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How a child who struggled with grief grew to create Guelph's first bereavement program for children

The Nightingale Centre staff has seen some children flourish after suffering with grief

Last year, the first bereavement centre providing support for grieving children launched in Guelph.

A year into its launch, the Nightingale Centre for Grieving Children, Youth and Families turned no families away and presented family, youth and suicide bereavement programs to several families in the area, saw children and teens in Guelph and Wellington flourish and made sure no child was left to deal with grief alone.

“We’ve had a lot of kids say this is something they look forward to every single week,” said facilitator and board member Madison Lambden. 

The not-for-profit organization depends entirely on community donations and in the past year has seen generous donations from various organizations such as the Rotary Club of Guelph South and Pollock Pools. 

In the past year, it collaborated with many support services in the community such as Life Voice Suicide Prevention and Mental Health workshops, Bereaved Families of Ontario, Hummingbird Centre for Hope, Children and Youth Grief Network, Heart House Hospice, Lighthouse Program for Grieving Children, Youth and Families, Children's Grief Foundation of Canada, Victim Services Wellington, CMHA Waterloo-Wellington, Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition among more. 

The Nightingale Centre also partners with Hospice Wellington to ensure grief and bereavement services are available to people of all ages in Guelph and Wellington County. 

And it all started with the story of a brave woman named Madison Lambden. 

“One thing that has always driven me is that I never want kids to feel as alone as I did because it's a super super lonely feeling and it's frustrating,” said Lambden. 

Lambden lost her only brother to a brain injury as a result of a shinny hockey incident 13 years ago when he was 10 years old. Being a child herself at 13 years of age, she didn’t have the support system she needed, didn’t want to discuss it with her parents and felt like no one would understand what she was going through. 

Last year, in honour of the 12th anniversary of her brother Nick’s passing on Feb. 12 — who also wore the number 12 in hockey — Lambden raised over $12,000 in 12 days and helped launch the Nightingale Centre with Dr. Laura Brown. 

A year later, she says she has seen grieving children flourish from the day they enter the doors to the day of their last session. 

“We never want kids fearing to come in and feel like they’re put in the spotlight. We really try to balance the program with light-hearted activities where they can sort of get to know each other,” said Lambden about programs that help develop coping strategies for children, use discussions, and have safe conversations about their circumstances. 

The programs are designed to offer direct group support for children and youth from ages six to 18 and grieving parents so they can learn how to deal with their grieving children.  

“The relationships that are formed out of this program are one of the most valuable things that the kids are taking,” said Lambden. “And I know they connect outside of the group. Our winter program ended just a few weeks ago and when we put it out to them if they wanted to join the Spring program, 98 per cent of them said yes.” 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the service delivery of support in the organization changed. Existing family and youth bereavement programs began to use online methods that allowed them to reach a larger audience and the organization saw a spike in the number of enrollments in their youth bereavement program for their spring session. 

“Grief is multilayered and people’s experiences are absolutely going to be amplified during this time,” said program director Dr. Laura Brown. 

“We are surrounded by anxiety and a completely different life course of what we’ve had in the past.”

Lambden says children whose lives have been disrupted because of the current pandemic and are battling the loss of a loved one can find solace in connecting with other children in the community who are going through similar situations even if it is virtually. 

And the doors to the services are open to all.  

“Just the change in them is so incredible to see and the relationships that they are forming make me so happy because if I had something like that I feel like it would have been for the better of my grief journey,” said Lambden. 

“Especially now with COVID-19, I can’t imagine what some of these kids are going through.”


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Anam Khan

About the Author: Anam Khan

Anam Khan is a journalist who covers numerous beats in Guelph and Wellington County that include politics, crime, features, environment and social justice
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