The Dougy Center peer grief support groups

by The Dougy Center
Swinth Family
Swinth Family

The season of giving and gratitude is upon us and we’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you. Thanks to the generous support of community members like you, we are now serving over 500 grieving children and 350 adult family members each month at one of our three Dougy Center locations. And thanks to you, we moved more than 185 kids off our waiting list, and into the grief support group they so desperately needed.  The grief support services we provide are free to every single child and family member who walks through our door, and that is because of you.               

Kitty lived life in the moment. She loved to smile, laugh, and connect with people. She taught her children to have compassion. She embodied grace, courage, and determination in everything she did. In the workplace, she was a beloved colleague – a leader in value-based healthcare. At home, she was a wife and mother of four young children. But in April of 2014, she lost a five-year battle with breast cancer, leaving her husband Mark to care for their children, Emily, Kira, Tucker, and Milo.

Prior to her death, Kitty told Mark about The Dougy Center. A place she knew would provide her children a place to connect with other kids grieving the death of a parent; a place she knew would also provide her husband the support and resources he needed as a grieving and newly-widowed father.

Initially hesitant to go to The Dougy Center, Emily (16) and Kira (15) didn’t know what to expect. Kira said she “imagined a hospital room with chairs in a circle” and the last thing she wanted was to spend more time in a hospital setting. Instead, the girls found a safe place that felt like home. Emily shared “I immediately found friends and people I could talk to.”

Tucker (12) and Milo (9) were excited to go to The Dougy Center from the very start! Tucker liked that The Dougy Center “encouraged expressing yourself through play and having fun with people who really understood”. Tucker likes playing instruments in the music room, bouncing off the walls in the volcano room, and playing air hockey with friends who have had similar losses. Milo said he “started making friends really fast.”  Milo enjoys making popcorn upon arrival, and playing in the theatre room and game room.

Mark found solace in talking with other parents dealing with common challenges and struggles. “you weren’t born with a muscle for how to talk about grief,” Mark shared. “It’s helpful to have a safe and welcoming setting where people can come together, communicate and share. “

When a parent dies, it is a major financial blow for any family “After such a loss, you start to go through the family budget and you look for things to take out. And it’s not enough, so you go back. It’s a real puzzle.  Because Dougy Center services are free, it made it possible for us to go.”

Today, Mark, Emily, Kira, Tucker and Milo have been Dougy Center participants for one year. And without support from The Dougy Center and people like you, their grief journey would look very different.  They found a place to grow, process, reflect, and connect and hope these services will continue to be available for any grieving family in need.

You can help make a difference in the story for a family like this one. With your gift, you help ensure that no child feels alone in their grief and that all children have the opportunity to access our services for free.

The Dougy Center does not receive insurance reimbursements or government funds. We rely solely on donors like you.  Your gift will support the type of place where grief is okay, where play is encouraged, and where there are other grieving kids and adults who can truly connect.

Kitty was known for instilling compassion in her children. Our ability to provide free grief support services depends on your compassionate heart. Every dollar makes a difference in the lives of grieving children, and we thank you from the bottom of our grateful hearts. 

Swinth Family2
Swinth Family2


It’s August which means many families are preparing for the start of school. When families are also grieving,  this transition can bring a mixture relief, dread, excitement, and trepidation.

Much like work for adults, children and teens spend a majority of their time at school and they take their grief with them. For some children and teens, returning to school is comforting. They find support in the structure, familiarity, connections with friends, and the opportunity to focus on something other than grief. For others though, it can be a challenging venture that brings additional stress, uncertainty, and worry. What to think through and how to help depends on a number of factors. How old is your child and what grade are they in? Who died in their life and what was their relationship? How did the person die? When did the loss occur? There’s no formula for how the answers to these questions affect someone’s grief, but they are important to consider as you sort through how to best support your child or teen in returning to school.

No matter our age, we engage with grief on many levels: emotional, physical, cognitive, spiritual, and behavioral. Whether it’s the emotional ups and downs of relating with peers, focusing on schoolwork, or having to talk about family culture and beliefs for a project, school can be a place that connects with multiple facets of grief. If a death or other loss occurred over the summer, returning to school can be extremely charged. Even for those who are familiar with being in school while grieving, each year brings new challenges and milestones to face without the person who died.

Transitions can be difficult for anyone, but especially so for those who are grieving. As your family moves from the rhythm of summer to school, children and teens may be worried, irritable, or overwhelmed. You can help with this transition by planning ahead and talking with them about upcoming changes related to bed/wake up times, chores, pick-up/drop-off routines, homework expectations, and after school activities. If your child has first day fears about finding their way around or what their teacher(s) will be like, see if you can arrange a time the week before school starts to take a tour and even meet the staff. Knowing what to expect can be reassuring for both children and teens. 

One of students’ biggest back to school concerns is wondering who knows about the death and what details they have. If the death happened over the summer, or if your child is going to a new school, ask what they would like shared with teachers and classmates. Your child’s first instinct might be to keep the death a secret. Often they fear being treated differently or being seen as “the kid whose (parent/caregiver/sibling) died.” While it’s important to honor your child’s wishes, talk with them about the challenges of trying to keep the loss a secret. Doing so takes a lot of energy and can limit their ability to open up with friends. The other side is when teachers know your child is grieving, they are better equipped to be supportive and understanding. Depending on the size of your school community, it’s possible that other students already know about the death, whether from social media or the adults in their lives. Given that, talk with your child about the power of being able to tell their own story, rather than people finding out in other ways. For younger children this could mean a teacher telling the class, with or without your child present. With older students, offer to talk with their teachers and also forecast with them what it will be like to tell friends that someone in their life has died.

There are many casual conversations where family and friends may come up. Anything from “What do your parents do?” to “Do you have any brothers and sisters?” to “Why do your grandparents pick you up after school?” can catch your child off guard. It’s helpful for them to have ideas ahead of time for how to respond. We’ve heard over and over how awkward it is for students to return to school and be met with a flurry of “I’m sorry for your loss,” and hugs from classmates they’ve never really talked to before. Teens in particular are sensitive to what they consider to be saccharine sympathy (“Oh you poor thing,”) or people trying to relate by saying, “I know how you feel, my dog died last year.” There’s also the challenge of offhand comments which can be particularly painful for grieving students. Examples include: “This class is killing me,” “My mom is driving me crazy, sometimes I wish she would just die,” and “I’m so bored, I could shoot myself.” Again, it’s useful to talk with your child about these types of comments and strategize replies that work for them. Depending on how the person died, there can be additional challenges related to how other people respond. This is particularly true for deaths that are traditionally met with societal stigma such as suicide, murder, and drug overdose. As one teen in our groups shared, “The challenge with suicide is there are a lot more ways for people to be insensitive about it.” Talking openly with your child about the death and answering their questions is a great way to help them feel more comfortable and secure when faced with judgment from others.

Here are a few other general back to school aspects to consider:

1. Make a difficult day safety plan: Throughout the year, there will be months and days that are more difficult than others. Often these coincide with the approach of significant days. It could be your child’s birthday or the birthday of the person who died, the anniversary not only of the day someone died, but also any other events connected to the death such as a diagnosis, hospital stay, or “first and lasts” (ex. first volleyball tournament since the death, the last time the person who died was at a school event, first field trip without the person there to chaperone, etc.).  No matter the time of year, it’s helpful for children and teens to have a difficult day safety plan in place. Talk with your child first to identify what they need when they feel overwhelmed. Then, collaborate with teachers, counselors, and administrators to identify strategies for your child to access that support. This might look like figuring out a teacher, counselor, or other staff that your child feels safe with and making a plan for how they can leave their classroom to check in with that person. One family used a pebble system where the student could silently place a pebble on the teacher’s desk as a sign that they were going to walk down to the office for a short break with a counselor. Even if your child never implements their difficult day safety plan, it can be very reassuring to have one in place.    

2. Find ways for children and teens to check in with you or other caregivers: 
After a death, children and teens often fear something will happen to other people in their lives. Going the entire school day without a check-in can be a lot to ask, especially in the first few months after a death. Talk with your child and school staff about how they can check in with you or others at certain times throughout the day. This can be a simple as a quick phone call at the school office or a lunch time text. 

3. Plan drop-off and pick-up routines:
 If the person who died was a part of a child’s drop-off and pick-up routine, those times of day can be especially difficult. Ask your child ahead of time about these and talk about possible options to problem-solve their concerns. Some will want to keep things as routine as possible while others may want to try out something totally new. Nine-year-old Maya was used to walking her little sister to class every morning. When her sister died over the summer, Maya dreaded walking into school without her sister there to hold her hand. After a few conversations, she and her father realized if Maya could be ready to leave ten minutes early, her father could walk her into school and still get to work on time.

4. Talk about after school rituals: Similar to drop-off/pick-up routines, what after school activities are affected by the death? Is your child used to having a snack and going to the park with his grandmother every day? Did your teen go over to her best friend’s house to work on homework? Not knowing what it will be like can be the hardest part of grief, so work together to come up with an after school plan. This gives your child a chance to talk about what they will miss and be part of coming up with new alternatives they can look forward to.  

5. Address challenges with concentration, memory, and school assignments:
 Grief can take a toll on our ability to focus and complete tasks. As one teen shared, “Thinking about my sister’s death took up all of my brain space, there wasn’t any room left for algebra.” Many people say they struggle to remember anything from moment to moment, leaving them in need of multiple reminders and strategies to stay organized. The same is true for students. Work with your child and their teacher(s) to come up with ideas for trying to focus and keeping track of schoolwork. One fifth grader picked a homework buddy who promised to check in at the end of the day to make sure he had all the correct worksheets and would also call every night after dinner to see if he had questions about the assignments.

6. Make time for recreation, play, and friends: Grieving students are still children and teens who need time for rest, relaxation, and fun. When school and work get hectic, making plans for connecting and fun can be quickly put aside in an effort to get everything done. Play is how children, especially young children, process and integrate what is happening in their world. If the person who died was an integral part of their play and fun, it’s helpful to be aware that they might be worried about who will do those activities with them now. If your child had a weekend tradition of watching movies or playing video games with their brother, ask if that is something they want to continue to do with someone else or if it’s too painful at this point. Let children know it’s okay to keep traditions or change them up completely. Sometimes a loss can leave a parent or caregiver with significantly less time and financial resources for recreation and play. If this is true, are there people in your community who can step in to help? For many children, knowing they have dedicated time to spend with the adults they care about, no matter the activity, is the most important thing. Sitting down once a day to read a book together, walking the dog after dinner, or even making a pillow and blanket fort are great options for connecting.

7. Find ways to take care of yourself: Research tells us how a grieving child will fare is strongly connected to how their adult caregivers are doing. Self-care is often easier said than done, especially when you are grieving and it feels like one more thing on a very long to-do list. Whether it’s finding time to be by yourself, connecting with others, exercising, getting enough sleep, being creative, or anything else that brings you ease and comfort, attending to the needs of your mind, body, and spirit is one of the best ways you can support your child. For more suggestions on self-care, check out this episode of our Dear Dougy podcast.

Returning to school is a significant experience for every student and particularly for those who are grieving. No matter how your child feels about the start of school, we hope these ideas and suggestions will provide you with a good foundation for talking with them about their concerns and finding ways for them to feel supported and understood. For more information, please see our guidebook, Help for the Grieving Student, A Guide for Teachers.


Father's Day and Grief

As it is with many holidays throughout the year, Father’s Day, often sparks a multitude of emotions, especially when you’re in the midst of grief. While we hear primarily from children who are grieving the death of a father or father-figure and fathers who have lost a child, the day can be equally treacherous for those with complex relationships to fathers and fatherhood. Just a simple trip to the store can be a challenge during the lead up to Father’s Day. Those in grief face the barrage of card aisles and advertisements for “Great gifts for Dads!” along with well-meaning questions from friends and others about their plans. Then there is the day itself, which can be overwhelming to consider. It can also prompt new, creative ways to acknowledge the day, including doing nothing at all!

If you’re concerned about the approach of Father’s Day or want to support someone who is, here are some suggestions to consider:

1. Remember that the lead up can often be the hardest part. Be sure to build in time and activities that are comforting and supportive for at least a week before the holiday.
2. Come up with a plan - even if that plan is to do nothing. If you choose to acknowledge the day, consider doing something that connects you with who the person was and what they meant to you.  
3. With children, it’s helpful to talk with them ahead of time about what they would like to do or not do. You may need to do some negotiating as siblings can have different ideas about what to do. If one child wants to do something and and another doesn’t, reach out to friends or family to see if they can help with the “being in two places at once” dilemma.  
4. Children may also have to navigate Father’s Day activities in school, so check in with teachers ahead of time to find out what is planned and include your children in a discussion about what would work best for them. 
5. Let children know that it’s okay to want to celebrate and equally okay to not want to.  Don’t force a child to pick another adult to honor, unless it’s something they want to do. 
6. Be prepared for other people! There will be friends and family who reach out and those who don’t. Consider letting people know ahead of time what kinds of messages and texts feel supportive (and which ones don’t). It’s commonplace for cashiers, wait staff, and even random strangers to say “Happy Father’s Day!” or ask “How’s your Father’s Day going?” so it can be helpful to come up with a few answers ahead of time. Some people choose to be honest and say something like, “Not so great. My dad died this year.” and others prefer a curt, “Fine. Yours?” There’s no right or wrong way to respond.  
7. Social media is likely to be a flood of posts all about Father’s Day, including memories of past years. Consider taking a social media break or choose ahead of time what you want to post.  
8. Plan something for yourself - hike, brunch with friends, a trip out of town. Think through what environment you want to be in, knowing that you are likely to run into dads and families.
9. Focus on a category - say food, movies, activities, color, or music - choose a few from one or all the categories that your dad or child loved. If you don’t know, and many people don’t, go with your best guess or pick the ones you love.
10. Volunteer - doing for others can often take us out of our own experience and create a sense of contribution, belonging, and connection.

In the end, how you approach Father’s Day is as unique as grief and your relationship with the person who died. Let yourself be creative in figuring out what works, and allow yourself to change your mind at the last minute. To learn more about how others have approached the day, tune into the Dear Dougy Podcast - Grieving My Dad - A Son's Story. 

Dear Dougy Podcast
Dear Dougy Podcast


podcast art
podcast art

Dear Dougy Podcast: Conversations About Grief and Loss

Drawing from over 30 years of stories and wisdom from grieving children, teens, and adults, the Dear Dougy Podcast is opening up the conversation about dying, death, and bereavement. As humans, we all experience loss during our lives, but often find ourselves lost and unsure when it comes to navigating the grief that follows. Whether you’re grieving a death, or wanting to support someone who is, the Dear Dougy Podcast can help explore your questions about grief.

Produced by the staff of The Dougy Center in Portland, Oregon, the Dear Dougy Podcast is a mostly-question-and-answer conversation, and occasionally includes other visitors in the field of dying, death, and bereavement. You can subscribe to the dear dougy podcast by using your favorite podcast app.

Have a question to ask? Send it our way at with the word ‘podcast’ somewhere in the subject line.


Lyuda, Damon, Maxeem and Aneeka
Lyuda, Damon, Maxeem and Aneeka

 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.

Aneeka and Mazeem
Aneeka and Mazeem



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Organization Information

The Dougy Center

Location: Portland, OR - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Mallory Tyler
Director of Development & Communications
Portland, Oregon United States
$2,765 raised of $24,000 goal
37 donations
$21,235 to go
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