For the past ten years I have had the privilege of volunteering as a grief facilitator at the Children’s Room in Arlington MA. The Children’s Room provides a safe space for children and their families to talk about their loss with others who are also in the process of grieving. I help to facilitate a peer support group of teens who have lost a parent of sibling.
Like most of the volunteers at TCR, we all have a story that lead us to this amazing place. I thought I would share a bit about my journey.
Sixteen years ago, I lost my dear friend Jordan Donohue in a tragic accident. My wife had thrown a surprise 30th birthday party for me at our apartment in Newton MA. During the evening, Jordan stepped outside for some air and slipped on a patch of ice, hitting the back of his head. I was at Jordan’s side surrounded by some of my closet friends when he passed. Hardly a day goes by when I do not think about that fateful evening. Jordan’s death has had a profound impact on my life, and at the time, I had little understanding of how to process the intense grief and guilt consuming me.
Shortly after Jordan’s funeral, my friend and college roommate Peter Smock, announced he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Pete was one of the most loyal friends you could ask for, so it was difficult to watch him struggle. Sadly, Pete died by suicide the following year. Losing two close friends in such a short period of time left me profoundly sad, anxious, and confused. (In the attached picture from my wedding, Peter has the beard and is partially blocking me, and Jordan is on my left shoulder)
A few years after Pete’s passing, I received that phone call you always hear about, but never imagine happening to you. It was 6am, February 17th, 2008. My brother was on the other line trying to explain to me that our mother had passed away unexpectedly. My mother was my role model and fiercely devoted to our family. She was always there for us and gave of herself unconditionally. After Jordan’s tragic death she was the first person I called. I needed to hear her voice seeking comfort at a time of unimaginable sadness.
It was a year after my mother’s passing that I was looking to volunteer when fate lead me to The Children’s Room. I have been humbled to witness firsthand the power of the peer support model. The courage the teens I work with show to share openly in their grief, while supporting their peers unconditionally, is inspiring. People often ask me, "how in the world can you immerse yourself in such sadness?" The answer is simple for me; I get to witness teens who would rarely interact socially outside the walls of TCR, come together and lift each other through compassion, love, humor, and grace. They have given me the gift of hope, and the courage to share with others my struggles with grief.
I am running for my Mother, Jordan, Pete, and the courageous teens I have the honor of working with. I am running so children and families looking for comfort in their time of grief, will always have a place welcoming them with open arms at The Children’s Room.