Center finds ways to help kids through grief, even during pandemic

West Bay

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — The pandemic has changed the way we do many things, and that includes how we grieve.

A Warwick organization that provides peer-based grief support to children and their families had to pivot from in-person programming to virtual services when the pandemic hit in March.

FRIENDS WAY offers free bereavement services that help roughly 200 kids ages 3-18 from Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts throughout the school year.

“We’re giving kids an opportunity to be with others who have also gone through a similar loss,” program director Ryan Loiselle said.

For many months, “being with others” has meant being in front of a computer screen, according to Loiselle.

“Grief can be very isolating, obviously even more so in the midst of a pandemic,” he said. “It’s still hard doing a support group with 4- and 5-year-olds over Zoom … not the same as in person.”

Back in March, the number of children and families attending support groups at FRIENDS WAY drastically changed, Loiselle said. He attributed that to families figuring out distance learning and parents navigating their jobs, or lack thereof.

“I think grief was pushed to the back burner for a lot of people,” he added.

To keep kids engaged, Loiselle and his staff put together and mailed out care packages that kids would open up over Zoom calls.

For a short time this fall, in-person programming was able to resume under new health protocols.

But with a new surge of COVID-19 cases, FRIENDS WAY is back to virtual only.

“In September, we shopped and packaged and got everything all ready to send … these are the activities that we’re going to use over the next three months,” Loiselle said. “We’ve all learned how to pivot better and to feel more prepared.”

The Thursday before Thanksgiving is Children’s Grief Awareness Day. It’s meant to highlight how best to support grieving children since the holiday season can be difficult, especially after a death.

Amid the pandemic that’s killed nearly 1,300 Rhode Islanders, Loiselle acknowledged this holiday season may be even harder.

“It’s OK to talk about the person who died. It’s OK to acknowledge it,” Loiselle said.

“If you don’t want to, that’s OK, too,” he added.

Loiselle said he wants children and families to give people in their support network direction on how to help them.

“I think families now, especially if you’re coming into your first holiday or first anniversary death, [say] ‘this is how I’m going to do my first anniversary of my person that has died,’ and want to let people know that it’s OK, and please reach out for help,” Loiselle explained.

FRIENDS WAY provides free services and relies on donations, grants and fundraisers.

Donate and learn more here »

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