It’s a special day for us at Gather Good because we are officially kicking off ‘Faces of,’ a series that allows you to walk in the shoes of individuals influenced by social causes. November will highlight an employee, volunteer, alumni, and child impacted by Kate’s Club, a nonprofit that empowers children and teens who have experienced the loss of a parent or sibling.
In honor of Grief Awareness Month, our first story is told by Rachel Ezzo, the Director of Development and Communications at Kate’s Club. Today she shares her story of life and loss after experiencing the gripping power of grief firsthand.
My grief story starts with my aunt and step-sister. My mom was a single mom, and for the first four-and-a-half years of my life, my aunt was the other parent in our household. She was really like another parent to me. She was my lifelong mentor and in a platonic way, my soulmate. She passed away in December of 2010 and then my step-sister unexpectedly passed away in August of 2011.
I always knew the work I would do at Kate’s Club would be personally important to me, but what I couldn’t have known were the losses that were to come. I lost my mom a year ago in August, six weeks before that I lost my grandmother, and a year before that my father-in-law passed away. I was just not prepared for how all of that was going to affect my work. Even though I always valued the mission and working on behalf of kids who are grieving, when I lost my own mother it really turned things on its head.
Working Through Grief
The first Kate’s Club Luminary Walk I attended at Camp Good Mourning was almost a year to the day when my step-sister died. From a work perspective you talk about what’s going to happen, but I don’t think you’re really prepared for it until you see it. What was really impactful for me was seeing all these kids and imagining how it was for my nephews. From an external perspective, if you aren’t at Camp Good Mourning, you don’t see the hundreds of teens and kids walking together and crying and supporting each other. So that first year caught me off guard so much because I was in work mode but then the personal side hit me. I had to take myself out of it for a minute. So much so, the next year I decided not to do the Luminary Walk.
The following year, I did the walk but stayed focused on work. The year after that I participated more. The further away I got from my step-sister’s death, the more I was able to transition into a support role. Then my mom died. When she died last year it was right after camp. Our camp has traditionally been the first week in August, so this year, camp fell on the anniversary of her death and I chose not go to the Luminary Walk. In fact, I went to camp for the day but chose not to stay because it was too raw.
Every November Kate’s Club also holds an annual Memory Walk which I always shared with my mom. Knowing what our family had gone through she was so supportive of it. Last year, it was therapeutic for me but still really raw. I was really in work mode but I think this year, especially because it’s on her birthday, it will be much more impactful.
Part of what makes mother losses so hard is that they are often the one person you always go to and depend on for comfort, or for a sounding board, or someone who is always on your side. I was really lucky growing up because my mom, my aunt, and my grandmother were this amazing support system. There is something really special about women who bond together to take care of family. I think part of what has been so hard is that all three of those people are gone. Not that I don’t love and have support from my dad and stepdad but at the end of the day the reality is that the people I could always count on are all gone.
I have a great family and great friends but there is something about the deep roots of having that linkage to your family. That’s been the hardest par,t because grief is so isolating. It’s sometimes the little mundane things. They were the only three people that were there the day I was born. If I wanted to know some sort of family history or know what it was like when I was growing up, there is no one left to ask.
Being in this field you just understand more when you’ve had a loss. You really don’t have to have a loss to be sympathetic about where these kids are coming from but when you do have that loss, it’s an additional responsibility because you know how miserable it is.
The reality is, it’s not possible to cover all your bases all the time. I think trying to find that love and support is really what’s key and it’s not easy to find because not everyone understands. Not everyone wants to deal with what you’re dealing with but there are those people, that if you find them, can make a difference.
Really, it’s trying to figure out that new life. Whatever you make of something is what becomes normal for you, but when you’re knocked so far off your perch that your world is turned upside down, trying to navigate that new normal is a completely different task. Some days I feel like I’m winning more than others. It really is that self-care piece and being able to unshoulder some of that burden. That’s what’s difficult.
I’m thankful to be part of the Kate’s Club community and really understand the importance of it. It’s added that new layer of purpose I was looking for after my aunt and step-sister died. I just wasn’t expecting to have so much loss afterward. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody but if I have to be in this situation I’m glad I’m in good company.
Kate’s Club was started by Kate Atwood and is carried on by the hardworking staff and volunteers who provide free recreational, social, and therapeutic services to children who are living life after loss. You can find out how to volunteer, donate, or learn about their programs here.
Sunday is the Kate’s Club Memory Walk in honor of loved ones lost. If you are interested in participating, register here. If you or someone you know has children impacted by the death of a parent or sibling contact Lane Pease or click here to learn how to join.
Photo Credits: Krisandra Evans (headliner), all other photos are property of Rachel Ezzo and Kate’s Club.