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For kids who grieve death, BRIDGES has been there for 25 years

Posted on Dec. 30, 2013 ( comments)
Ken Ferguson holds a photo of his children with their mother, Lisa, who died in 2003. Ken volunteers at BRIDGES as a facilitator for adults grieving the loss of a spouse.

When his wife, Lisa, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Ken Ferguson learned about a program that helps families cope with serious illness and death.

As Lisa’s cancer progressed, the Fergusons and their three children began attending group meetings at BRIDGES, a safe place where children come together to play, laugh and heal.

“For Lisa, it was a chance to see everyone in action, dealing with her impending death,” Ken said. “And it was comforting for her to see that we should be able to survive this. She was able to participate in molding the family in life after she was gone.”

The mission at BRIDGES is simple: No child will grieve alone.

Support: How to help kids at BRIDGES

When Lisa died in 2003, Ken and the kids again leaned on BRIDGES for support.

“That was a whole new learning experience for me and my kids, learning to deal with the loss in positive, non-destructive ways,” Ken said. “We were able to be with people who had experienced the same loss. It was very beneficial.”

Today, Ken is back at BRIDGES, as the program marks 25 years of serving families in Pierce County. He volunteers as a facilitator for adults grieving the loss of a spouse.

“It’s always helpful to talk to them,” Ken said. “It’s helpful to hear their stories. And it provides me the ability to remember mine.”

25 years of healing

Since opening its doors in December 1988, BRIDGES has served more than 4,000 children, as part of the continuum of care offered by MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital & Health Center in Tacoma, Wash.

BRIDGES 25th birthday open house
When: 4-7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8
Where: BRIDGES, at Christ Episcopal Church, 310 N. K St., Tacoma, WA 98403
Details: Presentation at 6 p.m. Light refreshments will be served.
RSVP: Call 253-272-8266 by Jan. 3. 

At the time Lisa passed away, Ken’s two daughters and son were ages 17, 12 and 9.

“They looked forward to going to BRIDGES to be able to hang out with people who were in the same position,” Ken said. “Not having to explain themselves to the people around them, because these people were coming from the same spot. They found it very comforting.”

The longest running programs at BRIDGES are the parent and sibling loss support groups, for children ages 4-18 and their parents. Children find out they are not alone as they learn ways to cope with the loss they experienced.

“It gives them a great avenue to release their angers, their fears and their emotions, and not be destructive,” Ken said. “It would be easy for them to go that route. BRIDGES shows them that there are other ways to deal with their emotion and their anger.”

It’s also helpful for surviving parents, like Ken, who learn how to help their kids while also processing their own grief.

“It helps parents try to discern what’s grief and what’s just being a normal kid,” Ken said. “It gives them the avenue to talk that out with other parents. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of people say, ‘I see my kid do that too!’ They get to collaborate on how to resolve that issue: what worked and what didn’t work. Boys and girls grieve so much differently, so it was really nice to attend BRIDGES to learn about the grief processes, and how to recognize the different signs and moods.”

Giving back to help others

Ken started volunteering at BRIDGES in 2005, at first by helping set up for the pot-luck dinners before each meeting.

“That was something I did with my middle daughter, because she wanted to give back to BRIDGES as well,” Ken said. “She was too young to be a facilitator or work with the kids, but she could help with the chores.”

That volunteer work continues today, as his way to give back to others who grieve.

“Death is inevitable,” Ken said. “But it’s good that people know that a resource is out there. It shows you can survive. You will persevere and come through the fog. Because when you’re there, it pretty much feels like it’s a never-ending darkness. You can come here, you can graduate from BRIDGES, and still live on. And be happy.”

Support: How to help kids at BRIDGES

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