Among the most tragic events in a person’s lifetime is the loss of a loved one. For adults, grappling with death is extremely difficult. For children, it’s not only difficult, but confusing. Their questions are what Kathleen Cramer hopes to answer.
Kathleen is the managing director for the Ann Arbor branch of the non-profit organization, Ele’s Place, which started after the death of a baby girl named Ele Stover. The infant passed away at 11 months old, leaving behind 4 siblings and a devastated mother who started the program in honor of her daughter.
With the idea that children can help other children, Ele’s Place organizes peer support groups for toddlers and teens ages 3 to 18 grieving the death of someone close to them. Volunteers and social workers attempt to normalize death for children in order to diminish feelings of isolation and uncertainty. Activities are administered to start the difficult conversations that lead to healing. “What you find is children helping children,”
Kathleen says. “The facilitators use reflective listening but do not answer the questions themselves. They turn it back to the group. ”Kathleen knows how important it is to make sure children have a place to discuss their feelings of despair and loss openly. “They know it’s a safe place where no one is going to get upset if they talk about the person that died,” she says. “Sometimes at home, when you talk about someone who passed, it upsets mom or dad.”
Parents suffering from loss are often engulfed in heartbreak and unsure of how to console themselves, let alone their children. Support groups catering to the anguish of parents are available to address issues including how to explain death to their children. “You don’t say that someone went to sleep and never woke up,” Kathleen explains. “Because then a child will never want to fall asleep again.”
The Alpena native is determined to impact the lives of young people who have experienced loss in such a way that can leave them crippled for years. Kathleen witnessed firsthand as her three half siblings self-destructed after losing their mother in a car accident as young children. “The reason that Ele’s place is so important to me is because I don’t want any child to have to go through that,” she says. “I want every child to have the opportunity to heal in a healthy way after the death of their special person. I’ve seen what happens when children don’t get the support that they need.”
Although the idea of coping with loss seems disheartening, Kathleen reminds people that it doesn’t always have to be overwhelming with sadness. “It’s not always all tears at Ele’s Place,” she says. “It’s about the past and living. There is a lot of laughter and joy that happens here. But sometimes there are tears, and that’s okay.”
Ele’s Place has three branches
Ann Arbor at 1582 Eisenhower Place,
Lansing at 1145 W. Oakland Ave.,
and Grand Rapids at 2000 Michigan St. NE,
Visit elesplace.org for more information.