Caroline Jacobs – Group Facilitator
I first learned about The Alcove on craigslist.com. It was the holiday season & I was looking for volunteer opportunities. The Alcove needed volunteers at Borders Books to wrap gifts for donations. Without hesitation, I contacted them to volunteer. I enjoyed it so much that I took as many shifts as I could & even doubled up on some shifts when needed. I had such a great time meeting & talking to so many new people that I went back the following year. Only this time, it became more than just a social thing. As I answered questions about what The Alcove is about, I realized I wanted to do more than just wrap gifts. I wanted to get more involved. It just so happened that a group facilitator training class was beginning after the holidays, & on a cold January evening, I began my Alcove training. I was the youngest person in that training class, but I was excited to meet new people & try something different. I really connected with some of my fellow classmates & looked forward to all of the classes. Upon “graduation” I was excited to get started.
My first evening as an Alcove volunteer facilitator didn’t happen until about a month later. I was told I’d be working with teenagers, but I ended up being a floater. I started with the 3-6 yr. olds. On my first night, I was truly amazed at how open the children were. It’s assumed that The Alcove is a sad place, but it’s not. The children love coming to The Alcove & doing their crafts and having the chance to just be kids. The biggest draw for them, in my opinion, is that they can talk to other kids their own age, who’ve been through almost exactly what they’ve been through. It just didn’t occur to me that these young children sometimes feel like they can’t talk about death. Children are are extremely intuitive and they pick up on their parent’s sadness, so they hold in their feelings so as not to upset them. At The Alcove, they’re able to play & talk and just be kids. They don’t have to put on a brave face. Some nights, you wait all evening for the kids to open up. Other nights, it’s immediate. You never know how it’s going to go at The Alcove.
It’s been about 3 years since I first became a volunteer here and I have gone through some tough times. My father died on one of my Alcove nights and I thought to myself, “there’s no place I’d rather be”. So I went to The Alcove and I, like some of the kids, held in my feelings all night. During post-group I shared with my co-facilitators that I’d lost my dad that day. My instict was right and The Alcove was where I was meant to be, with people who are trained to deal with sadness.
One year later, I was laid off from my job of 7 years…on an Alcove night. This time I went to The Alcove and opened up right away in pre-group. To me, The Alcove isn’t just a place where I volunteer. The people there are my family. They’ve supported me through some big life changes. Because of my involvement with The Alcove, I’ve changed my outlook on life. I now work for a non-profit and I’m very happy. I’m still a social butterfly, but The Alcove has taught me how to sit back and listen. I look forward to many more years of being a part of The Alcove family. Maybe someday I’ll win the lottery & fulfill my goal of becoming a professional volunteer. In the meantime, I’ll be the one trying to sell you raffle tickets at the fundraising events.
“Sharing My Thoughts” by Mary Goldenberg – Group Facilitator
Between birth and death we have the opportunity to open ourselves to life and live it to the fullest, giving the best of ourselves and enjoying the life we are given with all it’s joys and catastrophes. We will all experience loss during our lifetime, and the pain of losing someone we love can be a defining event for us. I remember sitting on our bed with my husband a couple of weeks before he died and thinking to myself “How do I do this? How do I make this okay for him, for my kids, for myself ?” Strangely enough, it reminded me of when I was nine months pregnant with my first child, looking down at my enormous belly, and wondering how I was ever going to deliver this baby, and what I was going to do once I did. Both major events. Both causing enormous changes, physical and emotional. And for both, the answer that came was the same. With a lot of love.
For me, The Alcove embodies an answer for how to experience the death of a loved one. It is a place of tremendous warmth and love, where families who have lost a family member meet to eat, socialize, make friends, share stories,,, and feel cared for. It is a place to find support during a difficult time, when it sometimes feels easier to close up and stop living. It is a place filled with hope.
On a typical night, after a half hour of family time, we break up into groups and I meet with my 7-10 year olds. We always begin by sitting in a circle where each child is invited to tell his name, his loved one who died, how he/she died, and how everything is going. The atmosphere is extremely open. All stories and emotions are met with acceptance and kindness. The children all listen and ask questions and really get to know each other. They love to exchange information about dying and everything else in life. They find out that they are not alone in experiencing the death of someone close to them and that there is still a lot of love for them in the world.
After circle, we enjoy making arts and crafts to remember the loved one who died, celebrating holidays together, our group has formed a bond of friendship that I hope will strengthen each child to trust that life is full of love no matter what happens to them. That there are people who care about them and believe that they can find happiness and support if they reach out for it. That we’re all in this together and no one has to go it alone if they believe in love.
Jim Fraser – Group Facilitator
“Walking into my first volunteer training session on a cold January day, I had no idea what to expect. Pat spotted me, and pointed toward the first room on the left. That’s when I saw it. 11 women sitting in a circle, my fellow volunteers. Soon, another man came in – Herb. And I had an ally. Quickly, however, it became clear that the physical makeup of the volunteers, except for some very funny comments, mattered little. We were there to learn how to help people through the grieving process.
The training was educational, interesting, sometimes emotional, often sad, most times uplifting, but in the end, downright scary. All of us were worried about how this was all going to work in the actual group setting. While someone dying of old age can be very sad, we were going to be dealing with suicide, murder, horrific accidents, little kids dying of disease, and on and on. During the training, there was more than once when I always reassuring, and told us, “you’ll understand when you get into your group,” And, as usual, they were right.
What happens in group, stays in group, but as a facilitator, it was amazing to see these young teenagers, (and I know it is similar from the little ones to the adults) develop a sense of comfort, which allowed them to eloquently express how they feel about the loss of someone they loved. For many, the Alcove is the only place they can express the fear, jealousy, desperation, resentment and on and on. Why at The Alcove? Because the power is in the group, and everyone knows exactly why they are there. Many times, we laugh and have fun, and sometimes, someone who didn’t seem to want to even be in the group, opens up and the feelings come gushing out.
At the end of the night, when we, as facilitators, talk about how we feel about what happened in our groups, no matter how sad some of the circumstances are, I go home knowing we have helped, and am thankful for the Alcove.”