Kaleidoscope Grief Center offers healing space, common ground for those touched by loss

By Jane Dennis
Special Contributor

Sadness, despair, uncertainty, even anger are among the emotions that can rain down following the death of a loved one.

The comfortable routine of life is jolted into a different pace. A hazy numbness sets in. Things change… forever.

Death is a reality of life. But that makes it no less painful or challenging for both adults and children.

After the death of her husband, Joel, in December 2013, Erica Sorrells of Maumelle realized she couldn’t get through her grief alone. “I knew that we needed to seek help as soon as possible.” Her “we” included five-year-old daughter Emily Kate.

A quick online search turned up Kaleidoscope Grief Center (KGC), a Methodist Family Health program designed specifically to help children and families cope with the loss of a loved one. KGC is part of the Methodist Counseling Clinic located at 1600 Aldersgate Road in Little Rock.

Erica Sorrells and her daughter Emily Kate turned to Methodist Family Health’s Kaleidoscope Grief Center after the death of Joel Sorrells, Erica’s husband’s and Emily Kate’s father.  COURTESY PHOTO

Erica Sorrells and her daughter Emily Kate turned to Methodist Family Health’s Kaleidoscope Grief Center after the death of Joel Sorrells, Erica’s husband’s and Emily Kate’s father.

“Kaleidoscope Grief Center has made the difference in my life and Emily Kate’s life throughout our grief journey,” Sorrells says. “It has helped me connect with others who have lost loved ones and who can relate to my role as a parent or guardian while dealing with the significant loss of my spouse and a grieving child. We cry together. We laugh together. We share. And we learn that we are not alone.”

The Sorrells family is doing better emotionally, and continues to attend KGC sessions to support others in the grief process.

“At Kaleidoscope we teach families that you can find healing through sharing yourself and your story and promote hope for others, as well by your active group presence,” says therapist and KGC director Janet Breen.

Kaleidoscope Grief Center programs include:

  • Peer Support Bereavement Groups. Grief groups meet twice a month and provide age-appropriate peer support for children ages 5-18 and their adult caregivers. Trained volunteers facilitate the ongoing groups, which offer a safe place to explore and express feelings.
  • Camp Healing Hearts. A free 24-hour family grief camp that facilitates the grief process for bereaved children and their families through therapeutic and recreational activities. Children ages 5-18 and family members have the opportunity to reconnect, strengthen coping skills and experience fresh hope for the future. Camp Healing Hearts 2015 is coming up May 15-16 at Camp Aldersgate in Little Rock.
  • Kids Club. Social and emotional support is offered to children ages 5-18 who are being served by Kaleidoscope Grief Center.

Because the program is focused on children, many Kaleidoscope activities are artistic in nature, providing a grieving child an outlet for creative expression. For example, the peer support group has activities that include memory boxes, balloon releases, pet therapy, grief games and candlelight memorial services. In addition, children and families in the Kaleidoscope program are eligible to take part in quarterly Kids Club activities that include an Easter Egg Hunt, Fall Fest and a Christmas caroling event.

Although there are many similarities between adult and child grief, there are differences as well. Both adults and children need to express grief openly and have their grief acknowledged by others. They need extra support through the grief process, assurance that it was not their fault, and assurance that they are not “going crazy,” Breen says.

When it comes to differences, “children’s grief is intermittent and sometimes seemingly absent, while adult grief is a continual awareness and experience of loss,” Breen says. “Children’s understanding of death is limited to their age and cognitive development, while adults are more mature in their understanding of death and loss.”

Children’s ability to remember the deceased can be limited before puberty, and they may need help remembering, while adults have fully developed memories of the deceased, Breen adds. Children grow up with the loss and have to incorporate it into all their developmental milestones, while adults do not. Children may talk more openly about a death, while adults have preconceived notions about how people will respond and may not share their feelings.

“A child depends on an adult caregiver to be consistent in meeting their basic needs,” Breen says, “including being an advocate for the child in times of loss and seeking grief support for them as needed.”

KGC counselors and staff have been “tremendous through our healing process,” Sorrells says. “The staff members are so patient with the children and have a genuine passion to help restore the brokenness that their little hearts are feeling.”

As for Emily Kate, now 6, her mother says she has transformed into “a little girl who has learned how to channel her energy and emotions into positive memories of her father. Her smile has returned and it’s refreshing to see that she is healing one day at a time from Kaleidoscope Grief Center’s strong support group.”

To learn more about Kaleidoscope Grief Center, visit www.methodistfamily.org; email jbreen@methodistfamily.org; or call 501-537-3991.

Dennis, a former editor of the Arkansas United Methodist, serves as director of communications for Methodist Family Health, which was founded in 1899 and today provides comprehensive psychiatric and behavioral healthcare to children and families in Arkansas.