Desiree and her two younger siblings experienced New Hope after their mother passed away in February 2014, after battling colon cancer for a year. Her mom was cared for in Long Beach Memorial, the hospital where Desiree works. Her mom was 57 years old when she died, leaving behind five children. Desiree is oldest; she has two younger brothers in their thirties, and her 15 year old brother Jimmy and 11 year old sister, Jiana. When their mom died Jimmy was only 13 and Jiana was 9.
After her Desiree’s mom died and she returned to work, she found it extremely difficult to maintain her self-imposed expected level of performance. Desiree said “I had a hard time concentrating, difficulty sleeping, I struggled in making decisions, and just not wanting to be at work. I checked all the boxes of what I was supposed to do—had great friends that I talked to all the time, exercised, and even went to counseling. And I still wasn’t doing well.” Desiree heard about New Hope through her mom’s oncologist and immediately checked the website, called the office, cried on the phone and registered for a grief support group last summer. “Attending this group was a turning point for me. I learned how to give myself permission to grieve, and that it was okay to be vulnerable with others. I cried in every single session because I’m a crier, but that was part of how I processed my grief” said Desiree. During her time in group her siblings Jimmy and Jiana were living with Desiree, she shared “it was good for them to see me working through my feelings. I learned about the “grief ball” of emotions in group, my siblings and I talked about it a lot—we still do. This ball has become a picture for my family illustrating the complexity of grief. It’s a tangled mix of emotions, some days the ball is huge and cumbersome, other days it is more manageable. We check in with each other and ask how our grief ball is doing and we all know what that means.”
The 2014 holidays were a difficult time for Desiree and her family with their mom not around. Desiree became the matriarch of the family and desperately wanted to maintain the traditions for the kids. Desiree was having a difficult time with everyday life, it seemed impossible for her to think about pulling off Thanksgiving (Mom’s favorite holiday), her Mom’s birthday (beginning of December), and then celebrating Christmas. To get support she attended a workshop offered by New Hope, New Hope for the Holidays. Desiree shared “The workshop gave me tools to navigate through the holidays. As a family we intentionally talked about what we wanted those days to look like, honoring and recognizing our mom in ways that we had decided together as a family.”
Although Desiree and her siblings had made it through the holidays, Jimmy & Jiana continued to struggle with their grief, which manifested into destructive, disruptive behavior and poor school performance. Desiree knew the kids needed ways to process through their grief in a more structured and intentional way. In the Spring of 2015 New Hope hosted its Family Camp program, Desiree knew it was exactly what they needed to begin the grief process as a family. Desiree was so nervous the kids wouldn’t attend camp, despite her doubts; both Jimmy and Jiana attended family camp.
“That weekend at family camp was so powerful and transformative for us as a family. The kids were finally able to be with other kids that were also grieving. I have never in my life had strangers pour into my family like we experienced that weekend. The volunteers were beyond gracious and loving. These people wanted to be there, and wanted to help us deal with the tough stuff associated with grieving. They showed us how to celebrate our mom and gave us permission to have fun again. When we were heading back down the mountain I asked the kids what they felt was the most important thing they learned at camp, Jimmy said it was hearing from his group leader about his anger struggles and providing him with positive ways to handle it. My sister Jiana said that it was so good to be around other kids going through the same thing, to feel normal and not alone—they both want to go back next year.”
As part of Desiree’s new normal, she shared her story at our 5th Annual Golf Tournament Fore Hope with 170 guests. In December of this year, she will participate as a panelist at our New Hope for the Holidays Workshop; A Conversation About Grief. Desiree also hopes to facilitate grief support groups in the future.
Desiree Thomas is the Trauma Program Director at Long Beach Memorial/Miller Children’s Hospital. She loves Jimmy and Jiana dearly and plays a major role in supporting and caring for them. They are huge hockey fans; New Hope was able to send them to a Canucks vs. Kings in October of this year.