Support Group Will Help Children Cope With Grief

The inspiration for forming the group was the collective grief following the death of 11-year-old Chincoteague resident Brianna Merritt

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Brandy Terrell, left, and Linda Baylis Spence, Riverside Shore Hospice Bereavement Coordinator, hold a painting made by Terrell’s daughter, Brianna Merritt, who died in Oct, 7, 2019 at age 11. Photo by Carol Vaughn.
By Carol Vaughn

A new group to support children who are dealing with grief will start soon on Chincoteague. Many of the town’s residents, including children, were affected deeply by the death of Brianna Merritt last fall.
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Brianna died at home in October at age 11, after a long struggle with cancer. She was one of two children Riverside Shore Hospice has cared for in recent years.

Her mother, Brandy Terrell, is helping organize and facilitate the children’s group — one of several free grief support groups Riverside Shore Hospice sponsors.

Everyone is welcome; a person does not have to have had hospice care for his or her loved one to attend.

While most of the groups are geared toward adults, Terrell and hospice Bereavement Coordinator Linda Baylis Spence saw the need for a children’s group.
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“I see first hand the children that are suffering from just her loss,” Terrell said of her daughter’s peers. Her own son, 8, likely will go to the group.
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Grief support groups were not something Terrell had thought much about before, but now she is finding it helpful to attend one.
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“It’s important for me to have people around me who understand what you are going through…I think that the kids need that opportunity, as well,” she said.
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The group on Chincoteague will be called Wings of Hope — the name recalls Brianna in two ways.
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First, Brianna in 2018 started a Facebook page called Brianna Brings Hope to spread awareness of childhood cancer and raise funds for research and affected families.
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“I will also use this page to inspire everyone to be kind every day! #BrisKindnessChallenge,” she wrote in the mission statement.
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The kindness challenge was taken up by many on the Eastern Shore and beyond.
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“It has always been her personality to help people who were struggling,” Terrell said, recalling that Brianna often was recruited by hospital staff to encourage other young patients.
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When it came time to name the group, the word “hope” came to Terrell’s mind.
“I thought, that’s what a lot of these kids need,” she said.
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“Wings” refers, in part, to a conversation mother and daughter had as Brianna’s health was failing last year.
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“When Bri knew there was a possibility that she was going to heaven soon, she wanted to know if she would be able to send me things from heaven,” Terrell said.
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Terrell, a nurse, and a child life specialist, who were all in the room, looked at each other, trying to find the right answer.
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“Finally, we admitted that we didn’t really know,” Terrell said.
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When asked what things Brianna would send from heaven if she could, she immediately said purple butterflies — purple was her favorite color.
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That’s how the name Wings of Hope came about. The group’s logo is a purple butterfly.
The free group, for ages 7 to 17, will meet the first time on Feb. 27.
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It meets the fourth Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. at the Chincoteague Church of God. Meetings typically last 1 to 1 1/2 hours, including time to talk, activities and games, a snack, and, from time to time, outside speakers.
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“Working with Brandy, what’s so inspiring about her is that she is taking the worst thing that has ever happened in her life and turning it for good, and allowing herself to be used to bring encouragement and healing to other people…It’s just very beautiful that she would do that,” said Spence.
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Riverside Shore Hospice also sponsors a free, day-long camp for children and teens who have experienced loss of a loved one — either by death, divorce, foster placement, incarceration, or military deployment.
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Camp Fragile Hearts will be held May 16 at YMCA Camp Silver Beach.
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One message Spence wants to get across is that all hospice’s grief support groups are open not only to those who have lost someone to death, but also to “people who may have gone through divorce, or had to leave their job, or military deployment — all those types of things.”
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“We just want to be able to help children and adults on the road to healing,” she said.
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Information about Grief Support Groups
For information about grief support groups, call Riverside Shore Hospice at 757-789-5000 or email Linda Baylis Spence at linda.spence@rivhs.com, or just come to a meeting.
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Meetings:
1st Monday, 6:30 p.m., Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital, Conference Room 1
1st Wednesday, 10:30 a.m., Onley Methodist Church
1st Tuesday, 1 p.m., Maranatha Baptist Church, Exmore
2nd Tuesday, 1 p.m., Chincoteague United Methodist Church
3rd Tuesday, 1 p.m., Cape Charles Baptist Church Fidelis House
4th Tuesday, 1 p.m., Downing’s United Methodist Church
4th Tuesday, 6 p.m., Wings of Hope for ages 7-17 Chincoteague Church of God (Starts Feb. 27)