Den for Grieving Kids continues to provide support for grieving community members
Emily, Kelly, Delaine, Theresa and Emma came to the Den for Grieving Kids in Greenwich for their own reasons.
For Emily, of Westport, it's because the other kids in school just don't understand what she's going through.
For Kelly, of Stamford, it's the opportunity to express herself.
For Delaine, of Stamford, it's a place where he can see his friends who are facing the same challenges.
For Theresa, of Westchester County, it's become routine after eight years.
For Emma, of Greenwich, it's to connect with other kids her age.
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Despite why they continue to go to the Den, the five kids originally walked through the doors for one reason: Someone they loved had died.
The Den for Grieving Kids, located at an old orphanage at 40 Arch St., is a free service through the Family Centers in Darien that has created a safe haven for parents and children coping with death. Every other week, Den members come from lower Fairfield County and Westchester County to be with those who also experienced a loss of a loved one.
The Den is celebrating its 20-year anniversary this year.
Even though Delaine Aranha, 11, of Stamford, said multiple times that he doesn't like the arts and crafts the children do during their sessions at the Den, he looks forward to going every other week.
Delaine and his mother, Jean Wills Aranha, starting attending the Den in January 2012, just four months after Jean's husband died.
"January 4, 2012," Delaine rapidly said in between a bite of pizza while his mother thought back to when they first came to the Den.
Aranha was aware of the Den through years of working in Stamford.
Even though she had to "drag" Delaine to the first night, she said, she saw and continues to see the weight on his shoulders instantly relieved when he walks through the door. Jean also feels a sense of relief.
"People at work will ask how you are, but after a while they expect to hear `I'm fine,'" Jean said, adding that it's OK not to be fine, which the Den supports. Parents also have their own separate discussions while their children engage in their own activity.
Rita Barnhart, who has been volunteering at the Den for nine years, leads the parent conversation, which ranges from discussion about the holidays to a recent movie.
The Den is rooted in traditions, said Linda Weatherseed, the coordinator. When families first go to the Den, they are given a rough heart-shaped rock to symbolize the rough road they will have to travel. But when a family decides that they are ready to leave the Den, they are given a smooth heart-shaped rock.
"The Den is place where families can meet other people like them," Weatherseed said. "It's especially important for the children who may feel isolated when grieving. They get to be surrounded by people who are experiencing the same thing."
At the start of every Den night, which are on Mondays and Wednesdays every other week, members gather in a large community room.
One by one, they state the name of the person they've lost, but they are not required. They have the option to pass and not say anything.
Names of lost loved ones are spoken aloud. But the somber moment is over just as quickly as it began.
In a rush, the doors to the community rooms are pulled open and children pour into the thin high-ceilinged hallways and toward their rooms to start the evening's activities.
The Den is a peer-support group, according to Weatherseed. "It's not therapy; it's therapeutic," Weatherseed said.
The children are divided by age into the Littles, Middles 1, Middles 2 and Teens. The adults also go into their own discussion group.
"The thing is that it's not a matter of getting over it," Weatherseed said about the grieving process. "It's about getting through it."
Throughout the night, the children do activities that are friendship and grief based to help them with the healing process.
On Wednesday, March 20, the Middles 1 and 2 decorated paper "CDs" and wrote down songs that remind them of the people they lost.
Quickly, the conversation among the children turned to memories of deceased family members, but there were no tears. While it was a heavy conversation, the children openly spoke about their memories.
One girl used opera music and explained that when her dad picked her up from dance class, he would play opera music, roll down the windows of the car and loudly sing. The little girl said it used to embarrass her but she said it while suppressing laughs and smiles. For the most part, the volunteers who supervise the groups are able to take a step back and allow the children to talk amongst themselves.
"It's amazing to see the progress in these kids," said Kristin Duda, who has been volunteering for four years and works with the Middles 1 group. "When new kids come in, they see that life does go on. You can see the hope in their eyes."
Duda lost her mother when she was a teenager.
In the Middles 2 room, where Delaine can be found, the atmosphere is a little different.
Delaine, Emily and Emma break into song and dance every few minutes before returning to their paper CD projects. It started with Fun.'s "We Are Young." All of the children were singing with their heads buried in their arts and crafts projects. Before long, LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" came on and they were dancing in circles around the room until one of the volunteers called them back to the project at hand.
Kelly sits with a volunteer off to the side, though. Both are haphazardly decorating their paper CDs, instead Kelly is recounting something that happened at school. Her face shows a range of expression and never once does the volunteer take her attention from her except when Kelly joins in the singing of Mackelmore's "Thrift Shop."
"Coming to the Den makes me express myself about how I feel about my parents," Kelly said as she adjusted her glasses on her face. "It's not only me who lost a mom."
The Den doesn't just provide support for children and parents, but also for the volunteers, most of whom have also lost someone in their lives.
For volunteer Sheila Collins, who has been giving time to the Den for nine years, there was nothing for her to turn to when she lost her father at a young age.
"My mother went to pieces," Collins said. "She would come home and cry."
Then her husband died when her children were 14 and 16.
"There was nothing for us," Collins said. "It's very important to have a place to express our feelings."
The Den was originally created by the Junior League of Women in Greenwich, which eventually turned the program over to Family Centers.
Throughout the old orphanage a bell can be heard.
"That's the five-minute warning," said Theresa.
At the end of the night, everyone comes back together in the community room to sing "Lean on Me" by Bill Withers -- in a reminder that there are people who are there for support and who are working through the same experiences.
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