Teenagers... lazy, menacing, group mentality, cruel, selfish, demanding. Right?

Wrong!

Let’s try again... teenagers: energetic, committed, involved, concerned, generous, empathetic.

For Kathi Kelly the list is endless of the character traits of the teenagers she’s coming in contact with.

Kathi is the bereavement coordinator for Hospice Simcoe. In her capacity she’s working with families who have a dying person in the home. Volunteers with Hospice give time in these homes, offering all kinds of support to a person who is very, very sick and wants to remain at home. Sometimes the support involves being with the sick person so caring family members get a break. Often the Hospice volunteer finds that the “patient” is much more willing to address his or her concerns with them than with their family.

And when these patients die, Hospice is there to grieve with them, to support the family in practical ways.

Kathi, in her work, saw a real unfilled need with a group of people who are left behind when a family member is sick or dies. Not only are they left behind, but they frequently withdraw, and in the hustle and bustle of funeral arrangments, wills, and family re-arrangement during a serious illness or following a death, are usually left out of the picture.

That group is teen-aged.

When a teen loses a parent, or a sibling, or a grandparent who has suffered a short or long illness and has been at home, the loss is very real but the coping skills are quite different. Or, when a parent is diagnosed and undergoing critical treatment, a teenager has a different set of expectations.

As Kathi looked at this group of grieving young people, she drew on her past experience as a chaplain and decided to bring together peer supports for teenagers undergoing family trauma and loss. She’s has marshalled a group of 10 17 year olds who are undergoing very specific training in order to be matched with a grieving teen. These young people are using the tremendous gift of the internet as an adjunct to their support. Often, it’s 2 am when a teenager wants to talk. Often, it’s anonymity and a mask that a teenager wants when they need to bare their real feelings. And while face to face meetings are helpful, and the telephone is a useful tool, the internet and email provides a whole other dimension for young people who are reaching out to other young people willing to respond.

Kathi knows this and she’s working with people from Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto and Soldiers Memorial Hospital in Orillia (which has a substantial paediatrics department) as well as the Seasons Centre for Grieving Children. By reaching out to the high school community, Kathi has attracted students who want to deal in grief work, students who have suffered their own losses and have developed the emotional, spiritual and intellectual resources to help others. Through school principals and guidance departments, Kathi has selected nine teenagers who are serving currently as “buddies” with grieving teens, and more are expressing interest as school starts up again.

Kathi trains these young people, working with them to discuss memorials, rituals that help. And the young people Kathi takes on as clients are not just teens who’ve had a family member die. When Mom or Dad or a sibling is in chemotherapy, teens need support. When a family member is facing major surgery, teens need support. Then Mom has a stroke and the family is in crisis, teens need support. The teen clients are identified to Kathi through referring doctors, hospital support teams, the Victims Assistance Program through the Police Departments, neighbours, Seasons.

The paired teens choose how they meet at first. It may be in person. It may be online. And once that initial need is met they can get together regularly online, by phone, in person, or all three. Kathi is in the wings for advice when needed. And one of her great concerns is that the caregiving teen knows how to take care of themselves while they’re helping someone else.

The six hours of initial training is supported by group sessions where the caregiving teens meet to discuss their own feelings around issues. They discuss murder, suicide, guided imagery, journaling, and needs that will come up during their relationship with a grieving teenager.

And, confidentiality is huge. These are young people who must be able to keep their ears open and their mouths shut.

Kathi knows the need for peer counselling is there. And she’s convinced the need can be met through teenagers in our community.

If this kind of community service interests you, you can reach Kathi by calling Hospice Simcoe at 722-5995.

What a tremendously good thing this is for our region! Thanks, Kathi!

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