Everyone experiences the death of a loved one sometime during their life.
Adults might feel prepared to grapple with the sadness, anger, or denial that follows a life-changing event, but for children, the sudden passing of a sibling, a parent, a caregiver, or another important person in their life can be overwhelming, leaving them without the means to express and process what has happened. The Cove Center for Grieving Children, which opened a location in Cheshire a year ago, offers ways to help those struggling through that process.
The Cove Center’s beginnings can be traced back approximately 28 years, according to Allison Gamber, executive director, when Guilford resident Jim Emswiler, at age 39, became a widower with three young children, looking for answers. Knowing that his situation was not unique, Emswiler brought together a group of six families to share their experiences and work through difficulties together.
That has grown into what is now a statewide nonprofit organization whose programs are offered free of charge to those who need them. Families are asked to make a donation, Gamber explains, but inability to pay is not a bar to participation.
There is an application process to ensure a proper fit. Once a family is selected, they enroll in a 20-week course that incorporates group and individual activities, working with trained volunteers and licensed social workers at activities such as art therapy and other healing practices.
“What we’re teaching these children is the ability not to get stuck in those moments (of sadness),” Gamber explained. “We’re giving them the tools to help them through those times, rather than turning to something like alcohol or drugs or some other kind of negative behavior. We want them to say, ‘I can do this.’”
Part of that empowerment, Gamber says, is developing a vocabulary to express feelings. Starting with drawings or other visual projects, which Gamber says can be “surprisingly joyful,” children who “don’t have the language yet can use the creative process to develop the tools to be able to handle grief.”
Including other family members in the process is another key part of the Center’s mission. Gamber describes one father who, having lost his wife, came to the Center with his child.
“The biggest takeaway for (this father) was understanding that there are different processes for grieving, that his child had one way of grieving and he had another one. We helped him understand that there’s no linear way to get through the grieving process,” she said. “After that, their dynamic changed, and they were able to grow closer because of that.”
Another focus is to offer support during meaningful times of year.
“Holidays can be a very poignant time of year for families, so one of the most important things we do is a memory meal,” Gamber stated. “We ask (participants) to prepare some food that may have been a favorite of a loved one. We put it at a table, maybe with their picture by it. We ask them to explain why it was their favorite and then we share the food. We want them to understand that it’s OK to have the memory and to create new memories.”
Gamber also points out that, because of COVID-19 and other factors, “it’s hard to get in to see a therapist and they’re really overwhelmed right now.” In addition, she says, many therapists don’t accept insurance, making it difficult for families who need help but may lack resources.
Proving just how many people are seeking help at the moment, Gamber explained that the call volume at The Cove Center has doubled between January 2022 and January 2023.
“People come to us from all walks of life,” Gamber stated, “and then we come together because there is this common bond of grief. People who have been through the program will say they don’t know where they would have been without it, they just feel so supported.”
To support its programming, The Cove Center is holding its Fourth Annual Hope & Healing Public Auction on March 23–25. More information about donating and participating in the fundraiser can be found at www.covect.org.
On Friday, May 5, Lyman Orchards Golf Club hosts The Cove Center’s Kid’s Classic.
“We’re looking for golfers, sponsors and donors,” said Gamber.