The journey from grief to hope and joy is not easy, it is not fast, and it is not linear. Talking helps. Broken flower pots help. Knowing there are others who have walked this same road helps. Just ask the Jones family.
Theresa Jones will never forget the day. May 18, 2017. A Thursday. Her son, John Reuben Jones, was killed in a car accident.
“I cried every day,” said Theresa, “every day for months. And then a friend took me to the grief workshop at Hospice of East Texas. It helped me so much, and I asked, ‘do you have anything to help children?’ My grandchildren were in such pain.”
Jaxon and Jaycee, Reuben’s children and Theresa’s grandchildren, were soon enrolled in WINGs, Hospice of East Texas’ program for grieving children. They attended a day long grief camp and have since participated in monthly support groups.
Jaycee remembers, “When I came to camp for the first time, at first I felt scared and then I felt happy.” Jaxson recounts, “I learned how to control the feelings and everything because it was hard before I came here, and it helped me a lot.”
Chantel Longino, Hospice of East Texas’ children’s bereavement specialist, describes WINGs’ activities. “Children don’t sit in a circle for an hour and talk about their feelings like adults might do. That would never work. The beauty of our program is that we get to speak the children’s language. We use different activities to engage the kids in conversation about their feelings and all the different aspects of grief. They need a safe space to talk about their feelings and begin to find hope.”
A favorite activity is “flower pot feelings”. Children shatter a clay flower pot and write their feelings on the pot. Anger. Sad. Lonely. With the help of volunteers, they glue the pot back together, talking about how things that are broken can be made whole again, with a little work. They plant a small succulent in the pot and take it home.
Volunteer Sam Scarborough was drawn to the work of the WINGs program because he lost his father when he was young. “My father passed on 9/11,” says Sam. “The reason Jaxon and I connected is that he and I have very similar personalities. I can see myself where he was at that point in my life.”
Jaxson says, “We did a lot of projects, like making a memory box with things about our loved one and most of the time me and Sam just talked the whole time because he lost his dad around my age. We just talked about how he lost his dad and I talked about how similar they are to me.”
Sam adds, “It’s just very important for these kinds to be able to come here once a month, talk about what’s going on, see other people. They aren’t the only ones in the world who have lost someone. It happens every day. From personal experience of losing somebody, I know it’s huge for these kids to be able to come here and do this. It really is. Everything helps, especially when it comes to kids.”
Theresa Jones is emphatic in her gratitude. “What this has done for my kids… there are no words to say how grateful I am. What you have done for my babies is amazing.” And little Jaycee perhaps says it best, “Sometimes when I’m sad and I go to this program, they just talk to me and say nice words to me and make me feel happy and then I get filled up with joy.”
The WINGs program for children and teens is free of charge to participants and open to any family grieving a loss, not just families served by Hospice of East Texas. It is completely funded by private donations.