Dear Friends of HopeWest,
I write to you as a mother, a bereaved friend, and a Coloradoan. My family’s life has been deeply impacted by the HopeWest youth bereavement program. By integrating art therapy into their grief support offerings for children, HopeWest provides an unparalleled opportunity to improve the health and well-being of Coloradoans who face the loss or serious illness of a loved one.
For 13 years, Connie was one of my best friends, as college roommates and then beginning our lives as mothers, side by side as we gave birth to our first babies just months apart. We parented together in a shared household with our partners, splitting the load and helping each other be individuals as well as moms. Our families grew and our lives changed, but even when we lived apart we entangled our lives in the best ways. Our kids loved, played and fought like siblings. We were happy, and we were family.
In 2015, Connie found a lump in her breast and we received a stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis with dozens of tumors that had spread to bones and organs. She was 35 years old. Immediately there were surgeries and months of chemotherapy. There was a massive shift in quality of life for Connie and the boys, and for me and my family. Together we attended treatments, procedures and lab tests. We were scared about the future but distracted by the love and support from our community.
We were gifted with 11 months of remission where Connie lived fiercely, kicking cancer out of her world, replacing it with her favorite activities and giving all of herself and her love to her boys. And then, the cancer returned in the form of seizures and brain tumors. Connie chose to live without further treatment and it was time for HopeWest hospice care.
HopeWest meant we were coming out of the dark in so many ways including that the boys could get one-on- one counseling support for the loss we knew was coming. As parents we had someone to ask the impossible questions, like what to tell the children. Connie and her boys moved into our home. We went from being 2 parents and 2 kids to being 3 parents and 4 kids, overnight. Each morning her sons, then, ages 7 and 9, would come into her room and kiss her goodbye before school, and each afternoon they’d hug her when they got home. When we grappled with concerns about the boys, we had an incredible counselor right there at our fingertips. Joni Beckner, Director of HopeWest Kids, Social Worker and Registered Art Therapist was ready for our questions, making us feel so welcome at Hope’s Studio, the kids building.
I’ll never forget our very first meeting at Hope’s Studio–it was Connie, myself, my husband, her 2 kids and our 2 kids, and both of her boys’ fathers. There we were, an eclectic family grouping, being welcomed by a facility and a staff who were ready to find all the ways they could support us through this nightmare. Sitting in a circle on rainbow colored furniture, Joni embraced the uniqueness of our family structure, heard us each individually as parents, and offered resources and a plan, as we listened to the sounds of our 4 kids playing in the toy room.
The children came to know that Hope’s Studio was a safe and healing space, and that we were there because mama was getting sicker and life was changing. Depending on our needs each week, we might have group sessions with all 4 kids; sibling sessions for just her 2 boys; parent sessions for all of us decision makers. The kids loved going to see Joni and playing at the sand table, or making art representing their feelings, or listening to a story about a family with a similar experience to theirs. I am so grateful for the fact that this grief support began for the children before they experienced this major loss.
She was 37 on that spring equinox, a time of rebirth. We said goodbye and celebrated her life at her memorial. Because of HopeWest, I had the emotional space to be a mother and a friend in that difficult time.
We continue a long journey of grief and healing. Connie has been gone 21 months. HopeWest has gifted all four of our kids, ages 10, 10, 9 and 6 with amazing experiences at Camp Good Grief and ltty-Bitty Camp – immersing themselves in the grief support they recognize, designed just for kids. Joni, our counselor, has remained in our lives, ready for troubleshooting when grief behaviors come up with the kids.
Thank you for helping HopeWest provide and expand child and teen bereavement art therapy across the western slope of Colorado. Our family is deeply grateful and can testify to the value of this important service provided by skilled, compassionate professionals.