“A parent is not supposed to outlive their child. It is just not what any parent ever expects to happen,” says Betsy Strafach, director of 3Hopeful Hearts (3HH), a Fort Collins-based non-profit that offers support to bereaved parents and siblings.
It’s when that shock of loss and grief is at its rawest that 3HH is called in by first responders. Often, they are on the scene at homes, hospitals, or accidents within half an hour of being dispatched by the Fort Collins Police Department or the Larimer County Sheriff’s office.
“When we are dispatched by first responders, we are with families the very day their child dies, listening and bearing witness to grief without trying to ‘fix’ someone. To just be there for someone in their darkest hour is an honor. There are no words, just love and connection and openness to another human being,” says Strafach.
3HH is also contacted directly by bereaved families, or by funeral homes and family friends. Their printed materials are distributed by several hospitals throughout Northern Colorado, “so that when parents who lose a child leave the hospital, they have our materials.”
Filling a Need
More than a decade ago, Strafach, a professional portrait photographer, began volunteering her services for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, a worldwide nonprofit that provides “remembrance photography” free of charge to families when a baby passes away at birth or shortly after.
“It became evident to me that there was not a good support system in place for these families when they left the hospital. This led me to seek out a therapist to help start a support group for parents of stillborn babies. I met Bonnie Cochran, who introduced me to Kristin Glenn, and the three of us realized that the need to support families of all child loss, of any age and cause, was something that our community was missing.”
3Hopeful Hearts was created in 2008. Today, Betsy Strafach is executive director; Kristin Glenn is director of outreach; and Bonnie Cochran has retired from the Service. And the organization has grown: “We now have 8 Child Adolescent Bereavement response support team members (CABs), and over 50 volunteers.”
“Our mission is to help families find hope when all seems lost.”
“Any child, any age, for any reason”
Seven monthly ongoing support groups are offered by 3HH: Child Loss, Miscarriage, Perinatal/Infant Loss, Pregnancy/Parenting after Loss, Child Loss by Suicide, Child Loss by Substance Passing, and RAVE, a teen support group. See http://3hopefulhearts.com/p/support.html for details and meeting times.
Strafach describes the 3HH model as “grief companionship.” She and Glenn complete at least 30 hours per year of continuing education on bereavement topics such as child loss, supporting grieving children, counseling skills, and other areas. CABs members go through extensive training, too, “and then shadow us for over 6 months before they are dispatched to a death.” The support teams always respond in pairs.
“We honestly do not know where we would be right now emotionally had we not found 3Hopeful Hearts,” says one 3HH client. “The connection we have with Betsy and with people from our support group is profound. We are able to tell our story and other people just get it—they understand completely the terrible loss that we feel.”
SIX QUESTIONS FOR 3HOPEFUL HEARTS
Do people who experience the loss of an adult child use your services?
“If you are a parent and lose a child, we are there to support you. Our families range from those who have experienced a miscarriage to those who have lost adult children of 50+.”
Are there any fees for your services or special programs?
“All of our services are free. We depend on private donations and grants for all of our programs.”
What is the most challenging aspect of your group’s work?
“The most difficult part of child loss is the fact that this happens all too often. The challenges are usually due to families who are hesitant to receive support because of the barriers of their grief.”
Are there times that are harder to face, for those who have lost a child?
“The first year is very difficult. There are so many ‘firsts’ that you come up against during that first year: first birthdays, holidays, first day of school, graduations, death anniversaries. Each triggers feelings of loss all over again. This is not to say that after the first year things are all better. The loss of a child is a lifelong journey. The pain dulls over time, but there will never be ‘closure’ after losing a child.”
How do you and your staff keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed by sadness?
“We will never be able change what has happened, but if we can help in the healing process by being there, that is what we strive for. We learn every day from the parents we serve. When you can look into the eyes of a bereaved parent and see that we have made a difference, when they connect to other parents facing a similar journey, when they find hope….”
Why no space after the number 3?
Visit 3Hopeful Hearts online at http://3hopefulhearts.com