lives.
Brooke’s Place helps prevent such things from happening with the emotional support they give, allowing children and their families to communicate with others who have lost somebody very close to them and also allowing them to express any feelings without the fear of being judged by any of the Brooke’s Place facilitators.
Children who don’t have accessibility to support groups such as Brooke’s Place tend to also have a higher chance of being diagnosed as living with a mental illness. According to a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh discussing the link between grief and mental illnesses:
The bereaved children had higher rates of depression than nonbereaved children for the first two years following the parent’s death, but not in subsequent years. Children who were less than 12 years old when their parent died were more likely to have depression than those who lost a parent in adolescence. Grieving children also had higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than non bereaved children at all time points.
Mental illnesses affect many people, however, it is common among children who have experienced the death of somebody and can affect other aspects of the child’s life when not taken care of. For example, areas where children may be affected by grief are in academics and schoolwork. David Brent, MD, concludes, “We found that kids who have lost a parent are more than twice as likely than nonbereaved kids to show impairments in functioning at school and at home, even 7 years later.”
School is important as it fosters the learning of a child, however, when the child is too preoccupied with grief, it can easily block their way from achieving their utmost potential as well as affect education and job opportunities in the future. Brooke’s Place includes a library that is located in the same room where support groups take place and children are encouraged to read material from there (many of the books are about how to cope with the loss of a loved one), which can help them process their grief through a more academic/educational way.
Most importantly, Brooke’s Place gives children the opportunity to heal within their own time. Children and their families can come for as long as they want. There is no schedule or order to grief, and Brooke’s Place makes sure that all children and their families who come understand that. Brooke’s Place facilitators offer support to anybody who comes through their doors, and they enjoy guiding families through the healing process. Although there is variety in the ages of people who come, workers at Brooke’s Place believe that everybody who has lost somebody has the natural instinct to heal themselves and has the capacity to heal, which can be made more accessible through the coping skills and love provided by Brooke’s Place. With your help as a volunteer at Brooke’s Place, thousands of children and their families can heal and learn from their grief! To learn more about this organization and how to volunteer, you can visit https://www.brookesplace.org.