June 27, 2014

Children In Need: HOPE For Tomorrow

I come to this space today hoping to help at least one person out there. We have all lost someone. People die every day. It's not pretty, it's not easy, and it's definitely not okay. Often times when people lose someone they try to paint a picture to others of all the above though. They go about their day calm as ever, and telling everyone "I'll be okay" all the while with a forced smile. I can guarantee you a few things...they are not okay and they need help.
Losing someone at any age is devastating. I believe that being a child and losing someone is much different. This reason alone: Children are the future of our world. If we don't get them the help they need when they are shaping their beliefs and making important milestones, what will happen in the later years?

I am a volunteer at the Highmark Caring Place in Erie, Pa. Some of you may not know what the Highmark Caring Place is and what it's about. It is a facility for grieving families that first opened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that now has three other locations in addition to the original building. To keep it short and simple in explanation; Families come together to the Caring Place and we begin by eating a meal together (pizza one week, subs the next, with the occasional chicken with macaroni and cheese thrown in), and there is time to play board games, color or challenge each other in air hockey during this time too. Next, families are then separated in to different rooms based on age for some group discussions and different activities run by volunteers to assist them in the grieving process. We then end the night together saying a pledge before we see each other again the next week. This continues for ten weeks. One of the most beautiful parts is the pledge is said at the beginning and end of each night, "I am here for you. You are here for me. We are here for each other."  Some short words put together for such a powerful meaning.
Caring Place
Image c/o

I volunteer at the Caring Place because I know what these children are feeling. My mom died when I was 17 years old. I was not five, or ten, but I still did not understand. She had cancer, but don't tell me that I had time to prepare. No one has time to prepare losing their mother. I am thankful enough to say that I was given an amazing support system when my world was rocked my senior year of high school. I had moved to Erie with my mom and brother from Pittsburgh the summer before my senior year. Brand new school senior about terrified. I had my family, but my friends from my childhood and my new friends from Erie were what truly helped me. Friends relate to one another. You know what I didn't have though? A friend who's mom died their senior year of high school. I didn't have anyone that REALLY KNEW what that felt like. I wish I would have had the Caring Place.

Families come to the Caring Place to grieve. They come because they are sad, they are experiencing things they thought they may never have to, they feel regret...but they come because there are people that know exactly how they are feeling every second of the day. These families have a support system.

I heard about the Caring Place about six years ago and looked around on the website, but thought it would take too much time to volunteer. Fast forward a few years later when I called for some information and went for a tour of the facility. The minute I walked in there and looked around at the quilts honoring deceased loved ones hanging on the wall I felt the need to be there. It was something I was called to do. It was one of the best decisions I have made in my adult life. 

Being someone who lost their mother at 17 years old I thought that death and all the things that came with it would get easier as time went on. Boy was I wrong. I feel hurt at times I least expect it. One of the first things I thought of when I got engaged.."My mom won't be at my wedding. My own mother will not see me in a dress. She won't fix my veil. She won't dance with me. My mom won't be there for me." I know this is no way to think about things because I am a very lucky woman in a lot of areas in life, but this shit happens. People hurt and sometimes it doesn't stop.


I chose to volunteer because I wanted to simply BE THERE for someone. I wanted children to feel less hurt. I look forward to seeing the families on a weekly basis. I enjoy watching them evolve. I think it's pretty awesome when a child runs to me and greets me with a hug because they missed me from last Tuesday.
This is my fourth year volunteering and I learn something new each year. I learn a new story. I get to meet people I never would have met. I am an ear for a sad child or a crying mom. As a volunteer we focus on the families present, not our stories. In my heart when I sit with these grieving families I FEEL their pain, I cry inside, and I have THE strongest desire to help them. They don't know my story, but I feel privileged to know theirs.

HOPE is a big word at the Caring Place. We HOPE that the families feel a little better by coming to a place and sharing their stories. We HOPE that the grieving process is a bit easier because of the Caring Place. HOPE. It's a strong word. Hope carries a lot of potential. Hope is our future. These children are HOPE.
There are other  facilities across the nation that offer assistance similar to the Highmark Caring Place. You can find some resources here. I encourage you to give someone a glimmer of hope at some point in your life. There are too many people out there that aren't aware of the support systems they could have. 
My hope in sharing this with you is that you reach out to a child or a family member you may someday come in to contact with and lead them in the right direction so they can find their own hope. You may never want children. You may not understand children. These children are our future and if we don't help them now , the pain they will bottle up for years may someday affect them in a negative way.

Please. Pass on HOPE. This year Children's Grief Awareness Day is November 20, 2014. My personal mission is to make at least one person aware and share this message. The Highmark Caring Place staff works diligently to create activities for awareness of this day. Last year valiant efforts were made for Ellen DeGeneres to speak about #CGAD on her show. My dream is for that wish to come true. Please help spread the word...I'll be reminding you in November.

For more information and resources you can visit the Highmark Caring Place Website.

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  1. Thank you for sharing Emelia. You are a true inspiration and you bring hope to everyone you help. I know sharing your story wasn't easy, but it helps someone to know they are not alone. And you know your Mom will be with you every second of your special day, she wouldn't miss it. <3

    1. Thank you very much. I hope to help at least one family, child, or teenager out there. There are resources so many people don't know about. I appreciate your support, and wish you could have met her. She will be there celebrating with us in spirit. Love you!