Brooke’s Place is where grieving children have a community. In a way, that’s sad: there shouldn’t be a community of grieving children. But the reality is that children lose loved ones, and when they do, they feel especially alone and alienated. At Brooke’s Place, things are different: all the kids who are here have lost or are soon to lose someone significant. That means that it’s a place where grieving children can get back that sense of community they may feel they have lost in the wake of personal loss.
Feeling less alone, perhaps, gives kids the opportunity to let go and mourn. Which is exactly what they need to do to heal.
For all these reasons, Kars4Kids awarded Brooke’s Place with one of its small grants. This is work we must support, because losing a loved one is hard, and kids need help with that. We spoke with Brooke’s Place Executive Director Theresa Brun to learn more about this work.
Kars4Kids: What is different about the way a child grieves?
Theresa Brun: Kids grieve very differently than adults, and grieve in the age they are at, which changes as they get older. A 5-year-old, for example, may be playing a game, may stop and shout out something about their loved one who died, and then may go back to playing. As the child ages, their grief also changes.
Kars4Kids: Brooke’s place was founded 20 years ago. How many children have you helped since that time?
Theresa Brun: We have been able to serve over 16,000 children since we began providing grief support programs in April, 1999.
Kars4Kids: What happens in a support group for the youngest age range you serve (ages 3-5)?
Theresa Brun: Our support groups are age-appropriate, and based on play therapy activities, so our youngest kids may play games (i.e., grief basketball); spend time in the Expression Room drawing or painting; do a craft, or visit with the Paws and Think therapy dogs, for example.
Kars4Kids: What’s “The Volcano Room?”
Theresa Brun: The Volcano Room is a favorite place at Brooke’s Place for all of our kids. It’s a room filled with different objects that children can use to express their grief in a more physical, yet safe, way. During a busy time in the Volcano room, you might see children hitting pool noodles against our colorful padded walls, hitting colorful punching bags, ripping up phone books, stomping on bubble wrap, etc.
Kars4Kids: What’s “The Expression Room?”
Theresa Brun: The Expression Room is the complete opposite of the Volcano Room! This is a space where we ask the kids to be quiet and use the time to listen to soft music, draw, paint, or write about their loved one, their grief, or anything else they want to do during this time.
Kars4Kids: Can you tell us about BP8?
Theresa Brun: BP8 is our outreach program that takes Brooke’s Place into the community where the kids are both physically and emotionally. We know that for lots of reasons, not all grieving children can come to our ongoing support groups on the Northwest Side and Far West Side of Indianapolis, or our therapy services in our offices. So we provide 8-week grief support sessions in partnership with community organizations, schools, and churches to bring Brooke’s Place to them!
Kars4Kids: How many children, on average, attend Camp Healing Tree? Can you describe some of the “expressive activities” that take place during a typical Camp Healing Tree weekend?
Theresa Brun: Camp Healing Tree is a great opportunity for 80 kids, ages 7-17, to spend a weekend working on their grief journey with other kids who are experiencing grief as well! The weekend consists of many traditional camp activities (rock climbing, swimming etc.) but also consists of sessions where the campers can honor their loved ones who died by sharing memory items, recognizing them during the closing ceremony, and doing a variety of other activities where grief support is incorporated. For example, one of the activities involves guitars, where the camper can decorate the guitar any way they choose to reflect their grief journey, and then they have the option of keeping it or smashing it!
Kars4Kids: Brooke’s Place also offers one-on-one therapy for young people and their caregivers “who are experiencing a death or are anticipating the death of someone significant.” Can you tell us how therapy might be helpful for someone who is about to lose someone significant?
Theresa Brun: When a loved one is critically ill, the grieving process (for all that is lost now and will be lost) begins during that phase of the illness and of course continues when the loved one dies. Therapy during the anticipatory time gives children and family members the opportunity to address the wide array of feelings that they may be having, and in some cases are actually able to participate in therapy with the loved one who is ill.
Kars4Kids: What’s next for Brooke’s Place?
Theresa Brun: Brooke’s Place is in the initial stages of developing a new three-year strategic plan to set the course for program sustainability and expansion. We know that there are 73,000 kids in Central Indiana who are experiencing the death of a significant loved one, and we know that in 2018 we served over 2,300 people. The number of children we are serving continues to grow each year, but we are working hard to close the gap between the number we reach and the number of children who could benefit from our programs!