Talking with Children

The Healing Center’s children’s programs are modeled after the Dougy Center in Portland, Oregon, a national center for grieving children and families.  The Dougy Center has posted helpful tips on how to talk with your children about  the senseless shootings that have taken place over the past two weeks.  If you need one on one support with one of our therapists, please do not hesitate to call us at (206) 523-1206; we are at your service and our community is here to support one another.


The Senseless Shootings: How to Talk with Your Children


Donna Schuurman, EdD, FT
Executive Director
The Dougy Center for Grieving Children

We’re still reeling in Portland, Oregon, from the mall shooting which happened just three days ago.  A normal December afternoon ended with thousands of terrified shoppers and mall workers fleeing or hiding as a masked 22-year-old gunman randomly fired near the mall’s food court. Cindy Ann Yuille, 54, a hospice nurse, daughter, wife, and mother of two was shot in the back and killed. Steven Mathew Forsyth, 45, a businessman, son, husband, and father of two was shot in the head and killed. After wounding a 15-year-old girl, the gunman killed himself.

This morning the news reports stunned our nation again: unthinkable violence in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Innocent children, little kids, gunned down in their classroom, along with teachers and school staff.

What do we tell our children? How do we reassure them of their own safety?

At The Dougy Center, we’ve provided grief support groups for children, teens, young adults and their parents or adult caregivers for 30 years. In 1988 we started our first “Healing After a Violent Death or Murder” group, and sadly, have seen the numbers of children and youth impacted by violent death grow over these decades. Our staff responded after the Thurston High school murders, following 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, and to countless local and national man-made tragedies where children died, witnessed murders, or lost their own family members to violence.

Here are some things for adults to keep in mind:

Don’t project your fears onto your children.

You can’t hear the news about children being murdered without thinking about how you’d feel if they were your children, your grandchildren, your neighbors. The outpouring of care and empathy for the families who lost loved ones – children and adults alike – will be powerful, and…we all know it could have been our mall, our child’s school, our family members who died. Identifying with the senselessness and randomness makes us all feel more vulnerable. But we should remember that children don’t always see things the same way that adults do, and it won’t be helpful for them for us to fall apart. They need to see that we care, that we feel terrible about this tragedy, and that we will do everything we can to keep them safe. They will take their cues from our behavior.

Try to limit their access to the recurring news and exposure to the tragedy over and over.

Over-exposure to the graphic and emotional news can be overwhelming for children. Some children who repeatedly watched the footage of planes crashing into the towers on 9/11 thought it was happening again and again. Too much exposure can fuel their fear, so don’t let them sit and watch the news over and over. Better yet, set the example of not doing so yourself as well.

Understand that you can’t completely shield them from what happened.

It would be next to impossible to hide this event from children, as much as we wish we could. ABC News health and medical writer, Dr. Richard Besser, in a blog the afternoon of the shootings in Connecticut, gave this advice in regards to children younger than 7: “Shield them from this. They don’t need to know about it.” (“Connecticut Shooting: What to Tell Your Kids”)

I don’t believe Dr. Besser understands the power of social media, even with young children. You might be able to shield your own child in your home, for example, by not turning on (or owning) a television, but you can’t protect your children from hearing about it from other kids. The fact is, they will hear about it, so although they don’t “need” to know about it, pretending we can shield them is magical thinking.

Model truth-telling and build trust with your children by letting them hear things, even hard things, from you directly.

Eight days after the 9/11 attacks, I was meeting in small groups with pre-school workers in New York City, talking about how to respond to the young children in their care about the events. A man asked to speak to me privately after one of the trainings, and asked for my advice around his 7-year-old daughter. For the last week, since September 12th, she had been having stomachaches and difficulty sleeping. He said it was not tied to the events of 9/11 because “we don’t have a television.” As his story unfolded it was evident that he did not want to have to explain to his child why people would do such horrible things, a normal dilemma that we face as parents and adults. This child was experiencing physical reactions, as it turned out, not primarily because of her reaction to the events of 9/11, but because she was unable to share her fears and concerns and questions in her own home, faced with her parents’ denial.

Here are some principles to keep in mind as you talk with children:

There is no one typical reaction one can or should expect from children.

Their responses will vary all over the map, from seeming disinterest to nightmares, eating issues and panic attacks. How any specific child will respond will depend on their age, previous experience with death and loss, their personality style. (Fearful children will tend to worry; quiet children may keep their feelings to themselves; those who want to appear unfazed may evidence a sense of bravado or lack of caring). Of course, children directly affected – those who had a family member die; those who witnessed the carnage; those who had friends die – will tend to have longer-term reactions and needs. Watch for changes in behavior, or concerning trends. While it would be normal to have heightened anxiety and sleeplessness, any concerning behavior or troubling symptoms should be taken seriously, and if warranted, professional help sought.

Many children will have an increased sense of fear about their safety.

Understandably. So will many adults. After the mall shootings on December 11, the news outlets were filled with people who said they’d never take their children to Clackamas Town Center again. Others said they’d return as soon as it opened in order to support the stores and employees who had experienced the traumatic events, and whose livelihoods were going to suffer as a result of the several day closure. While we can’t guarantee to our children that nothing bad will ever happen to them, we can provide assurance that we will do everything we can to keep them safe. Of course, the parents of the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School could never have imagined or foreseen the day that unfolded for their children. What makes these murders even more terrifying is that it highlights not only that it can happen anywhere, but that it did happen in two pretty normal, ordinarily safe towns on the opposite edges of our country: Clackamas, Oregon and Newtown, Connecticut.

So, how do we reassure our children?

We can’t promise that nothing bad will ever happen. What we can do is let them know that what happened, as horrible as it was, doesn’t happen very often. The person who committed the crimes died, and is no longer able to hurt anyone else. One person’s bad actions don’t mean that everyone will do bad things.

Children want, need and deserve the truth.

In 30 years of providing grief support to thousands of children and teens at The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families, we have never heard a child say, “I’m glad I was lied to.” Many, however, struggle with anger and lack of trust toward parents or other adults who lied to them. When we don’t tell the truth, they learn that we cannot be trusted. As difficult as it can be at times, and as horrendous as the truth may be, children want, need, and deserve the truth.

Clackamas Town Center re-opened three days after the murders of Cindy Ann Yuille and Steven Mathew Forsyth. Around that same time a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and ruthlessly gunned down 27 innocent children and adults. As we cope with trying to come to terms with the horror and terror of these murders, how to explain such things to our children and keep them safe, let us not forget the families and friends of those killed. They have long, difficult and lonely journeys ahead. Their lives truly will never be the same. They need our support, not just in these initial days of shock and disbelief, but long-term, long after the funerals are over, the tuna casseroles consumed, and the rest of the world has moved on.

The Holiday Army

Here it comes again – the Holiday Army – in its annual march against us. Some of its generals are called “Thanksgiving,” “Christmas,” “Hanukah,” “New Year’s Eve” and “New Year’s Day.” They are no respecters of the heartbroken and emotionally wounded, and their troops are merciless. They take no prisoners! They demand that we participate in their joy and nostalgia or they will mow us down with their militant tanks of holiday spirit.

Sometimes they declare their war on us openly – without shame or remorse. Sometimes, they wait for us in ambush. Their intelligence operators have been working diligently all year, waiting for the Thanksgiving Day (or sometimes Halloween!) trumpet signal to begin their attack. They just don’t seem satisfied to have their celebrations and parties and dinners and festivities unless they can recruit ALL of us into their ranks.

Actually, we wish them well. All we really want is for them to leave us alone and let us mourn in peace and quiet. We prefer our “Silent Nights” to their “Deck the Halls” and “Jingle Bells.” We don’t intentionally spoil their fun, it’s just that our pain makes them uncomfortable. They’ve been conditioned to believe that “The Holiday Season” should have no blemish of suffering or lack of frivolity. We must not only bandage our wounds while in their presence, but cover them with taffeta and sequins besides. They are convinced that all we need is to “put on a happy face” and all our sorrows will magically evaporate.

In their mad pursuit of happiness, they shoot us with the bullets of shopping, piped-in music, special holiday foods and fragrances, gift wrapping, decorations (especially the angels!), joyous children with happy smiles, cards, invitations, parties and gift exchanges. Any other time of the year, snow is considered a nuisance to shovel and plow through. At the holiday season, though, it is touted as romantic and is linked to sleighs and starry nights in front of fireplaces, snuggled close to those we love.

The most devastating bombs they drop into our lives are the images of reunion – times of greeting and hugging folks who are much loved and sometimes not often seen for awhile. They may only be separated by geography; our absent loved ones cannot cross the chasm of loss that looms before our tear-filled eyes. They remind us of things we should be thankful for (and we are more thankful for many of those things than they can ever imagine). They prod us with their spears of delightful togetherness, never realizing that what they celebrate is what we cannot now enjoy. We would not dream of attacking them in these battles for holiday survival. With our noses pressed against the glass that divides us, we actually long to be able to be part of their happiness. We remember the times we joined in their fun and we, too, were part of their army of nostalgia and joy.

Our broken hearts and bleeding wounds do not excuse us from being gracious, however. While grief does not give us permission to be rude and selfish, and we take no overt action against their aggression, we are not without defenses in these battles. We can shield ourselves with the armor of dignity with kind but direct and simple explanations: “We understand your need for celebration, but this year we prefer quiet and private reflection and meditation.” “Right now it’s hard for us to function in large groups and to appreciate laughter and high spirits.” “Our energy is so limited; we’d appreciate some quiet one-on-one time with you in a more spiritual atmosphere.” We can gently remind them of how important it is for us to remember those we love who are gone. These are statements that clarify our position without judging or criticizing them for theirs. In kind and non-threatening ways, we need to tell them what’s good for us, because they won’t think of it on their own, and they can use the education.

We also can exercise the muscles of our sense of humor. It will take some effort on our part, but so does anything that is worthwhile and good for us. We can teach ourselves not to fall into the trap of thinking that our grief makes us the center of the universe. We can limit our demands that others treat us in “special” and “deferential” ways because of our pain. We can cut them a little slack and remember that once upon a time, we were just like they are now. It’s good and healthy for us to review our perspectives now and then and decide if we’re being fair and reasonable.

We can express our love in simple and unhurried ways without all the frenetic, expensive and often hysterical hype that the holidays can generate. And we must exercise the expression of our love. Grief does not rob us of our ability to love; it reminds us ever more dramatically of our need to both give and receive love while we are here.

Whenever we can take some control in our situations, we empower ourselves, and then we feel less like victims in what seems like a war of “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” Anytime we can educate and inform with mercy and compassion, we have given a truly spiritual holiday gift of love that will keep on giving forever.

May your season be filled with genuine blessings of peace.

Good Grief Resources ( was conceived and founded by Andrea Gambill whose 17-year-old daughter died in 1976. In 1977, she founded one of the earliest chapters of The Compassionate Friends, an international bereaved-parent support group. In 1987, she founded and edited Bereavement magazine, and in 2000, she joined Centering Corporation as Editor of their new magazine, Grief Digest. Twenty eight years of experience in grief support has provided valuable insights into the unique needs of the bereaved and their caregivers and wide access to many excellent resources.

Thank you for a Blast!

 We had a spectacular Snow Blast last Sunday, and it was all thanks to you: our clients, our volunteers, and our donors. Our community.

We had over 80 clients and 40 volunteers participate in the festivities.

To our clients, old and new, thank you for coming.  We are proud of the bravery of those new to our community, who came even though the loss is still so fresh. And we are so happy to see our old friends again, and grateful that you still make us part of your life.

To our volunteers, thank you for making the night possible. Volunteers did SO much: baked, built, shopped, stuffed, pre-prepped, hauled, set up, decorated, greeted and smiled, and packed it all up at the end of the night. They slid across the floor, stuck gum on Justin Bieber’s face, decorated gingerbread castles & houses, coached the cookie decorators and helped little ones make stars and fairy wings, and made everyone feel welcome. Our volunteers & staff helped create a safe, warm space where our families and community could celebrate the holidays, even with the losses that they’re grieving.  We are so grateful to have them.

Getting ready for the party – so many presents!

We also couldn’t have done it without our event donors. Thank you to:

  • The Roosevelt Trader Joe’s for the delicious chocolate coins.
  • The Roosevelt Whole Foods Market for festive reusable shopping bags that wrapped all the gifts.
  • The Phinney Neighborhood Association for the use of their beautiful space.
  • And an extra big thanks to Toys ‘R’ Us and the Seattle Mariners for the donation of all the spectacular toys for the kids and teens.

To everyone: you are amazing.  It literally could not have happened so beautifully without your time and support.

You are the heartbeat of the Healing Center.

On behalf of the entire staff at the Healing Center, we humbly thank you.

The (gingerbread) house the The Healing Center Built

To decorate or not to decorate?

In years past, The Healing Center has bedecked itself with all of the usual signs and symbols of the holiday season:  a tree, a menorah, a wreath, garland, strings of lights.  These perennial signs of the season can be a welcome thing, connecting us with holiday seasons of the past and reminding us of pleasant times that we have enjoyed with our loved ones.

When a loved one is gone, however, these traditional symbols can be painful.  Rather than remind us of what we have, they seem to sear upon us what we have no longer.  And it’s hard to escape them:  every street lamp and every store window seems to proclaim that it’s holiday time.  It’s time to plan, to shop, to bake, to gather loved ones, to make merry, to feel the warmth of the season.  Symbols speak to us but sometimes the message is painful.

As such, with intention and mindfulness, we have decided to “lightly decorate” The Healing Center this year.  This does not come from a lazy place nor are we turning into a bunch of Grinches.  Rather, we recognize that The Healing Center is a safe harbor where grievers can come to attend to the hard work of grieving and healing.  That work doesn’t need the added reminder of where we are in the calendar year; each and every person is already fully aware of what time it is.  We would rather place the focus on where it needs to be:  how you are feeling and how are you taking care of yourself.

Please know that every one of us here at The Healing Center holds your well being as our highest priority this season and in every season.

An Ofrenda for Mike (and me)

6 Days till Dia de los Muertos Celebration

We hope you are planning to join us for this wonderful fundraiser for programs and services at The Healing Center.  If you have not purchased tickets or signed up for volunteering, there is still time to do so.  Click here for Tickets and here for Volunteer Sign-up.

For those of you who’ve already registered, consider bringing a photo of your loved ones for our communal ofrenda.  What is an ofrenda you might ask?  Check out the one I made for my Michael at The Healing Center, visit my YouTube Video.  Mike was a river rafting guide and mountain climber so I included postcards he sent me from his adventures, as well as the journal he wrote while climbing Mt. Everest (Mike died on Mt. Everest in May 2005, he was 39 and I was 30.)  I’ve also added two pictures of Mike, his favorite candy, food and water for his journey, a candle, and marigolds to light his way to the celebration we are having on November 2.

The Day of the Dead celebration is very new to me and I enjoy thinking of Mike continuing to celebrate life with me.  Since his death I have felt his presence and guidance in so many ways.  I love the idea of sharing a piece of him with all of you on this celebratory day to benefit new grieving widows and widowers who will walk through our door tomorrow.

3/4 of the money that supports clients and programs at The Healing Center, comes from individuals and events like this fall fundraiser.  Please consider inviting friends, family and co-workers who will help support our life-saving and life-renewing programs.

More info on how to create an ofrenda

Ofrendas are made for the souls of the loved ones who have passed on. Though each altar is unique to each person, the premise is to honor the loved ones and welcome them back to this earth. Ofrendas contain many different items…

  •  Pictures of the loved one who the altar is dedicated to are placed around the table. Mostly, a main picture is placed as a sort of “centerpiece” to the Ofrenda.
  •  Pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, is a traditional food that is placed on most altars. The essence of the bread is said to be eaten by the souls of the dead who return during El Día de los Muertos. Other traditional food items, such as Tamales and Mole, are set out as well. Favorite foods of the dead can also be displayed in order to personalize the altars. (11)
  • Calacas, or skeletons, are placed around the tables as well. These are said to let people in our world see and hold something tangible that can hold the spirit of each loved one. Skulls have been a huge symbol of death and then rebirth for the Meso-Americans and were used to honor the dead during this ritual. Sugar skulls are also a huge part of El Día de los Muertos. They are decorated by children and adults alike, and are set out around the altars and homes of the loved ones. Sugar skulls, though the thought of skulls may seem undesirable, are meant to be decorated in bright colors and symbolize the happiness of this holiday. (9)
  •  Marigolds are an incredibly important part of El Día de los Muertos, especially yellow marigolds. This specific type of flower is known as the sacred flower of the dead. They are hung on crosses and giant arches that are meant to welcome souls home. They are placed around altars and graves, as well as pathways through cemeteries. (4,11)
  • Candles are another major part of El Día de los Muertos. They are placed around not only the Altars but the graves of loved ones, houses, streets, and entire towns in order to light the path back home for the spirits. Certain colors have significance, especially purple, which symbolizes mourning, and also white and pink which symbolize hope and celebration.  In contemporary time, colors may reflect the favorite colors of loved ones or any colors that suit the families. (6)
  •  Grooming items, such as soaps and towels, are put on the altar. It is believed that because the dead have been traveling a long way to arrive back home, they would like to freshen up. (11)
  •  Strong fragrances are also laid out for the dead along with the traditional incense of copal.  Both are supposed to guide the dead to the altar and back home.  Copal was regarded by the Mayans as extremely sacred, and has been a traditional form of incense throughout Aztec and Mexican culture. (7)

El Día de los Muertos is an amazing celebration that has made its way out of just Mayan culture and into the traditions and cultures of people around the world.  The holiday lets people remember those they have lost in a happy and cheerful way, and lets people celebrate and honor the lives of their loved ones. El Día de los Muertos isn’t just a holiday, but a way to cherish everything their loved ones once loved and commemorate the memories they hold dear.

We hope you can join us for our El Día de los Muertos celebration on November 2nd!




NPR highlights parenting grieving children

The Healing Center is proud to share The Dougy Center on National Public Radio and in the New York Times.  The Healing Center’s children and parents’ programs is modeled after The Dougy Center and our Founder and Program Director have participated in training at The Dougy Center.  We whole heartily support The Dougy Center’s Executive Director, Donna Schuurman, belief  that

“a lot of kids, one of the biggest needs they have is to know that they’re not alone, they’re not the only one this has happened to, it’s, as Melissa said, again, it’s OK to feel sad and it’s OK to feel happy. So kids like to look at photo albums, to do things like oh let’s go have a root beer float – remember, your dad loved root beer floats.

Let’s do positive things as well in his memory so that we can honor him. And I don’t find – you know, I think that most people are not dwelling in a negative way. I mean, I know when I die I want people to be sad, and I want them to remember me. I think most of us do. But we’re in a society that’s urging us to put it behind us, and I think that that actually is what complicates things for children and often makes it more difficult for them to grieve and mourn in healthy ways.”

The entire program is linked below as well as the transcript.  If you would like to celebrate your loved one with us, please join us for our Dia de los Muertos, Friday, November 2 (for more details click here.)

The Dougy Center’s Executive Director Donna Schuurman, and former Dougy Center participant Melissa Loveless-Boynton, were recently featured on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” which aired live nation-wide.

In case you missed it, click here to hear the broadcast here to read the show’s transcript.

The program focused on “How to Help Kids Handle Death and Grieving.” Donna discussed how parents can talk to their children about death, and the importance of being honest. She also emphasized the need for grieving children and adults to feel that they are not alone and that they are being heard. Melissa discussed her experiences along with her daughter Chloe’s after her husband (and Chloe’s father) was killed in Iraq. The show also included several callers from around the country.

Recent national media attention of The Dougy Center (see the recent New York Times article) underscores the importance of peer support groups for grieving children, teens, young adults and their parents. The Dougy Center is honored to be at the forefront of these discussions, and we look forward to expanding our services to grieving children and families.

Surviving the Holidays Workshop

with Healing Center Founder Kath McCormack &

Art Therapist Michele Koger

When you are grieving, the holidays can often feel tough to get through.  Please join us for a day of group support, meditation, reflection, visualization, holiday rituals, and creative expression – all designed to give you and your family the tools needed to navigate the holidays with grace and peace.

This workshop is $75 per person.  As a non-profit, with generous donors, we do not turn anyone away for lack of funds.  Please let us know if you are interested in a reduced fee scholarship or an invoice for out-of-network insurance submittal.  We will be happy to provide.

We hope you will take advantage of this great opportunity to receive a little extra support for the Holidays.  Hope to see you there!


WHO: All Healing Center Adult Clients

WHERE: The Healing Center

WHEN: Sunday, November 4, 2012 from 1:00 to 5:00 PM

COST: $75 per person (Scholarships are available)

RSVP: or call (206) 523-1206

Wright, Runstad & Co.

Thank you so much to Wright, Runstad & Company employees for sharing their labor and United Way Day of Caring with our humble

center. The Kids will LOVE the old garage, now new and improved Big Energy Room!

Volunteer Employees also planted fall flowers on our front porch; cleaned all our toys in the Littles and Sandbox Room; and painted over nicks and bruises. You are AMAZING!!!!! and we are soooooo grateful.

Ceremony of Remembrance

Date:  Sunday, September 16, 2012
Time:  1:00 to 3:00 PM
Location:  The Valley School, 309 31st Ave. East, Seattle, WA  98112
RSVP:   Lisa by calling 206-523-1206 or emailing at

Ceremony of Remembrance TableRituals and ceremonies remembering loved ones helps us acknowledge the importance of the people who have graced our lives and how we have been changed by their presence.  Each year, on the last Sunday of summer, one day is reserved for the adults of The Healing Center to collectively gather and remember our loved ones.

Through music, poetry, the sharing of stories, and the lighting of candles, an emotional and spiritual atmosphere is created.  Please join us on Sunday, September 16th, for our annual Ceremony of Remembrance from 1:00 to 3:00 PM for a community gathering honoring our people.  We encourage you to bring photographs and/or other objects that hold significance for you.


Client Poetry

Stephen F. Dapogny, a gifted writer, devoted father and my loving husband, wrote the following poem in the Spring of 2009, a year after his father’s death. On September 24, 2011, Steve was struck and killed by a car while crossing Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, IL. The world lost a sensitive, honorable, capable and caring man that day. I lost my best friend of thirty years and my children lost a father who raised them from toddlers as an at-home Dad. I am incredibly grateful to have his poems to remind me what a talented man I had the good fortune to know and love for over 30 years. Steve also wrote this blog during his father’s battle with Alzheimer’s. As you’ll see, Steve wrote from the heart. Few hearts are not moved by his words



Nothing is Forever

Not the deserts. They were once seas.

Not the beaches. They always move.

Not the rocks and the mountains. Erosion takes its toll.

Powerful forces

Multiplied by time

Wreak havoc in our world

In slow motion

Nothing lasts forever

Least of all me

Not my thoughts. Not my memories.

Not my words. I will be nothing.

But there is forever

And there is continuity

Whether men remember or not

When they pause and reflect

On what has passed before

The fact of the matter

Is matter is me

I cannot be created or destroyed

But only changed from one form into another

So the very atoms of my existence

Will continue in this world

Until this world ends

Whereupon they will be released into the universe

As matter or energy. Or particles or waves.

But that bit of energy, that bit of mass

Was once me

And therefore I will stay

In this world, of this world

Unseen Unrecognized

But still here, disparate parts

They spring anew and oblivious back into circulation

Of the water of the hydrosphere

Of the carbon in the food chain

Of the energy used to produce

A sound

A city

A new person

And some small part of me will be useful

Will be part of the world

Part of the life of those to come

Part of the very matter of their existence

Even though they do not see me

Do not feel me

Do not remember me

I will always be there