Why Grief Recovery

By: Michelle L. Cramer, founder & executive director

When I began doing bereavement photography nearly 15 years ago, the organization I volunteered for provided pictures for families in their most dire moments of distress, but nothing beyond that. It was so very hard for me to hand over a disc of photos to a family (back in the days before digital galleries) and walk away. I wanted to check in on them, make sure they were okay, but there was no system or guidance in how to do so correctly. Which meant that, like so many others do for someone grieving, I just left them with no support at all.

From day one of my vision for On Angels’ Wings, support was a big factor. One of the first people to come on board with me was Michelle Slavens, and her position from the get-go has been Support Coordinator. Since I have never personally been through child loss or caring for a medically fragile child, I wanted someone on staff that understood that experience more personally and could relate better to the families we serve. I’m so grateful that she’s been on this journey with me to form the support services for OAW from the beginning.

There have been many variations to the support services we provide. For a time, we put together care packages for birth losses, but that never caught on. For a few years, Michelle ran a weekly support group meeting, giving families the opportunity to come together and just talk openly, sharing whatever might be on their hearts at the time. We took donations of hundreds of wedding gowns to have angel burial gowns made for birth loss, but there weren’t enough families using them and we had to discontinue the program (we still have totes full of burial gowns in storage).

We are incredibly honored to provide memorial gifts for our families. Within the first six months following the loss of their child, parents get an engraved necklace and keychain honoring them. Jenuinely Beadiful Designs has been generously donating these personalized gifts to our families since 2015. We also provide a paper flower as a memorial gift on the first three anniversaries of a child’s passing. For the past two years, we’ve partnered with Mi Prima Belle Design in St. Louis for these gorgeous pieces that will live on forever for our families as a small bouquet honoring their child.

But Michelle and I both desired to offer something more. While there are support groups for pregnancy and infant loss in our area, many of our recipients would mention to us that they felt somewhat out of place. It was hard to share because many of the other members had early term pregnancy loss, while most of our recipients are processing NICU or full term pregnancy loss. Additionally, they would feel some guilt attending these groups because the other families had nothing to hold on to from their child, and our recipients had priceless images.

Additionally, these support groups, while beneficial, focused on support and comradery. Michelle and I wanted to offer a program specifically dedicated to recovery for the families we serve, in addition to online support groups for them to connect in.

In late 2019, I was introduced to The Grief Recovery Handbook by my own counselor for addressing some of my own trauma. I was immediately taken aback by the message The Grief Recovery Method conveys, in that we are all allowed to feel grief fully and completely, with no expectations or timeline. This is something we have worked to convey to our families from the beginning. I wanted to do the dedicated 8-week program the organization offered, but found there were not certified specialists in my area—something I immediately sought to remedy.

Michelle and I became Advanced Certified Grief Recovery Method Specialists in June of 2020. We completed our first in-person grief recovery course at the new OAW headquarters in November 2021. I have personally taken nearly 20 people through the 8-week program since obtaining certification. Many of those individuals have said they feel a tremendous sense of release now because they are no longer carrying incomplete emotions.

Click here to read testimonials & learn more

The program focuses on just that: the unmet hopes, dreams and expectations from a relationship and the incomplete emotions we push down and try to ignore when we suffer loss. The program also addresses all forms of loss, not just death. We’ve had journey recipients complete the program and address the loss they’ve pushed down about their child who is still fighting, but will not get to live the life their parents dreamed of because of their illness. These parents also grieve the life they had planned for themselves, but now are 24/7 caregivers.

I have personally seen tremendous healing from this program, and have witnessed that in the individuals I’ve had the privilege of guiding through The Grief Recovery Method thus far. We will soon offer this program to the general public as a fundraising opportunity for the organization, and a means of extending our service reach within our community. If you’re interested in participating, please reach out for more information.

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