What is CGAD?

hope

CGAD, or Children’s Grief Awareness Day, is celebrated annually on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. It was created in 2008 as a way to raise awareness for children’s grief, which is way too often overlooked and/or underestimated. The fact that it is observed close to Thanksgiving is not an accident; when you lose a loved one, the holidays are often a little (or a lot) extra difficult.

CGAD was created by the wonderful folks at the Highmark Caring Place, right here in Pennsylvania. They worked with students who had a desire to bring attention to their often silent grief. Their goal is to make Hope (the blue butterfly) as recognizable as the pink ribbons we all associate with breast cancer. I got this from the CGAD website: “one child out of every 20 children will have a parent [emphasis mine] die—and that number doesn’t include those who experience the death of a brother or sister, a close grandparent, an aunt or uncle, or friend.” Think about that. With the size of classes these days, that averages out to at least one child per class who will lose a parent. Really think about that. It’s significant.

We need to make sure that there are sufficient resources available for these children. Some families will be able to afford private counselling for their children, but this sort of help can be expensive. Sometimes it’s just plain difficult to fit such appointments into a busy schedule. Other times the surviving parents/caretakers are overwhelmed with their own grief and just can’t find the resources to help the child. Thankfully, at least in this area, places exist to help these families.

In Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, PA, there are 4 locations of the Highmark Caring Place. The Caring Place provides free support to grieving children and their families. Once per week (or biweekly), groups meet for 2 hours. The first hour is a dinner/social hour, and the second is a time of support and sharing. Children are grouped by age, while adults are grouped based on their relationship to the person they lost. Attendees can share as much or as little as they want. Some people attend every week, yet say nothing. Some people pour out their soul. It’s all good.

I spent 7 years with the Caring Place as a volunteer, and am now attending with my son after the loss of my mother. Seeing both sides of this organization makes me realize how wonderful and necessary a place like it is. One of the activities every family who attends the Caring Place does (unless they opt out of it, of course) is making a quilt square. All of the families’ square in that particular group are then sewn together into one large quilt. For privacy reasons I will not share a photo of the entire quilt. Instead, I will share a photo (of the photo) of my family’s quilt square. We just had the quilt dedication on Sunday, and it was quite emotional. I won’t lie; there were a lot of tears. But the quilt is beautiful.

quilt square

I’ll explain the square.

– Photo, top left: Mom and Dad from my brother’s wedding. Isn’t it a great photo?
– Photo, top right: Mom in the Mustang that Dad had restored for her.
– Photo, bottom right: taken at a fancy local restaurant last September when Mom was actually feeling good. A friend of Dad’s sent a limo to pick us all up and take us to dinner. It was awesome!
– Photo, bottom left: Mom and Dad with two of their dogs (both passed away).
– Peace sign: when we went through Mom’s jewelry, we found tons of stuff with peace signs on it. I guess she was a closet hippie.
– Eeyore: she loved Eeyore. She had a big stuffed Eeyore for years, and it went with her to the hospital.
– Mixing bowl, flour, cupcake: Mom baked a lot, especially when we were young.
– Cat and dog: We had tons and tons and tons of animals throughout the years . . . cats, dogs, guinea pigs, gerbils, pigs, chickens, horses, ducks, swans, fish, hedgehogs, chameleons, and maybe some others that I’m forgetting.
– My niece wrote about the chicken pot pie. Mom made it for everyone’s birthday and all minor holidays. My brother and I have to try to make it; this will not end well.

Obviously there was way more to Mom’s life than we could fit on this small square, but I think it’s a pretty good tribute to her. It now hangs at the Caring Place with quilt squares commemorating so many others’ lives. It’s such a beautiful thing.

Chances are good that you know a child who is grieving the loss of a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or someone else. Maybe they are obviously grieving. Maybe they seem like they are fine to you. Either way, let them know you support them. Find them the resources they need. Let them know that they are not alone.

To download the “Holding on to HOPE” sheet, click here. You can print it out, write in the name of your loved one, and take a picture of yourself with it. Upload it to social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) with the hashtag #CGADHOPE. There are photos like that from all over the world.

For more information about Children’s Grief Awareness day, visit their website.

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