What is it?
When a child dies, the grief that follows can be intense and devastating. As much as family and friends want to understand, it may be difficult for them to grasp the enormity of this life-changing event. It would seem that it might be helpful for parents to talk to other bereaved parents who are further along in their grief process in order to learn that their reactions are normal and expected. This connection can offer hope in the midst of the despair that is often present after the death of a child.
The Family-to-Family program is designed to match parent volunteers with newly bereaved parents to offer them emotional support. Matches are made based on the following criteria: age of child at death, circumstances of child's death, surviving siblings, decision to withdraw life support (if applicable) family/cultural issues, etc. When parents request a match they can indicate which criteria are most important to them. Once the match is made, the expectation is that the volunteer will be in contact with the parent for a minimum of one year. The volunteer and the parent agree upon the amount of contact that the parent has with his or her volunteer.
The Family-to-Family program has trained 59 volunteers and 85 matches have been made. Types of contact between parents and volunteers include:
- Phone calls
- Email exchanges
- Card sent to parent by volunteers
- Regular mail exchanges
- In-person visits- i.e. meeting for coffee
- Visits to child(ren's) gravesiteFamily-to-Family volunteers are specially trained and must make a two-year commitment to the program.
What parents have said about the Parent-To-Parent program
Parents who have received support from Parent-to-Parent volunteers have this to say about what they found to be helpful about the program:
Being able to "discuss a wide range of issues associated with our grief"
The "trust and friendship," the volunteer was the "one person who hasn't judged my feelings." We "helped each other heal in ways someone who has never lost a child couldn't."
"She affirmed all my feelings and reactions as normal and shared her own when appropriate, which helped me identify my feelings and feel that I was normal and not alone."
"Nice to have someone to connect with and feel not so alone."
"My husband and I grieved very differently. I wanted to talk; he didn't. There was a lot of tension building up. Talking with my volunteer gave me an outlet, which helped to ease the tension between my husband and myself."
"I needed someone outside my home to talk to. In this new life where 'normal' has been re-defined, it was comforting to talk to someone who was/is also a grieving parent. How much easier it would have been to shut myself out of this world (isolate myself). For me I needed the human contact."
"My volunteer and I have remarkable parallels in terms of family composition, including the brief lives of our 3rd baby. Because of her experience in balancing grief with raising 2 other children, she was able to lend wisdom and perspective."