GREENWICH, Conn. – The Den for Grieving Kids, a Greenwich institution that has helped hundreds of families through trying times, is celebrating 20 years of service to the community.
The Den for Grieving Kids, a Family Centers service, is a rapidly-expanding peer support group for kids ages 3 to 18 and their caregiver who have had a relative who has died.
"It's a safe and confidential place where they can come and share there stories and be with other people so they can understand how they feel and what they're going through," said Linda Weatherseed, Den program director. "And that's huge when you're grieving."
The Den welcomes families on Mondays and Wednesdays twice a month with kids placed into age groups, 3-5 years, 6-9 years, 10-12 years, 13-18 years and parents.
Weatherseed explained that the groups gather for a dinner, then split into their meeting groups. Each person in the room is given the opportunity to speak about the relative they lost, or to pass.
In addition to talk therapy, kids can also blow off steam with activities such as punching balloons. They are also encouraged to participate in "memory-making activities" that honor the likes and traits of the person who has passed away.
"Nobody ever really gets over the death of someone they love," Weatherseed said. "Everybody grieves differently. There is no timeline on grief and people are capable of healing. With help and support, they get through it."
The Den depends on volunteer support, with several trained volunteers helping counsel each age group.
Gerry Male has been with the Den for 19 of the group's 20 years - including a span where he participated in meetings by conference call when he briefly lived in London. He has counseled the 3-5 year-old group and now is in charge of the teen meetings.
He said both groups have been extremely rewarding to work with.
"It's very different for kids when something like this happens to you and you can be with someone else your age who knows what you're going through," Male said. "It really is a great program all around for every age."
The Den's impact has long been felt beyond Greenwich, welcoming families from all over Fairfield and Westchester County. Now the Den itself is expanding, establishing Spanish-speaking groups and school-based groups in Greenwich, Norwalk, Stamford and Darien, Weatherseed said.
"There are very few places that are like the Den," she said. "People are drawn to us because they want to have that support and they're prepared to travel to get here."