- Associated Press - Saturday, October 18, 2014

AUBURNDALE, Fla. (AP) - It looks so cool when you peer into the colorful “Grief Cave” at Good Shepherd Hospice. But read the writing on the walls, and cool quickly fades to heartbreaking.

“I miss my singing partner Daddy. Now you are singing with the Angels as u watch over us.”

The cave in Good Shepherd’s Bethany Center in Auburndale is all black.

As a form of therapy, grieving people who have lost a family member jot their thoughts on the dark walls with bright-colored, Magic Marker-like pens.

Under a black light, the writings assume a brilliant glow.

For anyone who thinks hospice is just for the dying, think again. Grief counseling “is a big part of what we do,” said Rica Walker, Grief Services coordinator at Good Shepherd Hospice.

Regardless of age, anyone can write on the Grief Cave walls. It’s easy to tell which writings come from children, and not just because of the lack of penmanship acumen.

Kids’ writings are the closest to the floor.

“A great brother”

Franklin “Jace” Carson was born Oct. 29, 2013. Nobody was more excited about the addition to the family than Alex Whatley, Jace’s brother, who was 6 years old at the time.

Alex was the first to feed Jace when he came home from the hospital. Alex loved to hold his baby brother, and he often did.

The boys were tight.

Baby Jace suffered a crib death on Dec. 18, 2013. He lived less than two months. Along with his parents, Halsey and Brittany Carson, Alex was devastated.

“Jace was a great brother to me,” Alex said. “I really miss him.”

Alex was scared after Jace died.

That’s far from all of the boy’s troubles.

By the end of December of last year, Alex was despondent, Halsey Carson, 33, said.

“At first, Alex thought it was his fault,” Carson said. “He took it rough.”

Brittany Carson, 26, said after the baby died, “Alex had trouble at school, he wasn’t listening and his grades were slipping.”

Brittany Carson had heard from her mother about the grief counseling provided at Good Shepherd Hospice.

She knew it was the right thing for Alex and for her and her husband. The counseling began in January and continues.

“We love the people at hospice,” Brittany Carson said.

Alex’s therapy includes counseling from grief therapists.

He got started in a “Little Friends Group” and made a buddy of his own, Jafar, who was grieving over the loss of his little sister.

And he wrote in the Grief Cave. On a recent night when The Ledger visited, Alex wrote to Jace:

“I love you and my mom and dad and me.”

And, he wrote, “Everybody misses you. XOXO from Alex.”

Alex said it’s cool to write something and watch it glow.

The hospice has been wonderful for Alex.

In April, he went to a three-day camp for grieving children at Circle F Dude Ranch in Lake Wales.

Alex’s parents say the turnaround in his behavior has been remarkable. Both use the words “100 percent” in describing how Alex has rebounded.

The change began as quickly as counseling started, his parents said.

At play at the hospice, Alex is energetic, somewhere between joyous and wild. He’s got a wonderful smile and he’s respectful to adults, addressing them as “ma’am” and “sir.” In other words, he’s a regular 7-year-old boy.

Alex gives plenty of credit to Good Shepherd for helping him. He said his counselors have showed him they care about him. He said being able to talk about his brother has helped him a lot.

Walker, the grief services supervisor at the hospice, said the Grief Cave can be particularly helpful to children because plenty of them aren’t able to verbalize their feelings about death, but can write them down.

Walker doesn’t know about any similar grief caves anywhere near here. She said the Grief Cave was loosely copied from something at The Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families in Portland, Ore.

The cave in Oregon is called the “Volcano Room” and is covered with soft, gymnastic padding for kids to jump on.

Alex is getting excited about something he looks forward to very much. Brittany Carson is pregnant and expecting a child around Jan. 26.

It’s a boy.


Information from: The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.), https://www.theledger.com

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