“Will I ever be normal again?” Those words, spoken over a decade ago by a 12-year-old boy whose father had recently died, sparked the creation of Hospice of Santa Barbara’s innovative I Have a Friend® mentor program.
By matching a trained adult volunteer who has experienced the death of a parent at a young age with a child newly coping with a similar death, the child is given a companion for the journey; one who truly understands the incredible loss as well as obstacles that will be encountered in the years ahead.
We know death and grief are part of life’s journey, but, for children and teens the death of a parent can be paralyzing and overwhelming. Severe reactions to loss can traumatize children and lead to depressive immobilization and destructive behaviors and put youth at risk of engaging in activities such as promiscuity, self mutilation and medicating, defiance towards authority, and detachment from society.
For children and teens, untended grief from the loss of a parent has the potential for long lasting effects on the personality development and functioning of a child. Poor coping responses also emerge as young people turn to drugs, alcohol or violence in efforts to alleviate pain.
Because I Have A Friend® mentors have shared the loss of a parent, they create a unique bond with the child that allows open and honest communication about their feelings. Mentors serve as role models for grieving children, helping them develop their resiliency and ability to thrive.
While their lives will be forever changed, the goal of the I Have a Friend® program is to light the way for children experiencing this most intimate loss. I Have a Friend® mentors are living proof to grieving children that there will be hope, happiness, and wholeness – they will be normal again.
If you are interested in becoming a Mentor volunteer, please contact Nicole Romasanta at Nromasanta@hospiceofsb.org.