Death can shatter a family.
And when that family includes children, it can be even harder. It can be a challenge to know how to begin to help those young hearts heal.
In Salt Lake City, Utah, the Sharing Place provides a safe space for kids and their families to come together, to know they are not alone, and to process and work through their grief together and as individuals.
Jill MacFarlane, the program director at The Sharing Place, admits that it can be a tricky part of her job, but she credits the kids for being more resilient than we think.
“I hear that all the time from people. ‘How do you do what you do? That seems so complicated.’ But really, kids are so open and intelligent and articulate, they make my job easy.”
Recently, Jill was a guest on our podcast to talk about The Sharing Place and the ways that they help families that are grieving the death of one of their own. Shortly after that, two of our When You Die team, Johanna Lunn and Chelsea Hoagland, were in Salt Lake City to visit.
What they found was a place of comfort and support. Chelsea remarked that the feeling was obvious as soon as they arrived.
“The atmosphere of The Sharing Place was uniquely warm and welcoming. From the moment we stepped in the door we could feel a sense of calm and safety. It’s hard to explain just how welcoming and safe Jill, and the building itself, made us feel. I kept saying that every city should have a grief center like this, because everyone, not just children and families, need safe spaces to talk about their grief. The work that The Sharing Place is doing to help individuals is remarkable. I believe that Jill and her colleagues are creating a space for children to learn proper coping mechanisms for topics that are often avoided. By facing death head-on, these children are going to grow up understanding their grief and will develop healthy ways in which they can talk about it with others. Something that is sure to help them succeed later in life.”
The Sharing Place offers families resources and activities to help not just with grief, but in remembering their loved ones. A Dedication Wall has been designated on the outside of the building for artwork they create in memory of the person they’ve lost.
Recognising that emotions are as varied as the individual they are grieving, there are spaces provided with that in mind. In the soft and padded Volcano Room, kids are encouraged to express their anger safely. The playroom is designed to allow them to use play to talk out their grief.
For Johanna, the approach to allowing grieving to happen based on the needs of the individual was apparent. “What struck me most was the deeply compassionate understanding right from the beginning; that there is no set time limit for how long a child or teen can keep coming back. Everyone’s grief journey is different. It might be six months or two years. It’s ok. It’s always ok. Jill and her team at The Sharing Place meet the children they serve where they are, and I love that.”
There is a need for the services that Jill and her team provide, and a second location of The Sharing Place has opened in the Taylorsville area, with another in the works to serve Utah County. Allowing families, as well as individuals, to grieve together is an important part of putting those pieces together and healing in a healthy and loving way.
To hear our conversation with Jill MacFarlane, check out our podcast page.