New Purdue Program Seeks to Help Grieving Families

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Help Grieving Families

Helping all members of a family work through the grief process is the focus of a new program at Purdue University.

The BRIDGe, which stands for By Remembering I Develop and Grow, was developed by Heather Servaty-Seib, an assistant professor of educational studies in the College of Education. She is seeking 10 to 15 families that have experienced the death of an immediate family member to be a part of the free program.

The goal of The BRIDGe is to improve the lives of bereaved family members by allowing them the opportunity to share their stories and to connect with other grieving families.

"Grieving is unique to each person," Servaty-Seib said. "Many times family members are not in the same place with experiencing a loss. Parents can't always be there for children because they are dealing with issues themselves. But research has shown that the functioning of parents is one of the best predictors of how children adjust to a loss. The BRIDGe program recognizes this and provides support to each family member."

Servaty-Seib said families will benefit most if they are at least two months away from their death loss, allowing some of the initial shock of the experience to lessen. But families can participate no matter how long it has been since their loss.

The BRIDGe will meet for eight Tuesday evenings beginning Feb. 21 and ending April 25. It will be held 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Klondike Elementary School in West Lafayette.

Each evening will begin with a complimentary dinner followed by support group meetings categorized by age group. Groups will be held for children 5-8 years old, 9-12 years old, 13-18 years old and parents and caregivers.

The sessions will provide information on grief, but the primary focus will be on facilitating group members in their support of one another. An underlying theme will also be encouraging family members to learn more about their own grief so they can more easily communicate with other family members about their experiences.

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As a part of the group sessions, children and teenagers will engage in a variety of craft activities such as making collages, writing poetry and decorating a memory pillow.

For adults, the focus will be on discussing their thoughts and feelings and on learning more about how children and teenagers grieve differently than adults, something that is often overlooked, Servaty-Seib said.

"Children understand death differently because of their level of cognitive and emotional development," she said. "It's very difficult for a child to be sad or angry for long periods of time, so they tend to grieve in chunks. They also move through grief as they develop. If a child experiences a loss at age 5, for example, he or she will grieve at each developmental stage or milestone as they grow up and even through adulthood.

"It's important to remember that grieving doesn't require letting go. There is no 'closure' after a death. Instead, it's through the process of remembering that we live and grow."

Servaty-Seib said programs such as The BRIDGe offer a welcoming environment for children who have suffered a loss. Often, these children feel different from their peers and are afraid of being perceived as different, so connecting with children who also experienced death losses helps them realize that they are not alone, she said.

Graduate students enrolled in the College of Education's counseling programs will lead the sessions and will have received special training in grief and bereavement. They will be supervised by licensed counselors.

Children or teenagers who attend the program must be accompanied by at least one parent or caregiver who will attend the parent/caregiver group. Child care will be provided for children under age 5.

All families will participate in an initial meeting with one of The BRIDGe staff in which background information will be obtained and more details about the program will be provided.

Families may voluntarily participate in the evaluation of the program before the first session and after the last session. Families will receive $20 for completing each portion of the evaluation.

Interested families can contact Servaty-Seib at The BRIDGe, Purdue University, Beering Hall, Room 3202, West Lafayette, IN 47907. They can also call (765) 494-9738.

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