When Melissa Alvarado’s oldest daughter, Gloria, died in May, she quickly realized her family needed professional support and to be around others who could fully grasp their pain.
At New Song Center for Grieving Children, they discovered support groups and meaningful activities to help them find healing. Melissa, her husband and their two younger kids were among 150 people at New Song’s recent bereavement event at Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix.
“I like being here because these are the only other people who know how we feel,” she said. “And the support groups validate our emotions and feelings.”
New Song is Arizona’s first and largest child and family grief support program. All of the services are provided at no cost. Since combining bereavement programs with Hospice of the Valley in 2009, New Song has served thousands of families, providing:
- Support groups for grieving children, teens, young adults and adult caregivers.
- Support groups for grandparents, parents and siblings who are grieving the death of a child.
- A family support group for Spanish-speaking families.
- Pediatric support and counseling for families caring for a child who is medically fragile or has a life-limiting illness.
- Day camps for siblings of children living with complex medical needs.
- Fun trips to family-friendly places like Butterfly Wonderland or the movies.
“Our mission is to provide comprehensive grief education and support to help families heal after a traumatic loss,” said Lisa Schmitt Betcher, executive director of the nonprofit program. “We recognize that children express grief quite differently than adults, more likely through behavior than words.”
Within age-specific grief support groups, New Song creates a safe space for youngsters to enjoy art, play, journaling and other forms of expression. Adults attend their own support groups to learn how to help children process grief in a healthy way — and to learn how to help themselves cope with loss.
At the park gathering, the McMullins wore matching gray shirts with the name “William” printed in big, bold letters and three words below it: “brave, strong, superhero.” Lauren and Chris McMullin were referred to New Song after their 7 year old died in April. The couple also have Owen, 11, and Arthur, 4.
Erica Schwartz, a New Song pediatric bereavement and family support counselor, sees the oldest boy one-on-one. “I feel incredibly lucky that I get to do that,” she said, standing near a table covered with “blugs” — a blanket and a hug.
“Owen looks forward to her visit every time,” Lauren said.
After bonding over special arts and crafts, all the families formed a large circle. One by one, they shared the names of their loved ones — Gloria, William, Isaiah, Landon … and many more. Then five white doves were released one at a time — symbolizing grief, courage, memories, love and hope.
As all remaining doves were set free, New Song Clinical Director Jill Lovill reminded the families that everyone’s journey is unique. “As individuals, we grieve; as a community, we heal. May we each find our paths towards healing in the days ahead.”
Lin Sue Flood is director of community engagement at Hospice of the Valley.
Become a New Song volunteer
What a rewarding way to make a difference in the lives of families in our community. We invite you to join our dedicated team of trained volunteers who help lead grief support groups in central and north Phoenix, Scottsdale, Gilbert and Avondale. Volunteer training is in January at Hospice of the Valley, 1510 E. Flower St. Dates are:
- 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21.
- 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24.
- 5:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26.
Visit hov.org/volunteer/new-song to apply, call 480-951-8985 or email email@example.com for more information. Visit newsongcenter.org to learn more about the program.