EUGENE, Ore. - The death of a loved one can be as painful for children as it is for adults. However, kids don't always know how to express their grief.
Courageous Kids, a local nonprofit, offers grief support to kids ages 6-18, through weekly support groups, an annual summer camp and its Teen Theater Troupe, which allows kids to share their stories in front of community groups and schools.
Five teenagers are involved in this year's troupe. Recently, they performed for 9th-12th graders at Oak Hill School in Eugene.
"You get kind of nervous, but when you see all the people listening to you, you're not nervous anymore. You just want to get the message out," says 15-year-old Zane.
Their message is simple: grief is difficult. They knowthey've all lost someone they love. But they want other kids to understand that there is no right way to grieve. Everyone does it in their own way and in their own time.
"There's no certain thing that you have to do or feel or pretend, or anything like that. You can be you," says 17-year-old troupe member Shea, whose father died from a prescription drug overdose when Shea was 13.
"Hearing kids talk about their own grief validates for other kids what they are experiencing themselves," says Isa Jennings, Courageous Kids program manager. "It's comforting for them to think, if these kids can make it through, then maybe they can make it through also."
The teens use their own experiences to create the series of skits they perform, to illustrate what its like when people don't understand what their grief feels like, and the worry and doubt they experience over unanswered questions about their loss.
"I didn't cry," Zane tells the audience about the death of his brother. "Do I not love him?"
"I'm worried that something else is going to happen to my family and friends," 16-year-old Christian admits.
"I feel guilty about what I could have done to save him, but didn't do," Shea says.
The teens want other kids who are grieving to know that Courageous Kids is there to offer support.
"Courageous Kids is where I met people who helped me learn that I can open up, and I don't have to hold in all my feelings," Christian says.
Eighteen-year-old Delaney lost her dad to cancer. Her father won't get to see her graduate from high school, but she says being part of Courageous Kids has helped her process her emotions.
"I think about my dad every day, and I wish he was here to see all these cool things I've done and all the cool things I'm going to do with my life. I just have to remember that he would be really proud of me, and it's a good feeling, so I want to continue to do things that will make him proud."
Children who don't grieve the death of someone significant in their lives can develop physical and emotional problems that continue throughout their lives. Courageous Kids provides a safe environment, where children can normalize and validate their feelings and thoughts. The nonprofit is supported through donations and grants, so its services are free to families.
More information on the Courageous Kids program is available here.