5 Photos, 5 Stories (Day Two): Mending Broken Hearts

It’s Day Two of the 5 Photos, 5 Stories Challenge, and I want to share a very special place with you.  It’s a place where families come to mend broken hearts.

Welcome to The Dougy Center in Canby, Oregon, USA, my home away from home for the past six years.  I come here to sit with  grieving families as they talk about their loved ones who have died, and through that listening I help them mend their broken hearts.

041815 Dougy CenterInside this wonderful old house we have a talking circle room, play room, art room, sand room, foosball room and, best of all, the famous Volcano Room.  We work with children who are grieving.  Kids can’t understand what they are feeling when someone they loved has died.  They aren’t mature enough to name their feelings and talk their way through them like adults do.  Children work through their grief by playing, and we play with them.  We start our peer group support sessions by having each child tell us their name, who died, and how they died.  Just that little exercise can be revealing.

“My mom died of cancer.”

“My dad went to sleep and never woke up.”

“My mom got hit by a car and died.”

“My dad shot himself.”

We deal with it all, illness, accidents, suicide and murder.  Some children have become orphans; some live with aunts, uncles, grandparents.  All are afraid of losing the only adult they have left in their lives.  We help them deal with their fear.  We listen, and through the stories they tell, the art they draw, the scenes they create in the sandbox, or the plays they put on in the puppet theater, we hear their stories.  We figure out that the big monster that eats everyone up is really the cancer that took mommy away.  The painting of the house being washed away by teardrops tells us so much.  We don’t judge.  We don’t rationalize.  We just listen and keep the child safe.

We deal with anger and acting out, too.  So many of these kids had their worlds turned upside down without any warning.  Nothing makes sense any more.  Mommy crying all the time now.  Daddy doesn’t know how to comb his daughter’s hair.  So we see anger.  It’s a normal reaction to abrupt change and fear.  We have a foosball table where the tournaments can get quite heated, but when there is a lot of energy or anger to release, nothing beats the Volcano Room.  It’s padded walls and floor hold lots of big stuffed animals and soft pillow blocks that the kids can run and jump off of.  The punching bag in the corner gets used, too.  We keep everyone safe while they explode and work out their massive jumbled feelings.


When the weather is nice, we’ll take the kids across the street to Waitt Park, with its sheltering trees, two playgrounds, benches and picnic tables.

Upstairs in our house is a quiet haven for the remaining parent or caregiver.  We sit in rocking chairs, like adults do, and we talk about what happened, how everyone is adjusting, how to handle grief and day to day life.  We talk about social security payments for the kids, finding day care and new jobs.  We talk about how one pay check now needs to take the place of two.  We talk about grownup fears and pain.PDX TDC

The Dougy Center has a main building in Portland, and it’s incredible.  Huge and gorgeous, with beautiful artwork and an incredible array of services for the kids that we don’t have, like a music room and even a replica of a hospital room, complete with monitors and IV poles.  All three Dougy Center houses hold 27 support groups that bring comfort to over 450 children and 300 adults a month.  Our staff travels worldwide to train other organizations, or hosts training sessions in our facilities.

But I’m happy to stay in our little town and our humble old house in Canby.  It’s well worn and weathered, like the families we serve.

Cee asked me recently how I can handle dealing with death all the time.  It took me a couple of days to find the words, but here they are:  It’s my humanity.  It’s my way of touching people profoundly, at the hardest and bleakest time of their lives, and helping them become whole again.  Can anything be more joyful than that?

The rules of Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge require you to post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo (It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or simply a short paragraph) and then nominate another blogger to carry on this challenge. Accepting the challenge is entirely up to the person nominated, it is not a command.

Read Day One, Tiger In My Tank.

I am nominating Juliann at Browsing The Atlas to do the challenge.

Please take a moment to visit her blog.

This post is also in response to WordPress’ Early Bird challenge.  I went out just after dawn to get my photos.


Hi.  I’m Chris.  I’m an introvert.  All of my postings tend to reflect my introvert world in some way or another.  Join me and like minded introverts for a special slant on the world.

12 thoughts on “5 Photos, 5 Stories (Day Two): Mending Broken Hearts

    • Thanks, Carol. It is rewarding. Our organization has been around since 1982 and has volunteers who have been here from the start. That says something about what it’s like working with these families.

  1. “It’s my way of touching people profoundly, at the hardest and bleakest time of their lives, and helping them become whole again.” So beautifully said!
    Thank you for doing what you do with such compassion. As someone who has lost 2 very important people in my life I can say I wish there were more people like you in the world!!

  2. What a wonderful place! And what a difficult but rewarding role you play in the lives of the bereaved, Chris. There must be many times when you need to withdraw and gather your own emotional strength in order to help others find theirs.

  3. What a beautiful place. Such important things happen here. It reminds me a little of working in domestic violence shelters. The children there often can’t express their emotions and the counselor a help them figure out how they’re feeling. People asked me how I could work there; they thought it must be so depressing. But it didn’t feel that way to me. We were helping.

    I hope more cities establish places like this. I’m not sure we have anything like it here in southwestern Ohio, but I’ll bet there’s a great need for it.

    Thanks also for nominating me for the challenge. I happily accept.

    • I know what you mean about people thinking it’s depressing. The children are inspiring. They always teach me so much. It’s anything but depressing.
      Thanks for rising to the challenge. I hope you have fun with it.

  4. Pingback: 5 Photos, 5 Stories (Day Three): | 61 Musings

  5. Pingback: 5 Photos, 5 Stories (Day Four): Furry Mom and Baby | 61 Musings

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