Losing a loved one can be traumatic for anyone — but, for a child, it can be devastating.
Allison Wysota and her three sons — Andrew, Austin and Addison — experienced this firsthand when her husband, Adam, only 47 at the time, died seven years ago. Overwhelmed with grief, Wysota searched for support to guide her family through this immense personal struggle, but her hunt proved fruitless.
That was until a trip to Olivia’s House in York, Pa. — which offered a “curriculum-based” support service — that proved the perfect prescription for their grief. That was when Wysota realized her calling — and Adam’s House was born.
“I was an educator … as a speech pathologist, I would work with kids that were selectively mute and getting them to speak,” said Wysota, a Weston resident. “Now life has pushed me in this direction. I am helping give these kids a voice in their grief.”
Wysota established The Adam Wysota Foundation in 2012, and, to honor her husband’s memory, she created Adam’s House — based in Shelton and the only such service in the state — to help other grieving families. She said her vision is to offer grief education and peer support programs to children and their families in a comfortable home setting.
“My hope is that with Adam’s House, no family and, especially, no child will ever grieve without the support of a caring community,” said Wysota.
Adam’s House is comprised of a small, core staff of professionals with advanced degrees in education, counseling and social work, as well as experience in bereavement counseling. These “Friends in Grief,” fondly referred to as FIGs, volunteers must complete a 12-hour training session in order to be placed in the children’s groups. Wysota said her program is supported by Olivia’s House in York, Pa., which has provided mentorship and the basis for the Adam’s House curriculum as well as volunteer training.
In all, 23 families have gone through the program, with the latest group presently going through the process.
“I believe there is strength in numbers,” said Wysota. “Being in a group does make you feel like you are on the right track, you are stronger than you give yourself credit for, you get validated, which are all important things to help to propel you through the grief process. It is a really powerful experience.”
This free program officially opened in September 2016, and the first families went through in 2017.
“The thing I was struggling with as I searched for grief support for my family was that these programs really didn’t have a curriculum. What was the plan? What was the point of our coming together? Olivia’s House was everything I wanted to bring here to Connecticut,” said Wysota.
Adam’s House uses a closed-ended education model, meaning that once the group members have been interviewed by the staff and cleared by the specialist partners, they begin the program together and end the program together. Once a family is offered the option of entering a program, they must commit to attending each week’s meeting of the eight-week program.
Wysota said the closed-ended model provides the group “a sense of security so children feel safe enough to share their grief with their new friends.”
Parents and guardians meet as a group while the children are in session. Parents/guardians will learn ways to support and converse with their children about their grief. They are instructed about developmental tasks of all ages and how to appropriately model grief for their children.
The peer support educational programs at Adam’s House are not meant to replace specialized therapy for children who have been traumatized by their loss or who have special needs. In this case, the Adam’s House specialist will refer to the family to the one-on-one partner professionals. Children are placed into age-appropriate groups — “Littles”(5 to 7 years old), “Middles” (8 to 13 years old) and “Teens” (14 to 18 years old).
“All the families come here, they start together, they end together,” said Wysota. “What’s become apparent from running it that way, the offshoot is that we really give these families a nice sense of community, they get close and develop nice relationships.”
The families meet once a week for eight weeks. They start each session with a meal, gratefully provided by area restaurants, according to the non-profit organization, and the people eat as a “big family,” offering an opportunity for them to get to know each other. The families arrive at 6 p.m., with dinner from 6 to 6:30, and the program running from 6:30 to 8.
“There is no correct way to grieve,” said Wysota. “We all have self doubt that there is a right way. There is healing in the remembering, not the forgetting. Ultimately, our goal is to empower our program participants to cope with their loss so they may live their lives to the fullest.”
To learn more, call 203-513-2808 or visit adamshousect.org.