Families who have dealt with grief offer support to others

Overwhelming. To say the least.

Melissa Clark uses those stark words to describe her grief Aug. 23, 2013, when learning that daughter Eva was stillborn. Every now and then, the experience that triggered fear and guilt still brings her to tears.

Now the Columbus licensed clinical social worker and mother of Jacob, 11, and 8-year-old twins Elijah and Jesse Clark wants to help others with emotional healing. That’s part of the idea behind Eva’s Hands Project, a free afternoon program Aug. 20 at Westside Community Church to help grieving youngsters ages 5 to 12 learn coping skills.

Although the gathering is unfolding at the church, it is open to people of all faiths, backgrounds and beliefs. Clark and her family, including husband Kyle, decided this would be one way to honor Eva and show love and compassion to others.

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“We (decided we) would be Eva’s hands here on earth,” she said. “I had volunteered at a camp in the Lafayette area after Eva died and was amazed at how many kids are hurting and in need of affirmation of their loss.”

Clark will work with a trained — and background-checked — group of volunteers for the program.

“We are not providing ‘therapy,’” Clark said. “Our aim is to equip children with the opportunity to share about their loved ones in whatever way they feel comfortable and also to learn some new coping skills to take home with them.”

One hour of the program will offer an overview to adult family members about how children grieve.

“Children tend to grieve differently than adults,” Clark said. “They show grief in bursts and at various developmental stages and milestones in life.”

Children’s grief can surface via anger, loss of interest in activities or changes in academic performance. She also mentioned that just because youngsters seem to be having fun again at some point after a loved one’s death, that hardly signifies that grief is over.

“Our society typically requires kids and adults to reengage in daily activities such as work and school quickly after a death in the family,” Clark said. “(So) people of all ages learn to mask or suppress their feelings. Some children do not even realize how they are feeling.

“There is an added layer to grief for children because they are also watching their parents intensely grieve.”

Stephanie Guinn, a longtime friend of Clark’s serving as a bereavement counselor for Guardian Angel Hospice in Lafayette, will speak to parents and other adult family members at the event to acquaint them with children’s grieving. Plus, Guinn will encourage parents to get whatever help they need to face grief to then better help their children.

“In an emergency on an airplane, you have to be able to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you can help your children,” Guinn said.

Guinn is supportive of standard counseling, as is Clark. But Guinn mentioned that many people who are grieving “may not need traditional counseling but others’ support.”

She came to that realization soon after her husband died suddenly six years ago.

“I quickly saw the benefit of having a peer-support environment (for my children) so they could meet other children facing a significant loss in their life,” Guinn said. “So many times, children and teens can feel very isolated with what they’re going through. Even as adults, we don’t know how to talk about death all that well.”

Clark pointed out that one of the more healing elements of her family’s journey through grief has been in keeping Eva’s memory alive through weekly visits to her gravesite at Garland Brook Cemetery in Columbus.

“I do feel it would be beneficial for our society to be better prepared for death,” Clark said. “It is inevitable, and being better prepared as a whole will truly help those affected by that death.”

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What: Program to help grieving children cope with loss. Will include sharing time, expressive art or craft time, wisdom on coping skills and the grief process. Each child will receive a small teddy bear.

Also for adult family members: One-hour overview of how children grieve.

When: 1 to 5 p.m. Aug. 20.

Where: Westside Community Church, Jonathan Moore Pike and Tipton Lakes Boulevard. But the event is not a Christian gathering and is open to people of all faiths and backgrounds and beliefs.

Cost: Free.

Size: Limited to 20 youngsters ages 5 to 12. Could possibly expand in the future if demands merits such.

Registration and information: Melissa Clark, 812-603-6827 or [email protected]. Registrants will be asked to complete a brief application.