Soul Survivors helps children grieve

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Thursday marks National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day. Grief is one thing that can be especially tough for children to understand. Whether losing a family member or a friend, grief can be extremely difficult for young children.

Carilion Clinic has a program to help these kids cope---it's called Soul Survivors.

"The kids are learning what grief looks like in themselves, who are their support systems, learning about their feelings and that it's okay to be angry with their dad who may have died by suicide," Frannie Gaeta, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with Carilion and head of Soul Survivors, said.

And it's for parents as well, but it's not about them. Gaeta said, "The adults, we teach what grief looks like in their children, what to expect, some warning signs, and just to educate and support them. It is not about their grief, it's about their children's grief."

The parents and kids separate into groups with clinicians for 8 days over 8 weeks. They can explore their feelings, share memories, and remember loved ones through creative activities.

"It brings kids together so that they don't feel alone, it can normalize their own grief, it helps educate them," Gaeta said.

Tricia Lemelle volunteers with Soul Survivors.

"Grief is one of those things that people struggle with on a daily basis on their own, so be able to come out of that silence and to join into a community of grievers, it was really impactful for each family," Tricia Lemelle, a Resident Physician at Carilion and Soul Survivors Volunteer, said.

Gaeta added, "It can be fun, I know that sounds kind of incongruent, grief, I'm having fun, but these kids do have fun through learning about their grief, they do activities, they do crafts, there is laughter through these tears."

Gaeta says some grief symptoms to look out for in your kids include drops in grades soon after a death, any change in behavior, and increase in isolation.