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.
As the end of the year approaches, I’d like to take a moment to say thank you. It has been an incredible year of growth for The Dougy Center and we would not be here without you. So, from the bottom of my heart and before I write another word, I have to stop and say… thank you.
Thanks to you, 1,729 grieving children, teens, young adults and their adult family members received orientation and grief support group services.This represents a more than 10% increase in our services in one year!
Thanks to you, four new grief support groups were started including two Family Nights for families with both elementary aged children and teenagers – eliminating the need for these families to attend two separate support groups.
And thanks to you, we continue to provide biweekly grief support to 450 children and 300 parents each month without ever charging grieving families a fee for service.
And those are just a few of the many, many reasons I could thank you today. Your support has meant that hundreds of children get the support they need after the death of a parent or sibling. One of these families is the Boyce Family. Steven Boyce and his two sons, Jackson (11 years old) and Alton (8 years old), began attending The Dougy Center last year when his wife and highschool sweetheart, Mary, died after a long and difficult battle with colon cancer.
Being born and raised in Portland, Steven knew about The Dougy Center. Mary’s family had been patients of pediatrician Dr. Alan Chappell, our founder’s husband, for their entire lives.
“Mary was sick for a long time. She was diagnosed at Stage 4 in 2009. In the years before her death, Jackson and Alton were amazing and strong but, after she died, I immediately thought about The Dougy Center and how they were going to need support.”
Steven brought his sons to a Dougy Center orientation in the fall of 2013 and, thanks to the increased space in our new home, Jackson and Alton were placed together in a grief support group for 6-12 year olds. “I would hate it if I couldn’t be in the same group as my big brother,” says 8 year old Alton.
The Dougy Center has been especially important for Jackson, who struggled in school after his mom’s death. His dad shared that “Jackson is very sensitive and had a hard time with his emotions after Mary’s death. Kids at his school didn’t understand what he was going through. He was essentially bullied all the time for crying about his mom.”
“Other kids understand what I’m going through in my Dougy Center group.” says Jackson. “I like to have fun on the playground but it’s also good to get your emotions out – happiness, sadness, anger…. The last time we were here, I went ALL OUT on the punching bag.”
Healthy emotional expression is one of the most impactful benefits that your contribution to The Dougy Center is providing to grieving kids every day. Your gift today directly supports our Grief Support Group programs – 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 bullied for expressing their feelings of grief.
Grieving parents find support at The Dougy Center too. Steven shared, “The Dougy Center is one of the only places where I can talk openly about my grief – the good, the bad and the ugly. And no one judges me for it.”
Lastly, whether locally, nationally or internationally, The Dougy Center’s mission is this: to provide a safe space for children, teens, and their parents to forge their new path after the death of a loved one. At The Dougy Center, we have the privilege of walking with them along that path. I hope you will join us as we walk alongside grieving children and families this holiday season. As you might imagine, this time of year can be especially difficult for grieving kids. With your support, The Dougy Center will be able to help even more families who are beginning their journey through grief.
Steven shared a lovely metaphor with us that we would like to share with you today. He said, “From my experience with Mary’s death, I know that hospice nurses are like angels to the dying. What I’ve learned in the last year is that The Dougy Center is like an angel to the grieving.”
Your gift helps families like Steven, Jackson and Alton find comfort in times of deep sadness. Your support makes our work accessible to all grieving families without ever charging a fee for our services. Thank you so much for all you do for grieving children in our community.
Donna L. Schuurman, Ed.D., FT
Chief Executive Officer