Grieving students cope at school with Hospice help

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Next week, children and teens will Know More about grief and dealing with the loss of someone special. November 15th is National Children's Grief Awareness Day.

People may be surprised to know how many young people in the Valley are dealing with grief. Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Colorado served nearly 600 children and teens in 2011, with close to 400 of those students participating in school grief groups.

With help from Hospice, these young people are learning to share their feelings and open back up after a loss.

It would be easy to feel alone after loss, but they're not alone. These students at West Middle School have each other.

"It just makes me feel 100 percent better just to know that I can talk about it," seventh grader Mariah Polhamus said of the grief group at WMS.

Whether it's the loss of a parent, sibling or someone close, these young people have seen it all. That’s why Hospice gives students like these a place they can grieve freely.

"We have so many kids that are dealing with so many things outside of school and loss being one of those things," West Middle School principal Vernon Walker said.

Through its grief groups, mourning students can meet with Hospice counselors at school once a week.

"It’s a place where they can get together with other students in their school and share what they're feeling," Hospice director of youth programs Cathy DiPaola said.

Instead of holding it all in, these young grieving hearts can say what's really on their minds.

"I just let everything out and it kind of just, frees my soul," seventh grader Rylee Martin said of the group sessions.

"[I can ] relieve some of the stress I’ve been having, because I kind of get nervous talking with my parents [about the loss]," seventh grader Jasmine Robinson added.

If these students are feeling down, they can say why. If they want to share happier times, they're encouraged to do just that. Every meeting, students are asked to rank on a scale of one to 10 how they’re feeling. If the number changes, they’re asked to share why.

"I like expressing my feelings about my dad and I like talking about him because he was a fun guy," grief group student Megan Hargraves said.

Perhaps most importantly, however, these school grief groups build a culture of understanding. These students are taught it's okay to be sad and it's okay to seek help.

"Every time I come to grief group I feel like I’m connected to someone who lost their mom or someone else," grief group member Qianna Ginn said.

"If you're having a hard day, you can just go and talk to one of these girls and they know how to help you and how it feels," grief group seventh grader Ashley Woodworth said.

Through these meetings with Hospice, slowly but surely, these children and teens begin to open up and walk down the path of healing with each other.

"It helps me talk about my feelings instead of just holding it inside," seventh grader Brianna Geyler said.

Principal Walker also says these groups help improve the students' performance in the classroom. Teachers and staff see better attendance, fewer discipline issues and higher achievement after students attend these grief group meetings.

Saturday, November 10th, Hospice will give kids and teens a chance to honor their loved ones who have passed with a special dove release and ceremony.That free event will take place at the Hospice Care Center on 12th Street at 1 p.m.

Thursday, November 15th is National Children’s Grief Awareness Day. Hospice encourages students and families to wear blue that day to help support the cause. Local schools will be participating in activities to support the cause, and students will receive blue bracelets to show unity for one another.

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