By Dennis Taylor, Monterey Herald
MONTEREY >> When her husband, Jerry, died of cancer after 19 years of marriage in April 2011, Helen Grady says her recovery plan was to avoid her grief. She logged 30,000 miles over the next year, visiting family on the East Coast and traveling in Europe. She also spent time with any friend who invited her to a movie, or dinner, or anything else that kept her mind occupied.
“That became my process, and it was constructive, but it wasn’t really life. I knew I was running,” she says today. “The second year was a little bit more of a crash. There were times when I’d find myself on the floor, thinking, ‘’Oh, my God, what am I going to do?’”
The irony was that Grady is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT) with experience in grief counseling. She and Joy Smith, a registered nurse (now retired), had been in charge of the Good Grief for Kids Program at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula for several years.
“As a therapist, I was a person who had helped people work through their grief, but I came to realize that I, myself, needed help, and didn’t know where to get it,” she said.
That was part of the inspiration for the Papillon Center for Loss and Transition, the nonprofit organization Grady and Smith co-founded a year ago at 824 Munras Ave. to assist people of all ages — children through elderly — through the trauma of bereavement.
“Helen and I had come to realize that grief is under-addressed in our culture,” said Smith, who, for 35 years, was an oncology clinical nurse specialist at Community Hospital, educating and coaching people with cancer, and their families. “The expectation is that people are supposed to be back to normal after a short period of time, and it just doesn’t happen that way.”
Another misperception, says Smith, is that hospice organizations thoroughly cover the need for bereavement services. That isn’t the case, she says.
“They offer structured, 10-13-week programs, but if you’re needing something right now because you’re having a tough time, you can’t get it,” she said. “And they readily admit that they can’t deal with children’s grief.”
Grady and Smith not only offer bereavement programs — all free to the public — for children and teens, but also for adults, including a “drop-in discussion group,” 6:30-8 p.m. Wednesdays, where participants are invited to share their stories, receive peer support, and guidance from a health-care professional with expertise in bereavement care, and “begin the healing process.”
A separate grief support group, which meets 6:30-8 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each month, focuses on adults who have experienced the death of a child of any age.
Papillon Center also offers classes entitled “Cooking for One,” which provides information about shopping for one, storing fresh food so that it lasts, and demonstrating healthy recipes that can be used in multiple meals.
A six-week psycho-education program called “Riding the Waves of Grief: How Do I Do This?” (offered in spring and fall semesters) features group support, interactive activities and sharing, during which participants find community and learn tools to build resilience and foster healing.
And the popular program Grady and Smith headed at Community Hospital, “Good Grief for Kids and Teens,” takes place 5:30-7 p.m. on Mondays, in four-week spring, summer, fall and winter sessions.
“Good Grief for Kids” is an age-based psycho-education program designed to let kids (4-11 years old) and teens (12-18) know they are not alone, to give their grief a voice through play, art and storytelling, and to support the adults who care for them. Each session is professionally led by therapists with expertise and experience in childhood grief.
“That first evening of ‘Good Grief for Kids,’ when the kids are all sitting around having pizza, interacting with each other, there is just something in the energy that says, ‘Oh, I’m not different. You understand how I’m feeling. You understand what’s going on,’ ” Grady says. “All of a sudden they’re talking, and laughing, and then you hear somebody say, ‘Well, how did your daddy die?’”
Grady facilitates that program with multiple adult volunteers — one for every two children — who monitor the appropriateness of the conversations and lead the kids through exercises with artwork and reading.
Papillon Center also will be offering “Camp Good Grief,” a one-day event on Sept. 13 at Whispering Pines Park, during which kids, teens and families learn about grief through art, ritual and play. The program offers families an opportunity to connect with others, to build resilience and to deepen recovery at any time after the death of someone special. There is no charge to attend, but campers must pre-register by calling 320-1188, or by emailing Grady at email@example.com.
“The goal of most of our Papillon programs, because we’re group-focused, is to build community, because that’s part of healing,” Smith says. “So when a new person comes in, the person who’s been coming for a while can feel like they have something to offer. And that becomes very tangible evidence to them that they’re moving forward.”
Future offerings are expected to include programs dealing with anticipatory grief, stillborn and miscarriage death, and pet bereavement.
“The thing about grief is that it happens to all of us. It’s just part of being a human being,” Smith says. “When bad things happen to people, and we can support them through it, they can emerge changed, feeling resilient, so the next time something bad happens — which it will — they’ll be better-equipped.
“I feel like Papillon has the capacity to build stronger individuals and stronger families because grief can be more normalized — and because people will know where they can get good coaching.”
The Papillon Center is totally supported by donations, and operates with an all-volunteer staff, including marriage and family therapist interns from CSU Monterey Bay. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer at the center is asked to call 320-1188.
Visit the website at www.papillon-center.org for additional information.
Dennis Taylor can be reached at 726-4371.