INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — When Amy Hammerle is missing her daughter, she lights a memory candle. When Sara Hammerle is missing her sister, she listens to a special playlist on Spotify.
Megan Hammerle was a healthy, active freshman at DePauw University when she came down with meningitis and died in February 2015. She left behind shell-shocked parents, siblings, friends and classmates.
For months, the Lebanon family tiptoed around their grief, fearful of upsetting one another.
“We were trying to find ways to cope,” Amy said, but when you’re in that dark place, “you don’t think you’re ever going to come out.”
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Eight months after Megan’s death, the Hammerle family discovered Brooke’s Place, a nonprofit offering grief support services and individual counseling for children, young adults and their families after the death of a loved one.
It’s named for a little girl who lost her father in the Halloween night crash of American Eagle Flight 4184 over Roselawn, Ind., in 1994. That girl, Brooke Wright, would grow up to become a clinical psychologist specializing in youth grief.
Forty-one people attended the group’s first program in 1999. Today, Brooke’s Place hosts eight program nights every month, serving more than 400 people, at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 100 W. 86th St.
Kids as young as 3 to young adults meet in age-appropriate groups to work through their feelings, sometimes by talking, sometimes by screaming.
“Nothing is taboo here,” said Larissa Warne, a longtime volunteer facilitator and now development and marketing coordinator. “Whatever the kids want to talk about, as long as it stays respectful.”
That means it can be loud and active or quiet and contemplative. The Volcano Room, with its padded walls, punching bags and foam noodles, is where kids are free to let it out. In another room, they are encouraged to express themselves in words and art.
Sessions are child-led, Warne said, “because they’re the ones who are experts in what they’re needing that night. We meet kids where they are.”
Children have the capacity to deal with pain in short bursts, said Jacqueline Bell, a longtime facilitator and outreach director. “They can cry, be angry, let it out. Then they have to run, play and be children. We don’t try to fix them, we don’t try to make it better. We allow them to work through it in their own way.”
Next month, Noel Sudano, a survivor of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, will speak at the Legacy of Hope Breakfast benefiting Brooke’s Place. Sudano came to Indiana to attend DePauw University on a scholarship.
While living here, she became a volunteer at Brooke’s Place and discovered she still had a lot of work to do on her own grief journey several years after the massacre that killed 12 students and a teacher. She now works as a school counselor at Columbine.
For two years, Sara Hammerle, 17, has found refuge at Brooke’s Place. She meets twice monthly with a group of teens, all of whom have lost someone dear to them. They have a SnapChat group, a Spotify playlist and an understanding of each other’s pain.
Sara will be another featured speaker at the Legacy of Hope Breakfast. She was just 14 when her sister died. She didn’t think her friends could possibly understand how she felt, but what she discovered was that a lot of other students at Lebanon High School were going through grief of their own. “It really opened my eyes to how people deal with grief,” she said.
For her parents, the support from Brooke’s Place gave them strength when they were at their weakest.
“We all help each other,” Amy said. “Others who were further along in their journey gave us hope that we could walk through this and come out the other side.”
She and her husband, Rick, now are the veterans in the group. “We’re helping to show others that they can find joy again.”
To keep Megan’s memory alive, the family sponsors a 5k in May, with proceeds funding a scholarship for a Lebanon High School student.
And every June 16 — Megan’s birthday — is #meganhammerleday. Family, friends and strangers are encouraged to do a random act of kindness in her memory.
Brooke’s Place, which serves youth around Central Indiana, will expand to a west-side location by early next year. It also offers programming at community centers and schools. Families receiving support services are asked for a $30 monthly donation, but no one is turned away for financial reasons.
Source: The Indianapolis Star
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com