The end of the school year is traditionally a time when many participants in our program close from their groups. At Dougy Center, children and teens get to decide when they are ready to stop attending, a choice that provides them with a sense of power and control in their lives. When a participant closes, we do a special rock ceremony that enables group members to say goodbye and appreciate the child, teen, or adult for what they contributed during their time at Dougy Center. The participant who is closing picks four rocks: three that are smooth and one that is rough. These rocks are a metaphor for process of grief - when rough rocks toss together in a tumbler, they come out smooth. Similarly, when grieving families gather in group to talk, laugh, cry, and play, their grief stories come together, smoothing out some of the rough edges. In the closing ceremony, the three smooth rocks represent the parts of grief that have grown easier while the rough one is a reminder that no matter how much time passes, there can still be moments when our hearts hurt for the person who died.
During the rock ceremony, each member of the group gets to say goodbye to the person who is closing. This is an important part of the program as many of the children, teens, adults, and volunteers didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to the person in their life who died. Some participants talk about memories of time spent together in group. Others share how they where positively impacted by the person who is closing. For some, who are newer to group, they give the rocks a big squeeze filled with good wishes for the person’s future. While it can be uncomfortable to take in appreciation and well wishes from 16 or more people, everyone who does remarks on how powerful it is to realize that by sharing their moments of both pain and celebration, they made a meaningful contribution to their group. When we say goodbye and appreciate those who are closing, we focus on specific things they did or said that made a difference in the group and our lives. Rather than say, “You’re so mature,” we might appreciate a child for how his insightful questions helped generate rich conversations in the group. Specific appreciations help those who are closing know they were seen and heard for all the ways they contributed to others in their group. It also gives those who remain an opportunity to express their gratitude to the person who is leaving.