The sights and smells of summer on the Suncoast are in full effect. But for some children and families, bronzing sunshine, barbecues, and trips to camps are merely temporary distractions from the grief they live with every day. There’s no off button for grief. One in 14 children in Florida will experience the death of a parent or sibling by the age of 18, with more than 6,500 grieving children in Sarasota and Manatee counties alone. Statistics show isolation, depression, anger, sadness, and substance abuse are more pronounced in grieving children, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Support, love, and compassion are available.
Blue Butterfly Family Grief Center, a Tidewell Hospice Grief Education and Support program, is serving children in a safe, non-clinical atmosphere. Kids learn they never have to grieve alone. During the school year, peer grief support groups take place at Blue Butterfly twice a month in the evenings. Children participate in groups with other kids who also have experienced a death. They eat and play together and participate in creative activities to develop tools and access resources to overcome grief’s challenges. Blue Butterfly provides a soothing presence in the lives of the enrolled children and families by continuing to enrich friendships, but without the grief support component. “The bonds that are formed in our groups are not like anything I have ever seen,” said Danielle Visone, LCSW, Tidewell’s Family Grief Program Specialist. “Here, they understand each other, they are heard and not judged, and they can talk about their feelings and their grief without being shut down.”
Summer events are offered to Blue Butterfly families with the assistance of community partners. Recently, The Ringling Museum’s education department hosted Blue Butterfly families for a special night of bonding, art, and culture. Families were treated to a catered meal, story time, a special art project, and a free visit to the museum. This special event permitted families from different group nights to cultivate bonds where perhaps none existed before. It helped kids understand they’re not alone and are part of a supportive network and community.
A similar event took place on the Saturday of Father’s Day Weekend when the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast hosted a kayaking day. The mom of a teen Blue Butterfly participant said: “I am so grateful you had this event available on Father’s Day weekend.” Teens and their caregivers were invited to a fun day on the water as a way to build camaraderie on an otherwise difficult weekend.
Programs like the Kayak Day, or Ringling Museum Day, are scheduled throughout the summer for the Blue Butterfly families and serve as just a couple examples of how family engagement and fun can strengthen the support group members’ bonds. “It’s a way to bring a bit of joy to the lives of the families we serve,” Visone added.
Other summer programs for Blue Butterfly include TreeUmph!, Common Grounds Adventure, fishing at the Conservation Foundation, and another evening at The Ringling Museum.
Thanks to generosity of donors and community partners, Blue Butterfly provides all programs and peer support groups free of charge to enrolled participants. Any family grieving the death of a significant person can reach out for support to the program by calling 941-894-1752 or emailing email@example.com.