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Volunteer gives back to BRIDGES, to help others who grieve

Posted on Feb. 3, 2014 ( comments)
At a 25th anniversary celebration for BRIDGES, volunteer Shelly Conlon adds her name to a timeline that asked when people first met BRIDGES.

When Shelly Conlon volunteers at BRIDGES meetings, she isn’t there to tell her own story. She’s there to support the other families who are experiencing serious illness or the death of a loved one.

“It’s for them,” Conlon said. “It’s not about me anymore, it’s about them. They don’t know the story behind me.”

What Conlon doesn’t talk about, unless asked, is her son, Joshua, who was 11 years old when he nearly drowned at Wapato Lake in Tacoma. He was underwater for 45 minutes. He eventually breathed on his own, but he never regained consciousness.

Joshua was in a coma for nearly five years before he passed away in April 2005. He was 16 years old.

Conlon and her daughter, who was 7 at the time of Joshua’s accident, found support at BRIDGES, where the mission is simple: No child will grieve alone.

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.

In January, about 100 people attended a 25th anniversary party to celebrate the program. Conlon was among the volunteers.  

Support: How to help kids at BRIDGES

Conlon serves as a house parent at BRIDGES – setting up tables for the pot-luck meals before meetings, making coffee and juice, then cleaning up afterward.

“Families can go relax and be with new friends they’ve made, just take a little bit off their mind for that evening that they’re there,” Conlon said. “That’s what I hope for families who come through.”

Conlon said the program was especially beneficial for her daughter.

“She connected with everybody there, going through the same things that she was,” Conlon said. “The activities they did connected her with her feelings. She really enjoyed going – connecting with the other kids, and she loved her facilitator.”

Parents attending BRIDGES find others who are in similar situations.

“It was really a wonderful place to connect with other parents, to vent, and talk about what was concerning us,” Conlon said. “Just a safe place to go where I knew I could talk about anything. I could cry if I wanted to. We could laugh. And it was OK.”

That’s what inspired her to volunteer to help others.

“I needed to give back to BRIDGES because they gave me so much, just by being there, and having other people to connect with,” Conlon said. “It was time for me to give back, however they needed my help.”

Support: How to help kids at BRIDGES

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