As the holiday season approaches and another year comes to a close, I’d like to take a moment to say thank you. In January 2016, The Dougy Center will mark three years of providing grief support groups in our new home, serving more grieving children and families per year than ever in our history. We would not be here without the generous support of community members like you and for that you have my most heartfelt gratitude.
There are so many things that I could thank you for today - for our new Pathways program supporting families facing the final years of a family member’s advanced serious illness, for the 450 children and 300 adults who receive bi-weekly grief support groups without ever paying a fee, or for the opportunity to offer assistance to communities after horrendous tragedy, as I did when I was asked to assist at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon
It is your generosity, your compassionate heart and your unwavering commitment that has the greatest impact on the lives of grieving kids and families in our community. Have no doubt, grieving children are getting the support they need, when they need it most, and it is because of you.
Because of this, I’d like to ask you to consider making a year-end gift to help grieving children and families today. Your tax deductible gift of $1,500 sponsors one child and one family member for one year of grief support group services.
For Lyuda, Maxeem (11), and Aneeka (8), support from The Dougy Center has become a crucial part of their family’s healing. Lyuda and her two children began attending grief support groups after Damon, beloved husband and father, died in an electrical accident while they were visiting Lyuda’s family in Russia.
Damon was only 38 years old when he died. He had just completed six years of rigorous study to become a naturopathic doctor and the family had planned a celebratory vacation to spend time with Lyuda’s family before he finally opened his medical practice back home in Portland. Just before the trip, he had printed his first business cards designed meticulously with a healing image - the aspen leaf.
“Damon was helping my mom clean out some gardening equipment using an electric water pump. Somehow, the water got into an outlet and he was electrocuted. In that moment, my world shattered,” Lyuda shared.
“Raising my kids on my own seemed impossible. I held Damon’s hand before he was cremated and promised him that I would do everything I could to be the best parent to our kids - for both of us.”
Today, Lyuda, Maxeem and Aneeka all carry a copy of Damon’s aspen leaf business card with them wherever they go.
Aneeka was 3 years old and Maxeem was 6 years old when they began attending The Dougy Center. Lyuda had learned about the program from a friend. The two inseparable siblings both love to run around the outdoor play area, create masterpieces in the art room, and stage elaborate productions in the theater and puppet room.
When Aneeka turned 6 years old, she joined her brother’s grief support group where, Lyuda says, Maxeem looks out for his sister and encourages her to be confident.
“I like coming to The Dougy Center because you can talk to other kids who have had similar things happen,” says Maxeem. “You don’t HAVE to talk about the person who died, but if you do, you know that other kids understand. We’ve made so many friends here.”
Aneeka shared that recently her school classmates were talking about family members who play musical instruments. One classmate turned to her and asked, “What instrument does your dad play?”
“That made me feel awkward because when I say that my dad played the guitar but he died, my friends don’t know what to say or how to react. At The Dougy Center, it’s not awkward. The kids in my group know what it’s like to have a parent die.”
Reducing social isolation and providing opportunities for connection are two of the most impactful benefits that your contributions to The Dougy Center are providing to grieving children every day. Your gift today will directly support our Grief Support Group program - making possible that safe space where grief is okay, where play is okay, and where there are other kids who understand. At The Dougy Center, no child feels alone in their grief.
As you might imagine, the holidays can be especially difficult for children who are grieving. Every gift to The Dougy Center provides an immediate, positive impact in the lives of grieving children in our community and we thank you for your generous heart.
With your support, families like Lyuda, Maxeem and Aneeka find comfort in times of deep sadness. Your past support has made our work accessible to all grieving families without ever charging a fee for our services. The Dougy Center would not be here without you. Thank you so much for your generous support.
the importance of saying goodbye
The end of the school year is traditionally a time when many participants in our program close from their groups. At The Dougy Center, children and teens get to decide when they are ready to stop attending, a choice that provides them with a sense of power and control in their lives. When a participant closes, we do a special rock ceremony that enables group members to say goodbye and appreciate the child, teen, or adult for what they contributed during their time at The Dougy Center. The participant who is closing picks four rocks: three that are smooth and one that is rough. These rocks are a metaphor for process of grief - when rough rocks toss together in a tumbler, they come out smooth. Similarly, when grieving families gather in group to talk, laugh, cry, and play, their grief stories come together, smoothing out some of the rough edges. In the closing ceremony, the three smooth rocks represent the parts of grief that have grown easier while the rough one is a reminder that no matter how much time passes, there can still be moments when our hearts hurt for the person who died.
During the rock ceremony, each member of the group gets to say goodbye to the person who is closing. This is an important part of the program as many of the children, teens, adults, and volunteers didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to the person in their life who died. Some participants talk about memories of time spent together in group. Others share how they where positively impacted by the person who is closing. For some, who are newer to group, they give the rocks a big squeeze filled with good wishes for the person’s future. While it can be uncomfortable to take in appreciation and well wishes from 16 or more people, everyone who does remarks on how powerful it is to realize that by sharing their moments of both pain and celebration, they made a meaningful contribution to their group. When we say goodbye and appreciate those who are closing, we focus on specific things they did or said that made a difference in the group and our lives. Rather than say, “You’re so mature,” we might appreciate a child for how his insightful questions helped generate rich conversations in the group. Specific appreciations help those who are closing know they were seen and heard for all the ways they contributed to others in their group. It also gives those who remain an opportunity to express their gratitude to the person who is leaving.
You can support The Dougy Center by joining our new monthly giving program: The Smooth Stone Society. Smooth Stone Society members donate $83.33 a month (which equals $1,000.00 over the course of one year) .Your donation will directly support the programs that make The Dougy Center a welcoming space where families find they are not alone and can share their experiences of grief with others who understand. Your support helps smooth out the rough edges of our participants grief. To find out more about the Smooth Stone Society and how you can become a member, please visit our website. On behalf of over 400 children and 350 of their family members who find refuge at The Dougy Center every month, we are deeply grateful for your support.
Throughout our 33 years of providing grief support groups we have often heard these words,
“I wish we could have come to your support groups sooner. It was so difficult to help my children when my husband was sick. I had no idea how to tell my kids that their dad was going to die. I felt so alone.”
This new program, Pathways, is unique to The Dougy Center and unique to the Portland community. Although people facing stage 4 cancers, ALS, heart disease and other advanced serious illnesses do have access to significant supports through hospice and other programs, there are sadly few resources available addressing the needs of children and teens before a family member’s death. For many years we have felt that we could do more to help these families. Today, with Pathways, we can. And we need your help.
I hope you will join me in supporting our new program by making a gift of $1,500, $750 or any amount that is comfortable for you today. Your past support has given comfort to so many grieving children and teens. Your support today will have a tremendous impact on families as they navigate the difficult journey of a parent or sibling’s impending death.
Gail, her son Neal (5 years old) and daughter Athena (3 years old) were one of the first families to attend Pathways support groups. Gail found The Dougy Center when it was apparent that Michael’s death would be soon. “I knew that I would need to get Neal and Athena support after Michael died. I didn’t know about Pathways so I was planning ahead. The kids had a lot of fears already. It was coming up at preschool,” she shared. Gail, Neal and Athena attended three Pathways support groups before Michael succumbed to his illness.
When asked to describe the difference between the grief support groups that they now attend and the Pathways groups, Gail shared, “It’s different than grief after a death… You’re dealing with grief that’s coming but you’re also dealing with the day-in and day-out frustrations of being a caregiver and the struggles with that as a parent and as a family.”
“It was such a benefit to be able to be with others who were going through the same frustrations and struggles. To have the camaraderie of others who understand what it means to take care of your loved one who is dying while trying to support and help your kids. It was so important and helped me keep perspective.”
After Michael’s death, Gail, Neal and Athena were quickly placed in a grief support group for children ages 3-5 years old. “They love coming here. Athena asked if we could live at The Dougy Center. And Neal loves the Volcano Room,” Gail shared. With its cushioned walls and floor, the Volcano Room allows Neal to safely jump, throw things and quite literally bounce off the walls.
“Neal loves being in a place where he can be what others would consider ‘disruptive’. He was always high energy but this has increased exponentially since Michael died. It’s part of how he is expressing his grief – with big, big energy. The Volcano Room is perfect for him to get it out.”
Healthy emotional expression is one of the most impactful benefits that your contribution to The Dougy Center is providing to kids like Neal every day. Your gift today will support Pathways and the grief support groups that are so important following the death of a parent or sibling. Will you join me in supporting our new venture by making a gift of $1,500, $750 or any amount is most comfortable to you today?
The Dougy Center is dedicated to giving children and families the opportunity to grieve in their own way, on their own time after the death of a parent or sibling. Pathways opens a new chapter in our organization’s history. I truly hope you will support this important work by making a donation today.
Gail shared an important insight with us as she reflected on her time in the new Pathways program. She said, “There is so much new and scary after a death. Every day and every little thing you do is ‘new’ without your loved one. To have already established a relationship with The Dougy Center before Michael died through the Pathways program was incredibly valuable for me and especially for my kids. It wasn’t a scary, ‘new’ thing that we had to do. It was part of the routine and they felt safe.”
Your gift today helps families like Gail, Neal and Athena find comfort and companionship in a time when everything feels scary and new. And just like our grief support groups, Pathways is always free to families facing advanced serious illness.
P.S. Pathways is an exciting new endeavor for The Dougy Center and as the program grows, we will need to continue expanding our grief support groups in order ensure space for Pathways families after the death of their loved one. Please give generously today. Every dollar makes a difference in the lives of grieving families.