In October we completed an eight week grief support group in partnership with the National Guard Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy. We served at-risk teen cadets between the ages of 16-18 who are enrolled in the 6 month residential Sunburst program located at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, CA.
Our time spent at Sunburst was rich and filled with hope and healing for the cadets. Many of the cadets come from tough backgrounds, compounded with grief makes life even more challenging. Over the eight weeks we provided 5 grief support groups comprised of 55 cadets; 2 female groups and 3 male groups. Each week cadets learned about their grief and how it impacts them. They learned how to be vulnerable with each other, and how to share the pain their grief and loss caused them.
For many of the cadets this was the first time they were given an opportunity to share about losing their loved one in a safe, supportive, non-judgmental space. Each week cadets learned healthy ways to deal with their feelings of grief, and how to honor their loved one’s memory. They discovered that grieving in silence was not the answer to finding peace; we suffer in isolation, but heal in community—and that’s what we did.
A special group of woman made custom pillow cases using fabrics that represented each cadet’s special loved one who had died. As we handed out the pillow cases the room was charged with emotions, they were so grateful for such a special hand-crafted gift. Something most of us take for granted now had so much meaning to a group of grieving cadets.
Our eight week journey with the cadets is so remarkable. We witness first-hand how these teens find the courage to face their grief head-on. The cadets learned to be encouraging, compassionate, and understanding of each other. We entered the group as strangers on our own grief journey, and leave the group as friends committed to each other finding our “new normal”. Ultimately, the cadets discover that they are not alone, and that they are not defined by their grief.
We are so thankful for the partnership with have with Sunburst. We recently received a grant to subsidize funding for this program, and we extend our gratitude and appreciation to the New York Life Foundation for their generosity.