Sunday, April 19, 2009

New Song Helps Bereaved Families

If your family has suffered the death of a loved one and needs support dealing with the pain and the grief journey, an organization called NEW SONG, started in the Phoenix, Arizona, area provides nurturing support for grieving children and their families.

It also offers comprehensive grief education for volunteers and professionals and is hoping to be nationally recognized as a model grief support and training program whose purpose is to restore hope to children and those who love them. Volunteers have had over 25 hours of classroom and 20 hours of mentor-led training to facilitate, under the direction of professional staff.

This non-profit, non-denominational organization started in 1990 and providing the following services: support groups for grieving children ages 5 through 18 and their families, referrals to other community agencies, child-specific grief training for volunteers and education for caregivers, mental health professionals, clergy and the community at large. Support for the program comes from individual donations, foundations, organizations, businesses, churches and synagogues.

Because a child’s response to death is different from an adult’s, New Song Center focuses on the unique needs of children and their families in grief. While children are supported through art and play techniques, New Song Center helps adults learn how to support and parent their grieving children as well as help themselves. Each family learns how to work through their pain, share memories and go on living without the loved one who died.

One of my friends, Sandi Howlett, a bereavement specialist for Hansen’s Mortuary in Phoenix and speaker for Hospice, has been very involved with this organization since 2003. She says the children are divided into separate groups: ages 5-7, 8-10, 11-12 and teens. Parents and caregivers (grandparents, aunts and uncles) are in a separate group as are young adults from 18-26 who come on their own. There is an orientation program which the whole family comes to and then they divide into groups. They are also required to come to one monthly program where they do family projects.

An evening at New Song would go like this: you would arrive at 6:30 p.m., have pizza all together (It’s always pizza, Sandi says), hear announcements and then divide up into respective groups for an hour or so, come back together, light a candle in honor or memory of those who died, sing a few songs and finally get in a circle to say good-byes for the evening. The groups meet twice a month from August to the end of June.

Sandi explained that age specific exercises are done during the meeting time periods geared at accepting experiences, feelings, memories and playing out things using art, music, puppetry, journaling and discussions. With the adults it’s having a place to talk and discussing what it’s like being a parent in a grieving home.

After a death in the family, adults are sometime too involved in their own personal grief to respond adequately to the needs of a child. The family unit may be thrown into turmoil. Because children deal with powerful emotions differently than adults, their grief may go unrecognized. Their depression, fear, guilt and anger may be acted out and labeled as behavioral problems in the home and school, instead of being seen for what it is, a reaction to the death of a loved one.

With New Song, a child is your ticket in and that child needs to be at least 5 years old. If you are an adult with no children, you can not come. It is a family dynamic organization.

“When a family leaves New Song, they are not the same family as when they first came,” she told me. “It can take many years, depending on the type of death. As time moves on you progress to a new level. It is a special time when you find a moment you can smile and appreciate the sunlight and not feel guilty about it.”

It is my hope that this organization will be the inspiration for similar organization forming throughout the U.S. to help bereaved families.

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