SOUTH JORDAN — Stephen Moore, at 12, had already been through two bouts of cancer and a bone marrow transplant when his dad died in a plane crash in 1996.
Standing in the kitchen, tears in his eyes, he asked: "Mom, does God hate me?"
That anguish-filled question launched journalist-turned-chaplain Carrie Moore on a 15-year journey to wed faith and grieving into a supportive process for families, especially children.
Saturday, she and Janice Taylor, who lost her husband in the same corporate crash, will introduce the Bradley Center for Grieving Children and Families. It is the 15th anniversary of the day the Swire Coca-Cola corporate plane crashed 10 miles from Malad, Idaho, killing its passengers instantly. Besides Bradley Moore — whose name the center bears — and Craig Taylor, it carried two other Swire executives, two pilots and two advertising experts.
What makes the nonprofit center unique, says Veterans Medical Center Chaplain Mark Allison, a board member, is its recognition that belief in God or a higher power is important to many grieving families and can help them heal. Grief support groups and counselors skirt that aspect.
Brad's death left Carrie Moore (a former Deseret News reporter) responsible not only for the well-being of their children, Stephen, 12, Cami, 9, and Katie, 7, but also for helping them mourn and heal. Faced with a yearlong wait to get her children into grief counseling, "I read religious books that talked about how we can take solace in our faith, but couldn't find anything that addressed the kinds of questions Stephen asked: the fear that he had done something wrong and was being punished or the anger issues. So many people said 'God must have really needed your dad.' That didn't make sense to a 12-year-old boy and his younger sisters when they really needed him, too." In grief programs, she found an unwillingness to allow even the most vague discussion of faith, God or spiritual aspects of death.
The interfaith Bradley Center won't preach any one faith, but will recognize that families do have beliefs. The mission statement reads: "The center's mission is to facilitate sharing of one's personal grief journey in an interfaith setting which recognizes, and supports, the role that individual belief in God or a higher power can play in healing."
"To try to separate death from the spiritual is like trying to separate life from the spiritual," says Allison, also state chaplain for the Utah National Guard. The spiritual "gives meaning, it gives hope, it gives purpose, it gives community in some cases." He calls fear of including it "reaction to the politically correct culture. I think it's wrong.... Let's be open to the entire experience of grief. Her intention and mine in helping her is to let these grieving children, teens, adolescents and parents feel a safe place to explore matters of faith as it relates to death and dying and living and loving and remembering."
Allison predicts some will be mad at God and others will share very intimate moments of faith, such as "I saw my Dad." It will be safe to talk about any of it at the Bradley Center. "That's a powerful elixir to have that kind of supportive environment where matters of faith and the emotions that go with it — mad, sad, glad, angry, lonely — can be accepted and not rejected," he says.
Studies indicate 1 in 7 children in America lose a parent or sibling by age 20. In Utah and Salt Lake counties, that translates to as many as 70,000 kids, but there are only two peer grief support groups that exist specifically to help children and both have waiting lists, says Moore. Studies say the consequences of not getting help include depression and anxiety as children become adults, not to mention the impacts they face while still children.
The center's principles include a right not to believe, Moore says, but those who don't must respect the rights of those who do. The duration and intensity of grief is unique to the one experiencing it, and caring and acceptance from peers who are also grieving helps.
Moore graduated in July from the yearlong Clinical Pastoral Education Program at the VA and after its 1,600 clinical hours of hands-on training was board certified as a chaplain from the national College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. She's volunteered in other grief-support settings and trained at The Dougy Center in Portland, after which she patterned the Bradley Center, with the added interfaith component. Dougy is the nation's first children's peer group grief support facility. It's not grief counseling or therapy, Moore emphasizes, but rather aged-based peer group support with trained volunteer facilitators and staff. The first sessions will begin by early March and though the groups are age-based, entire families must enroll. The 90-minute classes will be offered every other week at American Heritage of South Jordan, a private school at 11100 S. Redwood Road. Families decide how long to stay, up to 18 months. Cost is $50 a month for up to three children, $10 for each additional. Scholarships are available to those who can't afford it.
The little boy with the big question, Stephen Moore, now 27, will soon have a master of social work degree, largely because of his own experiences with loss and illness. He will be one of the group facilitators.
"I remember going through the whole grieving process as a family." he said. "Our faith is what kept us going."
Working part-time in marriage counseling for LDS Family Services has shown him faith "really can be a huge factor in someone's healing process. A lot of professionals shy away from that. … We'll bring proven methods to the table, but we're also integrating the faith component and allowing it to play a role wherever an individual's at."
Board members include several area chaplains, community interfaith leaders, social workers, nonprofit leaders and other professionals. For information, call 801-302-0220, visit www.bradleycentergrief.org or email [email protected].
The public is invited to an open house for the Bradley Center for Grieving Children and Families on Saturday, Jan. 15, from noon to 2 p.m. at the American Heritage School of South Jordan, 11100 S. Redwood Road.
Also, the center is looking for people who want to train as volunteer facilitators. Details are at www.bradleycentergrief.org.
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