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Grief relief: Hospice of SLO County introduces children's support program

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Death is part of life. But still, in our culture, even with the widespread knowledge of such a fact and its inevitability, it’s incredibly difficult to talk about for anyone. Especially kids. 

Hospice of San Luis Obispo County takes that difficult subject matter and encourages productive and healing dialogue with counseling services. Starting Oct. 9, Hospice is introducing a grief support program for young people ages 7 to 11 to help start the healing conversation for children experiencing the death of a loved one.

COUNSELORS:  Amy Carlisle (left) and Michelle Luzi (right) volunteer for Hospice of SLO County and will be directing an eight-week grief support group for children who are experiencing the loss of a loved one. - PHOTO BY REBECCA LUCAS
  • PHOTO BY REBECCA LUCAS
  • COUNSELORS: Amy Carlisle (left) and Michelle Luzi (right) volunteer for Hospice of SLO County and will be directing an eight-week grief support group for children who are experiencing the loss of a loved one.

“What we’ve seen mostly is for children, a lot of times they don’t get the opportunity to talk about a loss,” Counseling Director Anthony Huffaker said. “People are afraid to talk to kids about a death because they are not sure if they are old enough to understand it [and] kids wind up feeling afraid [about death].” 

This is the first time Hospice will be doing a children’s counseling group in a while, and it will be different than many of Hospice’s drop-in counseling sessions. The program is only seven weeks long, limited to eight participants, and the coordinators are aiming to keep the same children throughout all of the sessions.

To work through tough situations and talk about something incredibly difficult, Hospice adds to their typical counseling sessions the physical on top of the theoretical. 

“You do this through play, structured play activities,” Huffaker said. One benefit of such a group is exposing children to peers who are experiencing comparable sorrows. 

“When they have the chance to be with other kids, when they have similar experiences, they are not isolated,” he said. Huffaker added that when a conversation this difficult and personal is avoided, it can sometimes cause a child to feel that they are the only ones upset by such sorrow, and it deprives them of the future capacity to deal with situations of grief and death. Hospice’s upcoming course will provide a toolbox for dealing with grief. 

Hospice can provide an ear that exists outside of the family. Hospice counselors also try to answer questions that young children experiencing grief might have but don’t ask, for fear of upsetting family members. 

“What we do is normalize and validate what people are going through, because they do not know what to expect when people have died,” Huffaker said. 

The same is true for all age groups.

Hospice of SLO County has served the community since 1977 as a volunteer hospice. That means that people who receive services get them free of charge. According to Huffaker, it’s a testament to the supportive community surrounding Hospice SLO that it remains one of only about 150 volunteer hospices left in the U.S. 

Huffaker recalls someone saying, “Our need to tell our story exceeds our family and friends’ capacity to listen to it.”

Hospice’s services include counseling, educational events and presentations, in-home care to support full-time caregivers who are often family members, and public and private meetings about grief and about death. There is also a pet loss program that provides help in dealing with pet companions when their owner is experiencing a terminal or life altering illness. 

There are only a handful of employees, and the remaining 350 people involved are volunteers. 

These volunteers include Amy Carlisle and Michelle Luzi, both pursuing master’s degrees in psychology and social work, respectively. They are running the children’s program, under the supervision of Hospice employees. 

If you would like to enroll your child or know someone who would benefit, call Huffaker at 544-2266. If there is room, latecomers will be accepted up to the start of at the second week’s session. The group will meet Fridays from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Hospice SLO’s office, 1304 Pacific St., from Oct. 9 through Nov. 20. 

Fast Fact

On Wednesday, Oct. 2, Cal Poly invites the public to a free lecture, The Life of the Cheetah, by Dr. Laurie Marker, cheetah expert and award-winning conservationist at 8 p.m.

Intern Rebecca Lucas wrote this week’s Strokes and Plugs. Send your business and nonprofit news to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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