Note: The following content aims to bring awareness to sensitive topics related to grief. Please proceed with caution.
“Welcome to the Center for Grieving Children,” volunteer Beka Burns says with a warm smile before proceeding to walk through the rooms where children and adults alike are provided the hope and support they need to process grief.
Each room is thoughtfully designed to cater to its specific age group. The little ones' room is adorned with vibrant artwork and cuddly stuffed animals. In the teen room, tables are arranged for engaging group activities, fostering connection and healing. In the adult room, the couches face another for thoughtful discussion.
Beka motions toward a small door in the hallway dawning an image of a monkey. “This is the Volcano Room, where I volunteer," they explain, their voice brimming with enthusiasm.
As the door swings open, a cozy room enveloped in soft, protective padding is revealed. A sensory swing hangs from above, accompanied by plush blocks, a yoga ball, and various gymnastic equipment.
Here, children are encouraged to embrace their true selves. Some may choose to release boundless energy as they run freely, while others opt to unwind in the calming embrace of the hammock, immersed in the soothing glow of a starry night projector.
It's a sanctuary where children can discover their voice, express their emotions and navigate their grief through the power of play. Even if a child only spends five minutes playing, they consider it a victory.
Beka shares a poignant reflection, their own experiences of grief mirroring those of the children. “I strive to provide the support I wish I had received as a child processing trauma," they confide. “It feels like coming full circle, using the negative aspects of my experiences to create something positive and meaningful.”
As a teenager, Beka experienced the devastating loss of their father to suicide. At just 15 years old, they felt a deep sense of isolation, loneliness and a lack of understanding from their peers.
"I carried the burden of this traumatic experience with me into adulthood," Beka shares. "Through my own journey of grieving and coping with such a profound loss, I came to understand the immense importance of having supportive individuals in my life. Now, as a volunteer here, I have the privilege of providing that same support to others."
And so begins Beka’s time at the center, where they have been volunteering for over 7 years now. Beka has held various roles during their time with the center, but they have always been dedicated to the bereavement program and helping children express their feelings in a safe space.
Beka explains bereavement can have particularly traumatic effects on children and young people. When there is a major loss, families go through significant changes and children observe these shifts at home and in school. This can make it difficult for them to do well in school and may lead to low self-confidence.
Children may or may not have words to describe their emotions either. Reflecting on their teenage years, Beka says they didn't always want to talk about what had happened. Sometimes, they just needed a sense of normalcy in a world that they felt was crumbling around them.
For Beka, engaging in volunteer work as an adult, particularly in the Volcano Room, allows them to observe how loss affects children from a different point of view. In turn, that helps them continue to process their own grief.
The most rewarding part of their volunteer efforts, they say, is witnessing children express themselves and feel validated in their emotions. They are grateful to observe families growing together and supporting each other.
"This place helps families in need process grief. It has helped me to do the same,” they say as they closes the door to the Volcano Room behind them. “I've learned that every part of our experiences, positive or negative, can be valuable and offer opportunities for growth and learning."