What Volunteers Say
Kathie: "I believe we do make a difference."
Kathie has been a dedicated Caring Place volunteer for many years, having worked with preschool and middle-school-age children, as well as being a greeter at the meetings and serving food to the families. She speaks of the privilege it is to spend time with the grieving families.
Deciding to become a volunteer
I believe in giving back. I believe that nobody walks this earth and just takes in. So I wanted to give back.
I've been a volunteer at the Caring Place since 2003. I chose the Caring Place because, certainly, if I'm going to spend time doing something it's got to be worthwhile. And I couldn't think of anything more worthwhile.
I went on a tour of the Caring Place and was so blown away by what I saw that I asked if there was something I could do to help. What blew me away was the fact that everything had been considered. From the quilts on the wall where the families can be absolutely personal about their grief but yet share it with everybody else, to the rooms that are done so wonderfully, to the reflection area, to the forum — every single thing had been thought of.
But I most liked the idea of not fixing somebody's grief but walking beside them. Because you can't fix it, you can only walk with them.
Everywhere a grieving kid goes they're alone. They're the kid whose mom died. They're the kid whose baby brother died. Their grief isolates the kids enough. And pity doesn't help. So when someone says, "Oh, you poor child, your mom died." Well, he already feels bad enough. That makes him different again.
I remember my mom died two years ago; she and I shopped. And for the first several times I went into a department store, I had to leave. Because the memories of my mom were just right there. Now I go in and I'm OK, but those memories that I carry with me are part of my grief.
There is no statute of limitations on grief — it could take a very short time; it could take a very long time. You could be OK and then it comes back again. And it's somehow grasping it with your whole being and figuring out a way to move on. Because of course the living do move on. We don't stop living when someone dies.
Making a difference
I get a sense of satisfaction knowing that in this place, in this time, in this moment, there's one little thing that I can do and I'm able to do it and then we part and go our separate ways. But it's just the ability to make a difference.
Whether it's me personally or us as a group, I believe we do make a difference. As a volunteer group you are one. And the families get to be as well.
When the families first walk in, they're sitting that very first night in isolated little groups, all alone not talking to anybody; and the kids don't really look at you in the eye or trust you at all. But you sit down with them and you talk with them and you share with them and you play a game with them and just let them be wherever they are that particular day. And they begin to open up to you and to each other and you watch the process through the ten weeks that they're here and when they leave, they really are connected so strongly to each other.
They learn to trust each other with some big questions. One father whose wife had died asked, "Where do I go to get my girls' hair cut?" Another father asked, "My daughter is going to the prom, what do I do?" The families are able to help each other in some very practical things. Just like the quilt that they make, they are one. By the end, they're sharing phone numbers and names and addresses. We allow the families to just be.
Being with the kids
When the kids come to the Caring Place, we're able to give them a listening ear, a one-on-one kind of thing that allows them to be the grieving child and not be pitied and not have anyone try to make light of it or ignore it or be afraid that you're going to say the wrong thing to that child. We ourselves just need to be.
Sometimes all they want is to share. All they want is to talk. All they want is to know that it's OK to cry or to be angry. I think it does help to talk about what happened when the person died, how you felt when the person died, what the funeral was like, or whatever they want to talk about. Kids need to have the chance to talk just like adults do.
I don't think it's a sad job. I think that when you look into the eyes of the kids who come running up to you for a hug or who just want to sit and play with model magic for the whole time they're here and you know that you're just being with them, it doesn't make you sad.
And if children ask questions and you don't know the answer, it's OK to say, "I don't know the answer to that. What do you think?" You don't have to have the answers, you just have to be.
You are who you are
When you are with children you just walk beside them, you just are, you are who you are. It is never our job to get them to talk, it's merely to provide outlets so that if children wish to share and when they wish to share, they can and do. They may never wish to share and that's all right.
It is a privilege to walk beside somebody who allows you to do that when they're grieving. It's from deep inside them, and they let you walk beside them. It's such a privilege.
The funny thing is, you don't think about it when you're doing it, you just do it, you just do what you do. As volunteers, we just are. You just do it and not for any particular purpose or reason or outcome. But then when you take the time to sit back and reflect on it, you realize the gift you've been given by these families.