New center to bring array of grief services under one roof
Amid the pandemic, record homicides in the state’s largest city, and increasing overdoses, those coping with the death of a loved one in New Mexico will soon have access to a new, holistic grief support space as the 20-year-old Children’s Grief Center changes its name, builds out a new space, and welcomes partner organizations to move in.
Diana Lamb had lost her husband, Tony, just a year before she and her two young sons moved across the country to Albuquerque in 2009. One of the boys’ new school counselors referred the family to the Children’s Grief Center.
“I know they got so much out of the group,” she said. “But, to my surprise, I did as well.”
Lamb said her kids got to play and talk about their dad with other grieving children, which was normalizing. And she was able to build community in a new city with people who understood the loss she was experiencing.
“When you're going through it, you just don't think you're going to experience those highs in your life again,” she said. “And so, to be able to do that — and smile again and laugh or cry with friends — is huge.”
Beyond support groups, Lamb said the center provided a weekly meal for her family, which was one less thing to worry about. They advocated for her son with special needs at his residential treatment program, and fellow participants even helped her navigate a need for health insurance that was causing added stress.
“It was just always a place you knew that you could reach out and they would help you in whatever way they could,” she reflected.
Lamb now volunteers for a committee advising the center’s renovation of a more than 12,000-square-foot space at 4125 Carlisle Blvd. NE.
“[We're] trying to transform this building into a warm, comfortable, but also fun and inviting place for kids and adults, both,” she said.
The Children’s Grief Center is now just the Grief Center after merging with the adult-serving Grief Resource Center in 2019. Executive Director Jade Richardson Bock said the now partially completed space is part of a plan five years in the making.
“So, all of these offices are for rent for providers of different wellness practices,” she said, pointing to several rooms off a hallway during a recent tour.
“It can be mental health or physical health, but willing to serve a bereaved population in what we call a ‘grief-informed’ manner,” she said, “meaning you don't pathologize grief or say something like ‘it's been six months you should be better by now.’”
What they’re calling the Center for Hope and Healing will not only house their organization, but also make a continuum of grief services available at a single site.
“To my knowledge, this is the first center of its kind in the country,” said Richardson Bock.
She envisions renting space to providers associated with grief — like mental health therapists — but also some that may come as more of a surprise, like nutritionists, acupuncturists, and massage therapists.
“Grief is a full body experience,” she said. “So, it helps to have all these different ways to approach that. And we're going to be able to offer all of those things — as a community effort, it's not just us.”
The space will also have large and small meeting rooms, an outdoor playground, a library, a wall for photos of those who’ve passed, and even a mock hospital room. Richardson Bock described the space as “completely identical to an ICU room, except it's for play.”
“It's for hands on storytelling and experiences about what it was like to say goodbye to your loved one in the hospital,” she said. “Or what you wish you had said.”
Richardson Bock said the Grief Center, which doesn’t charge for its services, has raised over $2 million for the renovation, primarily from individuals. The project is also supported by a $150,000 grant from Bernalillo County. Richardson Bock said the center is working to raise the last $232,000 needed for the remodel and recruit new volunteers to meet a soon-to-be higher capacity.
They’re also still looking to secure tenants, like the Resource Center for Victims of Violent Death, which was the first to sign on. The organization primarily serves the families of homicide victims, helping them make informed decisions and advocating for them as they interface with law enforcement and the courts.
Director Pat Caristo said the nonprofit’s clients have unique grief support needs.
“Their loved one wasn't lost, their loved one was taken,” she said. “That adds a level of anger, a level of confusion, a measure of fear. The grieving period, when you have to enter this criminal justice system, gets prolonged.”
She said she hopes adding a second location at the Center for Hope and Healing will increase the visibility and accessibility of her organization.
“For families where children are suffering, they can't come here for group, go there for their children, go over here for another group,” she said. “So, it's a way of making it easier for them to get their services met at one place."
Grief Center volunteer and former participant Diana Lamb said there is a need for the holistic grief support that will emerge at the site as more services join in.
“It's a niche that we don't fill enough at a very tumultuous time in people's lives,” she said.
The Grief Center plans to begin running its own programming out the space on September 1, but are ready for tenants to move into the now-completed part of the building this month.