Renee’s Place: A soft place for children to learn the grieving process in Truckee, Tahoe and Sierra Valley
October 12, 2010
TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. – “Children, in spite of what we like to think, are extremely aware of death and illness,” said Randy Hill. “They are scared, they don’t know what to with fear and loss, and don’t have the opportunity to express or share these feelings.”
Randy, a longtime supporter of the Tahoe Forest Health System, understands devastating loss. His wife Renee died from a brain tumor at age 37. In 2004, Randy was searching for a way in which to honor her name and memory. “She loved children,” he said. “I wanted to connect that with her memory.”
He met with Kathryn Hill, spiritual care and bereavement coordinator at Tahoe Forest Hospice, whose idea was dawning to help children, from teeny tots to young 18-year-old adults, through a time of grief.
“It was a God thing,” said Kathryn Hill of the serendipitous timing. Renee’s Place was born: a network of resources to help our community’s young ones touch the cycle of love and loss, to learn the language of grief.
Renee’s Place specifically addresses loss due to death. Kathryn, a 25-year licensed marriage and family therapist, researched models to serve a 4,000-square mile area. Age-appropriate literature was purchased for public school libraries in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, the Sierra-Plumas Joint Unified School District, a portion of Washoe County School District and area public libraries. “Saying Goodbye to Lulu” is a story about an aged, beloved dog’s death and how the family grieves. It teaches us there is no replacement for loss, that healing takes time. The child is given her own rituals of grief and following the seasons, she eventually finds solace in the blossoming of Spring and the tree planted at her dog’s grave.
In “Tear Soup,” the ingredients for bereavement are unique to each person, but the base calls for “a pot full of tears, one heart willing to be broken open, a dash of bitters, a bunch of good friends, handfuls of comfort food and buckets of water to replace the tears.” There are tangible suggestions: If you are the “cook;” if a male is the cook; if a child is the cook and where to find help.
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At the Tahoe Forest Hospital Hospice building, 10083 Lake Ave., Truckee, Renee’s Place offers parents, teachers and students a resting place, a soft place to land after a death has knocked at your door. A garden outside is serene and a place of memorials, such as a Mother’s Day remembrance. Inside, umber wood paneling and comfy couches bask in lamplight. “Renee’s Place is more a place of the heart,” said Kathryn. She opens hers beyond bibliotherapy, traveling to schools for children in need of an ear, a comforting shoulder. Kathryn has an extraordinary group of counselors who keep a hands-on pulse of student’s lives. They have formal training with Hospice plus a 16-hour bereavement course.
Parents seeking assistance to communicate with their child may call the school, visit a library or make an appointment for Renee’s Place at 530-582-3534.
Pets count, too, at Renee’s Place. The loss of a pet is often the first profound trauma in a child’s life. It establishes a lifelong lesson of grief and how we cope. Adults should respect that emotional impact. The library, art supplies and people at Renee’s Place can help.
“Sometimes we’re too busy, we don’t know what to say,” said Randy. “We think we are protecting the children, that they won’t know about it [death, sadness], but that is a fallacy.”
Randy wants to let children grieve so they don’t bottle it up and as grown ups have the old, forgotten hurts come out. As “Tear Soup” says: “Some of Grandy’s friends over the years had not tended to their tear soup. Their soup boiled over and their pot scorched. What a mess.”
Renee’s Pace will help young ones simmer their own Tear Soup. Or you may help keep a soft landing place cooking: Volunteer or donate to Renee’s Place. Visit http://www.tfhd.com.
Charitable gifts and contributions: Your support in the form of tax-deductible gifts from individuals and businesses, private memorials, grants and participation in local fundraising events are all welcome. Your donation insures Renee’s Place services continue to be available to bereaved children and youth in our community. Please call the Tahoe Forest Health System Foundation at 530-582-6277 to make a donation to Renee’s Place.
Volunteer: Volunteer opportunities include working directly with patients and families, bereavement support, administrative/office support, and fundraising. Volunteers are needed in Truckee, North Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Valley. Personnel is especially needed in the school systems. Support Hospice and Renee’s Place at 530-582-3534.
Additional grief support and healing: Through one-on-one counseling, support groups and services in Truckee and Portola, Hospice is committed to assisting families and loved ones work through the grieving process. Tahoe Forest Hospice Services offers a Grief Support Group in a safe and supportive environment. Develop insight about how to endure the loss of a loved one, ease the burden of grieving alone and develop skills for adjusting to a new life situation. They are free and open to any community member. Initial interview required. Call 530-582-3534.
Donate these items: Books to update the Renee’s Place collection, particularly for teen readers. Information pamphlets; i.e. Teens and Grief, Grief at the Holidays, art supplies, projects or snacks also needed.