Finding My People: A Teen’s Story on the Impact of Peer-Based Grief Support

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

Pediatric E-Journal, Pediatric Palliative/Hospice Care, November 2021

By Samira Moosavi, CCLS
Children’s Group Coordinator, The Elizabeth Hospice

Lilly, age 17, shared with us the impact of having peer-based, grief support services for herself
and her family. She has participated in The Elizabeth Hospice’s Camp Spero Teen Camp Council
to support in shaping the camp experience for future campers and continues to advocate for
those that are grieving in her community. She has also given permission to share her story in
this article.

Peer-based support groups offer a safe space for children and teens to find validation,
connection, community, comfort, and support. According to Kilmer et al. (2014), the context of
the group can help youth feel connected and supported. This allows them to draw from the
collective experience and wisdom of others. The peer support, validation, and normalization
experienced in the groups can provide a fruitful environment for helping children and teens
process and integrate the loss into their lives. This can help them feel more hopeful about the
future, experience compassion and caring, and develop empathy for others’ circumstances and

The Elizabeth Hospice is a leading provider of grief support to children, teens, and families. The
mission of The Children’s Bereavement Program is to provide a safe space for participants to
share their grief story, honor and memorialize their loved one, and connect with peers in the
community. In addition to peer-based grief support groups, the program offers school-based
programming, a summer grief camp (Camp Spero), and crisis intervention for students and

My grief journey is never going to end. That’s something I have accepted. But where I am
today―from where I was―is very different in a very good way.

When you lose someone you love, your whole world is flipped upside down.

My dad died from a sudden heart attack when I was 13 years old. I never thought something
like this would happen to someone I love so much. Having to go through it is almost too hard to
explain or put into words. For a while, I didn’t know what to do. I felt so alone. I couldn’t find
people I could relate to. There wasn’t anyone I could talk to about my feelings. I couldn’t talk to
my friends who had their parents and were still going through their life stuff. At such a young
age, it was a lot to also put my grief on them.

About a year after my dad’s death, I joined the Children’s Bereavement Program at The
Elizabeth Hospice. They offer peer-based grief support groups for children and teens in the
community. At group, I found my people. At group, I found my ground.

In the beginning, I was really nervous about participating in the teen support group. But
everyone was super welcoming. I listened to their stories and realized that the other group
members were going through the same thing I was. I made connections and friendships. I found
people I never thought I could find. I began working through the process of how to heal―even
though I realize I may never fully heal. Group is a great environment to truly be yourself and tell people how you feel. I found this really refreshing. I felt like in a way, I could breathe.

Nowhere else is like this space. Discussing grief is not something commonly talked about in our
world. In group, it’s a common thing. Having these types of conversations make me feel normal
and validated. To create a safe space for people to tell their story, to go through what they are
going through, and to find people to connect to can be life changing. Having group has brought
me a sense of peace. It is truly magical to find a group of people who embrace your story and
help you grow as a person for the better.

In group, we lift each other up through the hard times―birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays
like Father’s Day. Some of my best friends are the ones I made in group. These bonds will stay
with me throughout my life.

Now that I have community, I want to help other kids who are grieving find community too. I
reached out to the leaders on my high school campus to bring grief support to my school. I have
learned that one in five children will experience the death of someone they love before
reaching the age of 18 (Doka, n.d.). That means about 500 students at my school alone could be
grieving. These kids might not have the resources I had to help them through this. I want other
kids to feel supported and loved, and to have a safe environment where they can share their
thoughts, feelings, and worries. I am hopeful and inspired to bring the same support I received
to others.

I know my dad would be very proud of me for being an active participant in the Children’s
Bereavement Program. And he’d be as thankful as I am for the program. Not just because of the
way it’s helping me but because it’s also helping my mom and our family work through our

Something that brings me hope is knowing that life is different and continuing in a way that I can only grow from here.

1. Kilmer, R., Gil-Rivas, V., Griese, B., Hardy, S., Hafstad, G. S., & Alisic, E. (2014).
Posttraumatic growth in children and youth: Clinical implications of an emerging
research literature. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84(5), 506–518.
2. Doka, K. (n.d). Editor of OMEGA, Journal of Death and Dying.