Hospice Is Hope: Grieving children, families find healing at New Song Center

Jada Williams and her dad, Ezra, join other families to remember and celebrate their loved ones. (Hospice of the Valley/Submitted)

By Lin Sue Flood

When Melissa Alvarado’s oldest daughter, Gloria, died in May, she quickly realized her family needed professional support and to be around others who could fully grasp their pain.

At New Song Center for Grieving Children, they discovered support groups and meaningful activities to help them find healing. Melissa, her husband and their two younger kids were among 150 people at New Song’s recent bereavement event at Steele Indian School Park. 

“I like being here because these are the only other people who know how we feel,” she says. “And the support groups validate our emotions and feelings.”

New Song is Arizona’s first and largest child and family grief support program. All the services are provided at no cost. Since combining bereavement programs with Hospice of the Valley in 2009, New Song has served thousands of families, providing:

Callie Carpenter, left, Julie Lazzara and Mark D’Aprile attend New Song Center’s bereavement event at the park in honor of 4-year-old Landon D’Aprile.

• Support groups for grieving children, teens, young adults and adult caregivers.

• Support groups for grandparents, parents and siblings who are grieving the death of a child.

• A family support group for Spanish-speaking families.

• Pediatric support and counseling for families caring for a child who is medically fragile or has a life-limiting illness.

• Day camps for siblings of children living with complex medical needs.

• Fun trips to family-friendly places like Butterfly Wonderland or the movies.

“Our mission is to provide comprehensive grief education and support to help families heal after a traumatic loss,” says Lisa Schmitt Betcher, executive director of the nonprofit program. “We recognize that children express grief quite differently than adults, more likely through behavior than words.”

Within age-specific grief support groups, New Song creates a safe space for youngsters to enjoy art, play, journaling and other forms of expression. Adults attend their own support groups to learn how to help children process grief in a healthy way — and to learn how to help themselves cope with loss.

Through arts and crafts, Celeste and Adam Estrada express their forever love for Gloria, their big sister.

At the park gathering, the McMullins wore matching gray shirts with the name “William” printed in big, bold letters and three words below it: “brave, strong, superhero.” Lauren and Chris McMullin were referred to New Song after their 7-year-old died in April. The couple also have an 11-year-old, Owen, and a 4-year-old, Arthur.

Erica Schwartz, a New Song pediatric bereavement and family support counselor, sees the oldest boy one on one. “I feel incredibly lucky that I get to do that,” she says, standing near a table covered with “blugs” — a blanket and a hug.

“Owen looks forward to her visit every time,” Lauren says.

After bonding over special arts and crafts, all the families formed a large circle. One by one, they shared the names of their loved ones — Gloria, William, Isaiah, Landon … and many more. Then five white doves were released one at a time — symbolizing grief, courage, memories, love and hope.

William McMullin lives in the hearts of dad, Chris, mom, Lauren, and brothers, Owen, 11, and Arthur, 4.

As all remaining doves were set free, New Song Clinical Director Jill Lovell reminded the families that everyone’s journey is unique. “As individuals, we grieve; as a community, we heal. May we each find our paths towards healing in the days ahead.”

Lin Sue Flood is community engagement director for Hospice of the Valley. For more information, email info@hov.org or visit hov.org.

Become a volunteer

What a rewarding way to make a difference in the lives of families in our community. Hospice of the Valley invites the public to join its dedicated team of trained volunteers who help lead grief support groups in Central and North Phoenix, Scottsdale, Gilbert and Avondale. Volunteer training is in January at Hospice of the Valley, 1510 E. Flower Street, Phoenix. 

The dates are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, January 21, and 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, January 24, and Thursday, January 26.

Visit hov.org/volunteer/new-song to apply or call 480-951-8985 or email info@newsongcenter.org for more information. 

Visit newsongcenter.org to learn more about the program.