Learning to Live with Grief


The Grief Center of Southwest Colorado offers support and understanding to survivors who've lost a loved one so that they once again can find hope and joy in their lives. Sponsored by Express Employment Professionals and The Payroll Department

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Durango resident Wendy Barney was in Peru on a hiking trip when she received a call informing her that her ex-husband had committed suicide. And worse yet, their 15 year old son discovered his body. She says she wouldn't have survived mentally or emotionally had it not been for the support she found through the Grief Center of Southwest Colorado. You're watching the Local News Network, brought to you by Express Employment Professionals and The Payroll Department. I'm Wendy Graham Settle. The loss of a loved one can be devastating, even life-threatening. But a local nonprofit, the Grief Center of Southwest Colorado, has been offering professional grief therapy for the past 13 years to help survivors understand their grief and to help them find their way to a new life without their loved ones. Founder and professional grief therapist Judy Austin said she started the Center after working with Hospice of Mercy patients and their families, and saw that survivors of loved ones who weren't in hospice needed just as much support. Austin and a team of professional grief counselors offer individual and group therapy sessions on a sliding scale fee. The Center also serves as an umbrella organization for peer group support programs, like survivors of loss from suicide and grief recovery after substance passing.

We really work on the premise that grief is an individualized experience. And yet we try to normalize because everyone will go through grief at some point in their lives.

While volumes have been written on grief recovery, Austin says that death and grief are still considered a somewhat taboo topic that can contribute to a survivor's sense of isolation. Statements like be strong, or it's been a year, you should be through grieving by now don't reflect the reality of grieving, which Austin calls a lifelong process of acceptance. But Austin says providing professional support for both children and adult survivors can be critical to their health, because burying grief can lead to behavior problems, illness, even death.

They're at higher risk for other both mental and physical health issues. We know that youth who are bereaved, generally sibling or parent loss are at a 75% higher risk for self harm, substance use and suicidal ideation. I tell my clients that, you know, when you try to suppress it, which which many of us do, it's painful, it's difficult. It comes out sideways sometimes. And there's a point where if you aren't releasing that pressure, sometimes years later, you know, something either can trigger it or in the schools, we see behavioral issues sometimes a few years later, if the kids haven't gotten ongoing grief support.

Grieving can be particularly hard on children who may have trouble understanding their scary emotions. Wendy Barney and her children worked with Austin for two years following the suicide death of her children's father, and she still remembers vividly how it impacted them.

It's still like I remember Sam coming home from school in the beginning and he'd be like, kids are worried about how their hair looks or, like, if they have a date to the prom. And he's like, I wish I could care about that kind of stuff. And you know, just to see your kid going through that and to not have a normal, you know, their innocence is just gone.

This past year, the Center entered into partnerships with area school districts to provide grief support and education for students and staff. And it hosts free children's grief camps that combined play with group therapy sessions so that children can learn how to cope with their grief. And more importantly, learn that they're not alone. Barney recalls that the camp was a life-changing experience for her son.

He ended up being able to volunteer for the Children's Grief Camp. And it was the first time that I saw him with a light in his eye again. It was, I remember the first day he came home and Judy talked about how grief can come out in other ways if you don't address it. And he said, "Mom, the first activity we did was we put balloons, we held balloons under water and the harder you'd try and hold them down, they'd pop up in other places. And they were saying that grief, you know, it pops out in other ways. And I was like, oh my God, that's so brilliant. And so now he's studying psychology in college and this will inform his life for the good.

The Grief Center served 476 clients in 2021, 42% of whom were children. The Center has launched a fundraising campaign to fund the camps and subsidized counseling services for those who can't afford them. You can make a donation and find out more about the Center at Grief CenterSWCO.org. Thanks for watching. I'm Wendy Graham Settle. If you'd like to receive this story and others like it in your inbox, sign up for our newsletter or download our mobile app.


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