This July, Michael’s Place and I will begin our 15th year of working with grieving children, teens, and families. When I started, I was 30 years old, had two very young boys, and had just moved to Traverse City, my husband’s hometown. What I lacked in experience, I made up for in passion for grieving families, and two people by my side who helped carry the weight, Chris Dennos, the founder, and Pete Dendrinos, Michael, our namesake’s cousin and brother, respectively.
Although I never had a chance to meet Michael, I have heard so many stories about him from community members who knew him. They were his classmates, parents of his classmates, or friends of his parents. I have gotten to know Michael through all of them and I understand that he was a kind, wonderful, and athletic boy who died when he was 14 years old, leaving behind his parents and two siblings to grieve his loss.
In all my years at Michael’s Place, the children, teens, and adults have taught me so much about grief and loss. I have learned about grief in the classroom and grief in the workplace. I have learned about what it takes to survive the death of a child, spouse, parent, sibling, friend, and more. I have learned about the tremendous pain and heartache that one feels when it hurts to just breathe, but I have also witnessed the incredible ability we all have to eventually find joy and live again.
People may think that families coming to Michael’s Place are weak, but is just the opposite. Healthy healing does not come naturally. We need to actually work on our healing to make it happen. Those who come to Michael’s Place are strong, brave, and heroic.
Throughout my 14 years, I have had the privilege of facilitating support groups and meeting with individuals one-on-one. In these setting, stories of pain and heartache are shared along with lots of tears. Eventually, those stories turn to ones of living and tears turn to smiles and then to laughter. And the people in these groups, large or small, turn from strangers to the best of friends. It is hard to describe the important role that these group members take on in each other’s life, but I can say, that I cannot imagine my life without each of them in it.
Michael’s Place has grown from an organization serving one hundred in our first year to over 3000 this year. We have the most dedicated and compassionate staff, board, and volunteers who continue to allow us to be a no-cost organization.
As I begin my 15th year, although I will be older, hopefully I will be wiser than the woman who started at Michael’s Place. My husband and I now are the proud parents of three boys. Michael’s Place has been a life journey for me and I thank every person, no matter the age, who has made an impact on my life.
The pictures I share are the loved ones of some of my Michael’s Place family members who have taught me about grief and even more about friendship and healing.
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