On Thursday, Nov. 16, Minnesota will observe Children’s Grief Awareness Day, resulting from the advocacy of Carolyn Kinzel, the founder and executive director of Brighter Days Family Grief Center in Eden Prairie.
In 2021, Minnesota Gov.Tim Walz endorsed an official proclamation submitted by Kinzel to officially designate every third Thursday in November as Children’s Grief Awareness Day in Minnesota. Although this is a national day, prior to this, it had not been recognized in Minnesota.
“Children’s Grief Awareness Day is not just a date on the calendar; it represents
hope, resilience, and the strength of community,” Kinzel said in a press release. “This nationwide event raises awareness about the distinctive challenges faced by grieving children and their families, and Minnesota is now an integral part of this compassionate movement.”
Kinzel added, “This is more than just a signature; it is a promise. A promise from our government and community to create a nurturing and empathetic environment for those navigating grief. It’s a symbol of unity and care that ensures no child or family in Minnesota walks their grief journey alone.”
Kinzel understands the grief journey because she and her family have experienced their own.
When her 12-year-old son lost his father to suicide in 2013, he felt isolated and unsupported by his school and community. Kinzel said this was painful and difficult. She wished there was a place she could turn to for help in understanding how to support him and help him navigate all of the emotions he was feeling.
Kinzel began to consider opening a grief center to provide the kind of support she would have wanted her family to have. This became a firm plan as she encountered more people in her life who had to navigate loss and grief with no support system. This included her now-husband and two step-children, who had lost their wife and mother to cancer in 2008. Her mission is to ensure that no other child or family in Minnesota would have to go through a similar experience.
In 2017, Kinzel founded the Eden Prairie-based non-profit Brighter Days Family Grief Center to focus on supporting and advocating for families after the death or terminal diagnosis of a loved one.
Brighter Days provides support for family members of all ages. However, with one in 15 Minnesota youth experiencing the loss of a parent or sibling by the age of 18, the organization is making a special effort to highlight Children’s Grief Awareness Day.
How to support Children’s Grief Awareness Day
With help from dozens of volunteers and partner organizations within the Minnesota Children’s Grief Consortium, Kinzel said Brighter Days hopes “to initiate a ripple effect of compassion that touches every corner of Minnesota.”
Kinzel suggested ways people can get involved to help create more compassion and understanding for Minnesota’s grieving children and their families:
- Donate to Brighter Days Family Grief Center to help sustain its youth programs. All contributions will be matched up to $25,000 through Nov. 16.
- Visit Brighter Days’ website to learn about additional resources and events celebrating Children’s Grief Awareness throughout November.
- Download and display the official proclamation in schools, businesses, and community organizations.
- Encourage everyone to wear blue on Nov. 16.
- Stop by Brighter Days’ social media pages to write your message for grieving children on their hope board and share their social media posts.
You can also support Brighter Days by attending its annual Brighter Nights Cocktail Gala on Dec. 8 at the Hilton Hotel in Bloomington. The event is an opportunity for families to honor loved ones and raise funds for Brighter Days’ mission.
The event will feature gourmet appetizers, a silent and live auction, and a signature wishing tree. There is also the opportunity to sponsor a table, tribute tree, or inspirational message in honor of a loved one. Details can be found here.
Brighter Days gives no-cost support to grieving families
Brighter Days works to address each family member’s psychosocial and logistical needs by giving free support in many forms, Kinzel said.
The organization receives up to 350 monthly requests through phone or website inquiries.
Brighter Days has now served over 8,000 individuals across the state. It has granted more than $77,000 in financial assistance in partnership with Minnesota hospitals, hospices, schools, and communities.
Services include youth support for children and teens, young adult support, adult and family support, and grief counseling. Brighter Days also has an event calendar that lists support groups, workshops, and more.
For families whose loved one has received a terminal diagnosis, no-cost support provided through Brighter Days might include help updating wills and providing anticipatory grief counseling. “Our anticipatory program is not only about grief support, it’s also about navigating the logistics no one talks or thinks about, before your person dies,” Kinzel said.
For families who have lost a loved one, support could also mean providing legal resources and logistical support, assistance with basic necessities like groceries, housing, and tuition, or access to free grief camps, support groups, and counseling.
There is no timeline for the services Brighter Days provides, so whether the loss occurred a week ago or five years ago, they are available for families.
“These are really opportunities for us to walk beside the family with more of a lifetime of support,” Kinzel said. “We’re about staying with them through the long haul because we understand that grief changes over time but does not ever fully go away.”
Free workshops and education for schools, workplaces
Brighter Days also hosts free workshops for educational institutions and organizations to help them understand how to provide compassionate support for individuals transitioning back to school or the workplace after losing a loved one.
Kinzel said Brighter Days collaborates with schools across the state about ways to create a safe and supportive environment upon their return. “We discuss the accommodations that can be made for a student because their grief isn’t going to disappear, but they still have a high school career they need to get through,” she said.
“We also talk about providing them with a safe and comforting space and person they can go to within the school or classroom if they are feeling emotional, to make sure the child is supported and not having to ‘stuff’ their feelings throughout the school day.”
When a child has lost a parent or sibling, Kinzel said, “It’s really important to talk about it in the classroom before they return, because that’s when a lot of bullying and rumors can start swirling.”
She advised teachers to listen closely to what other students say before the grieving student returns. Oftentimes, talking to the parent or guardian of the grieving child about what information can be shared with other parents and students can help quell the misinformation and isolation. “Then kids don’t have to contend with rumors which can heighten all of the emotions they are already trying to navigate,” Kinzel said.
Kinzel said that as Brighter Days works to support and serve grieving families, “We don’t teach that there is a silver lining to their loss, but we do help them discover that there can be joy again, and you can balance that with your sorrow. You can find meaning in life again. It just will look different.”
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