By Carol South, Special to the Record-Eagle
TRAVERSE CITY — When Edwina King's husband, David, died in 2009, he left behind four children ages nine and under.
King began looking for support as her children grieved for their dad. She heard about Michael's Place — which provides grief support for families — and there met Robin Flannery. At the time, Flannery was creating a program geared specifically for children. The resulting Robin's Nest offers monthly gatherings and fun programs geared to children.
"Grieving is a process," said King.
The King children have since enjoyed many activities presented by Robin's Nest, including a fishing trip, cookie baking and a recent big truck event.
"It's not just the activity itself but the compassionate people who are there focused on the children," said King, praising the Robin's Nest volunteer mentors. "It helps to get together, not only with the kids but with other adults, especially men — they really attach themselves to them."
Transforming tragedy into opportunity, Flannery's mission with Robin's Nest is to help children have a good day in the midst of their pain.
A child's grief after losing a parent is deep, profound and often misunderstood. After an outpouring of support and understanding from family and friends following a parent's death, life returns to normal. Except emotions do not run on a schedule and children still need a place to grieve.
To them, "normal" is long gone.
Sharing time with other kids who can understand while also enjoying fun activities with caring mentors helps. It can give children hope that they can have another good day, and then maybe another and another.
"You've impacted grieving kids in a positive way when their smile reaches their eyes again," said Flannery.
Robin's Nest is rooted in Flannery's own experience losing her husband six years ago. Her three children, then ages 10, 7 and 5, were bereft. The family was in survival mode for the first year.
"People were very well meaning but they kept dismissing their grief," Flannery said of her children's experience. "A lot of people don't know how to help grieving families."
"I kept wishing there was a program like Make a Wish for grief," she added.
The idea for Robin's Nest took root while zooming through the air with her children on a helicopter ride. Their father had been a helicopter pilot in the Navy and after he died, her son locked in on helicopters.
A friend offered to take them up and the experience was transformational — they were smiling and happy for the first time. That day gave Flannery and her children hope that life could be joyful again.
"The impact I saw when we were up there, I was watching the kids and they started being normal kids," Flannery said. "I knew there were other kids who are grieving and need to have their own best day."
Volunteer mentors are key to Robin's Nest, guiding the activities while providing compassion and caring for participants.
Margaret Wilson signed on to help a year ago, learning of the opportunity through Michael's Place. She helps out at events when she can and recently enjoyed sharing the Team Elmer's Get a Load of This day. The big equipment brought huge smiles — all the way to their eyes — for Robin's Nest kids.
"These kids, if you could have seen their faces," Wilson said. "They got to ride a front-end loader, scoop and dump — Elmer's outdid themselves."
Wilson likened Robin's Next to a combination of Big Brothers Big Sisters and Make a Wish Foundation.
As for the mentors: "It's hardly like volunteering; she thanks me and I'm like, "No, no, Robin, thank you!" she said.
For more information on Robin's Nest, call 947-6453 or see www.michaelsplace.net and select the Robin's Nest option from the Grief Support Services menu.