Chelsea is a former client who has the distinction of attending bereavement support programs at Judi’s House twice – the first time as a teen after the death of her father and then later as a caregiver after the loss of her mother greatly impacted her son and younger sister. We are grateful to her for sharing her bereavement journey with us and for her belief in the power of our programs to help participants heal.
Chelsea was a senior in high school when her father passed away due to complications from a stroke. Although he had been in the hospital for nearly a year battling a foot infection and issues related to congestive heart failure, her father had turned the corner and was making significant progress towards recovering in the weeks before his death.
“Even the morning of the day when he passed away he was still coherent and talking. It made it pretty difficult knowing that the week before he was planning on coming home,” recalled Chelsea.
The sudden loss set her family adrift. Her younger brother and sister kept to themselves, trying to absorb all that happened. Her mother was more open but was also dealing with the lifestyle changes that her husband’s death has caused. Just three months after her father’s passing, Chelsea gave birth to her first child, launching her quickly into a busy new phase of life.
In the midst of everything, Chelsea realized her family hadn’t taken the time to grieve or even discuss her father’s passing. They turned to Judi’s House for help.
Chelsea, her mother and siblings, participated in the Pathfinders program, which offers grief support over 10 sessions through art, play and other activities. The program also provides the opportunity for younger participants to meet with their peers, while adults discuss the challenges of raising grieving children and receive support for their grief.
Chelsea said the program made it possible for her family to talk about the loss of her father more easily.
“I think it helped me understand that death is normal and so it’s something not to be ashamed of,” she said.
Having peer support also helped her siblings, who were 10 and 13 at the time, feel less alone.
“It made it feel like I wasn’t a special circumstance. I didn’t have a lot of people at school or friends who had gone through the same thing, so it was nice hearing other people’s perspectives,” said Chelsea’s brother, Vincent.
Just five years later, Chelsea lost her mother to alcoholic hepatitis. At the time, she had two children, was pregnant with her third and was assuming guardianship for her younger sister. Again, she turned to Judi’s House, knowing that her son – who called his grandmother his favorite person – and her sister would need help processing their grief.
Chelsea also wanted to learn how to support her son and sister as their caregiver.
My sister was in her teen years, and I didn’t know how to deal with her at that age and you had the grieving piece on top of that,” said Chelsea. “I didn’t want to punish her for acting out if it was part of the grieving behavior.”
Returning to Judi’s House yielded positive results for Chelsea and her family. Her son learned new strategies to help him cope with the sadness he felt after losing his grandmother and her sister became more comfortable expressing her emotions.
“Afterward, she was able to tell me she was sad that mom was gone – it allowed her to open up,” said Chelsea.
Chelsea says she recommends Judi’s House to others seeking support and credits the organization for changing her views on losing loved ones.
“It’s not anything I hide anymore. It’s an everyday thing and they helped me understand that.”