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January 16, 2013

Purdue program helps families deal with grief

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Families who have lost a loved one can find hope and support in their grief by connecting with other grieving families through a Purdue University program that begins in February.

The BRIDGe, which stands for By Remembering I Develop and Grow, was developed in 2006 by Heather Servaty-Seib, an associate professor of educational studies in the College of Education. She is a counseling psychologist and specializes in grief and bereavement.

The program, a collaboration between the Purdue College of Education and local school counselors, allows grieving families with children in kindergarten through high school to connect with other grieving families and share their stories.

The BRIDGe 2013 will meet weekly from 6-8 p.m. Feb. 19 through April 23 at Tecumseh Middle School in Lafayette. The program is free and open to any family willing to meet weekly. Each evening will begin with a meal followed by support group meetings by age group. Simultaneous groups are held for children ages 5-8, 9-12 and 13-18, and parents/caregivers.

Servaty-Seib said families that are likely to benefit most are those that are at least two months away from their loss.

The BRIDGe program:

* Provides families with opportunities to connect with, receive support from and offer support to other grieving families.

* Encourages family members to talk openly with each other about their grief and about their loved one who died.

* Offers information about grief, including how children and teenagers grieve differently than adults.

* Uses activities to help children, teenagers and adults learn more about their grief.

 "Grief is the normal response to the death of a loved one.  But it can be an overwhelming experience because so many feelings and thoughts bombard us at once," Servaty-Seib said. "It also can be lonely because people grieve in unique and personal ways, and it is common for members of the same family to think, feel and act differently throughout their grief journeys."

As a part of the group sessions, children and teenagers engage in a variety of craft activities such as making collages, drawing and decorating a memory pillow. For adults, the focus is on discussing their thoughts and feelings and getting ideas for parenting grieving children.

Servaty-Seib said the BRIDGe offers a welcoming environment for children who have suffered a loss. Often, these children are afraid of being perceived as different, so connecting with other grieving children helps them realize that they are not alone, she said.

Graduate students enrolled in the College of Education's counseling programs facilitate the sessions. They have received special training in grief and are supervised by licensed counselors.

Children or teenagers attending the program must be accompanied by at least one parent or caregiver who will attend the adult group. Child care will be provided for children under age 5.

Before the start of the sessions, all families participate in an initial meeting with one of the BRIDGe staff in which background information is obtained and details about the program are provided.

Interested families can contact Servaty-Seib at 765-494-9738, servaty@purdue.edu

Writer: Judith Barra Austin, 765-494-2432, jbaustin@purdue.edu

Source: Heather Servaty-Seib, 765-494-9738, sevaty@purdue.edu