Michigan Ministry Helps Children with Grieving

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Greg and Jolynn Van Wienen started a grief support group for children after the death of their 10-year-old son in 2007.

“We know it was God calling us to do something because we felt the same way when God called us to adopt five of our eight children,” said Jolynn, 42.

Starlight Ministries, established one-and-a-half years ago by the Van Wienens in Jenison, Mich., helps children work through their sadness and anger with help of trained adult leaders using art, song, guided conversations, and play.

Stacy Grasman, left, takes a stone symbolizing grief from Chloe, 10.

Carolyn Koster Yost

Starlight meets twice monthly at Ridgewood Christian Reformed Church, of which the Van Wienens are members.

Starlight attracts an average of 23 kids. Greg, 43, said group support benefits those who are processing grief. “Children see others are making it, and so they can, too.”

Play therapy draws out children who cannot express their grief, as it did for a 5-year-old whose father had died, Greg said. “She was talking on a play cell phone, and the facilitator asked, ‘What do you think your dad is doing now, and what would you say to him?’ The girl began talking to her dad, and after she hung up the play phone, it rang and said, ‘I love you.’ Her face lit up with a big smile.”

Students in middle school and high school find art a healing medium, using darkness to express anger and loss. One teen signified hope with a bright color, saying, “I can see God peeking through the darkness.”

One night this spring, Starlight demonstrated lightening the load of grief by giving each child a backpack filled with rocks. At designated stations, children gave one rock to the leader, until their packs were empty, symbolizing giving their burdens to God. But they each took home one small stone to show they would remember their losses.

“God never takes grief away—just lightens your load,” Jolynn said.

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