When new people walk through the doors at the Mourning Star Center, I often hear how warm and cozy the Center feels - much like walking into someone's home. We strive to give all of our Mourning Star Centers that "homey" feel; we want the kids and adults who come through our doors to feel like it's an extension of their home and a safe, caring place in the storm of their grief.
Recently, a group of middle school kids, or "Middles" at Mourning Star taught me an important and meaningful lesson about what makes a family. Most of the kids in this group got to know each other last year when they started coming to Mourning Star. As kids often do these days, many in the group "friended" each other on Facebook. Our staff and volunteers were not aware of this group befriending because we are not permitted to Facebook "friend" any of the participants involved in our program. All of the children, teens and adults who attend Mourning Star know this upfront. We explain that it's about confidentiality and also a way to maintain boundaries that are beneficial to all involved.
When groups started again in the fall, many of the same kids from this group returned to Mourning Star. On the first couple of nights of group, our staff noticed that the kids kept referring to each other as "my brother" or "my sister", when, in fact, they were not siblings. When one of the staff members asked the kids what they meant, they found out that the kids were referring to their newfound "Facebook Family". Apparently, they had continued their friendships over the summer when Mourning Star groups went dark. They had kept in touch online and off. Some had seen each other in person, some had texted with each other, but many had kept in touch via Facebook. According to one middle-schooler, the group had used Facebook to stay connected and keep tabs on each other daily during the summer. So much so that if a few days went by without one of the kids logging on to Facebook, someone in the group would send a text to check in and see how everything was going.
According to the kids in the Facebook Family, they shared the good times and the bad on Facebook. When one of the kids was celebrating something good happening, they cheered. Similarly, when one of the kids had a special date occur such as the anniversary of their person's death or the birthday of their special person, they comforted and consoled each other just as they would do in group at Mourning Star.
Over time, the kids changed their relationship on Facebook to reflect being related to each other as a brother or a sister and as being part of the same Facebook family. For those of you familiar with Facebook (isn't just about everyone?), you know that this is a special family designation that you can give to relatives when describing your relationship to them. This is why the kids in this group kept referring to each other as brother or sister. They had become siblings and had created their own family that was centered on their own unique needs. When I think about all of the bereaved children and adults out there, I wonder how many would benefit from a new family such as this. Especially given that isolation and loneliness so often accompanies grief. Instinctively, these kids knew what they needed and so they created it. In the process, they gave new meaning to the definition of family. Children really are our greatest teachers.
Pamela Gabbay, MA, FT
Director, Community Outreach and Mourning Star Centers
Camp Director, Camp Erin Children's Bereavement Camp
Visiting Nurse Association, California
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