By Lauren Schiffman, Contributing Writer
Framingham – When her brother, Jeff, died almost 40 years ago, Jenny Kaplan became a bereaved sibling. But, she said, “no one talked about it. It was not a very healthy way of grieving. I grew up feeling like I was the only one in the world who had a family member die.”
Today, families throughout MetroWest need not feel that they are alone in their grief.
Kaplan established Jeff’s Place, the nonprofit grief support provider, 10 years ago after years of experience in, volunteering for and running other bereavement support programs. It ensures that participating families do not have to grieve alone.
Jeff’s Place originally served six families and has grown significantly to serve between 50 and 55 families from 38 communities at its home in Framingham.
Services include peer support groups for children ages three to 19 and their caregivers who have experienced “a significant death loss.” Art, music, memory sharing and discussion are various ways for the children to express their grief, and programs geared to even younger children – ages three to eight – utilize sand, art and play. Caregivers participate in group discussions while the children are in their groups; are supported through their grief; and educated on how to parent a child who is grieving.
A warm, welcoming environment, Jeff’s Place is like home. It’s a place where people feel comfortable expressing themselves without fear of judgment. It’s a place where families gather to be among others who are grieving. And it’s a place where participants are treated as the experts on their own grief. Families can participate in programming for as long as they need it.
A stepdown program is available for those ready to “graduate.” Rather than participating in groups twice per month, they participate monthly.
One family that has benefitted from Jeff’s Place is the Scott family of Northborough. When their son, Danny, died by suicide in 2012, Joan and Dan Scott sought help for their then-17-year-old daughter Christy. They were referred to Jeff’s Place.
“We were in an adult group with people who had lost children,” Joan said, while Christy participated in a teen support group.
They all found comfort in “making that connection with other families and having a place where everybody ‘gets it.’”
Joan says that the groups were safe spaces.
“There was nothing you could say that was too off the wall. People just understood. It was that feeling of connection,” too, that was critically important for Christy, because she was surrounded by other children who had suddenly lost a sibling and were going through similar feelings and emotions.
After two years, the Scotts “graduated” from the program and wanted to be there for others who had experienced sudden loss. Today, Dan serves as Treasurer on Jeff’s Place Board of Directors; Joan volunteers with children’s groups; and Christy volunteers as a facilitator for the sibling loss group. Joan says that it helps their healing.
Part of Jeff’s Place’s success is due to its staffing and oversight; Jeff’s Place has an extensive intake process and employs one full-time and two -part-time clinicians; an intern; six contract clinicians who run support groups and “wonderful volunteer facilitators,” said Kaplan.
While Kaplan added that the organization outgrew its space about three years ago, they didn’t want to move, “because this is our community.” However, a new home recently purchased at 281 Pleasant Street, Framingham, will enable Jeff’s Place to expand its services and double the number of group support rooms to eight. The move will take place this summer.
To help support the purchase of the new home, and to honor ten years of Jeff’s Place and Kaplan’s tireless efforts, a gala will be held on May 2, 2020 at the Weston Waltham Hotel. The event will feature a silent auction with prizes that include two first class airline tickets and a five-night trip to Cancun; tickets to the Nantucket Wine Festival; tickets to Boston’s professional sporting events; and more.
To donate items for the auction, and to purchase gala tickets, visit www.jeffsplacemetrowest.org.
“Grief is very isolating,” says Joan. “Jeff’s Place helps to break that isolation. “I feel so strongly about encouraging people to take advantage of this program. Often, people (who are grieving) feel that they can handle it themselves. (But) it’s just such a healing experience. It gives you that connection you don’t get in a lot of ways” when one suddenly loses a loved one.
“The caring that Jeff’s Place has for every person in the program is just phenomenal. I think we’d be in a different place if it weren’t for Jeff’s Place,” Joan said.