CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Christmas is known as the most wonderful time of the year, but that’s not always the case for families who have experienced a tragedy.
That’s why FRIENDS WAY, a Warwick-based organization that provides free, peer-based grief support to children and their families, chooses one deserving family each year and brings light back to their home in time for the holidays.
This year, the organization surprised the Acosta family in Cranston by decorating their home with Christmas lights.
Yessenia Acosta tells 12 News this is the first time the outside of their home has ever been decorated for the holidays.
“It was huge,” Yessenia said, whose children are ages 3 and 9. “My toddler was surprised. My son was like, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ He was super excited.”
But amidst all the joy, there was one member of the family missing from their celebration: Yessina’s 10-year-old daughter, Taniaya.
“She loved lights,” Yessenia said.
Yessenia said Taniaya passed away in 2017 from an epileptic seizure.
“It was hard,” she recalled. “It’s a parent’s worst nightmare.”
Yessenia was nine months pregnant with her youngest when her son experienced loss for the first time. That’s why she turned to FRIENDS WAY.
“Kids need to know that it’s OK to express their feelings and to have a safe space to talk about it,” program director Ryan Loiselle said.
Yessenia and her husband also found the support system they needed through the program as well.
“Hearing other family’s stories and knowing you’re not alone…Not everyone there is for a child, but we’re all grieving,” she said.
When FRIENDS WAY had to decide which family would receive the surprise Christmas display, which was donated by Seascape, the answer was clear.
“The light and joy that this family brings to us at FRIENDS WAY was the reason why,” Loiselle said.
That light and joy has grown ever since Taniaya’s death three years ago and shines through every bulb wrapped around the Acosta’s home.
Yessenia said it’s a holiday reminder that her daughter is looking over them.
“My son said that it feels like the house feels bright, like her spirit is with us,” she said.