PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The third Thursday of November is Children’s Grief Awareness Day and it was intentionally established near the holidays. It’s a reminder that not everything is happy and joyous for kids who have lost loved ones.

One local facility has reached out to those children for decades.

“There was a tree in there, that we dedicated, wrote all the kids names one and there were no, no names,” Daniel LaVallee said.

Daniel was eight then.

Recently, the problem for the Highmark Caring Place was they were running out of tree.

Each leaf is painted with the name of a child or adult who has worked through the grief of losing a loved one at the Caring Place.

“When you look at those trees you realize how many kids in this particular location are dealing with this, and we have four locations. It’s important to bring attention to it and let people know that there is a place to go,” Highmark Executive Vice President Dan Onorato said.

Thursday morning, Highmark unveiled a second tree. It, too, features the Caring Place logo on the trunk: a broken heart and a butterfly.

That logo was first drawn by young Daniel after the sudden death of his 21-year-old brother in the mid-90s

“I drew a cracked heart with my brother’s name on the crack and a butterfly that symbolized the good memories of him staying with me as I have been able to talk with other kids and kind of the bad memories flying away,” Daniel said.

The program allows children to work through their grief honestly, candidly and openly with other children who are dealing with similar loss. They are given a chance to paint a quilt square, and dozens of them have been stitched to make giant quilts.

“We often have families who will come back, very similar to visiting the cemetery on the date of the death or the birthday of the person who died. They will come back and visit their quilt square or bring extended family into see it. It becomes part of the tradition in their family,” Highmark Caring Place Director Terese Vorsheck said.

Those quilts, like the trees, depict how many have lived and loved and grown after their loss.

“When I came to the Caring Place, I found hope, hope that my life could go on and I would be okay, and at the Caring Place I want every kid to have that same hope. Every kid who loses a loved one, I want them to feel the same hope that I have,” Daniel said.


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