One in 14 children in the U.S. lose a parent or sibling by the time they turn 18, according to Tidewell Hospice.
Danielle Visone was one of them.
Visone is now a licensed clinical social worker and director of Tidewell Hospice’s Blue Butterfly Family Grief Center program. Ever since she lost her father at a young age, she was inspired to help kids who felt the same way she did.
“When I lost my dad, no one felt they could ask me about him,” she said. “It wasn’t until I went to a center just like Blue Butterfly, that I could talk about things like his favorite color or sports team. Talking about them keeps those memories alive.”
The Blue Butterfly Family Grief Centers were designed to help those families work through their grief and come to find peace of mind.
Visone works with children of all ages as well as their parents or guardians. Each age group is counselled separately and together, giving parents and children time to interact with others experiencing the same stages of grief.
Charlotte County’s Blue Butterfly programs have recently resumed in-person counselling, after going virtual during the pandemic.
“We usually start the program with a dinner,” Visone said. “If you think about family dinner, an empty chair at the table can be really sad. With us, there’s never an empty chair because all the families get together.”
What people usually don’t address when it comes to children grieving, according to Visone, is the loneliness and guilt they associate with the passing of a loved one.
“We want them to know they’re not alone, especially since most of our staff has experienced something similar,” said Visone.
Counselor Lendy Chapman is always shocked to find children who are grieving get bullied by peers.
“Something that happens to children that we don’t expect is they get bullied,” Chapman said. “We want families to know that Blue Butterfly is a safe place, where we focus on building their coping skills and self-esteem.”
Chapman is glad to work with families in-person again.
“It’s absolutely wonderful to be back. Virtual counselling was difficult. Screens are a natural barrier. Now, the ability to look each other in the face again is massively helpful to the process,” Chapman said.
Families are able to participate for free, for as long as they need, thanks to community donors.
Now that the program has resumed in-person sessions, participants and staff have continued to adhere to CDC guidelines to keep everyone involved safe.
“Sometimes I forget the difference I make until I get feedback from a parent, saying something like their kids are able to sleep better now,” Visone said. “It changes my world to be able to walk along with them at the worst time of their lives and tell them they don’t have to do it alone.”
The Charlotte Blue Butterfly group meets twice a month on Thursdays at the First Alliance Church, at 20444 Midway Blvd., Port Charlotte, FL 33952, and there’s room for more families to attend. People who need help coping with the loss of a loved one can visit www.bluebutterflycenter.org or contact Family Grief Program Specialist Danielle Visone, MSW, LCSW, at 941-893-6610 or email@example.com.