Why Lee’s Story Matters

Meet Lee Carswell. Born in Birmingham and educated in Liverpool, England, Lee is a successful senior manager at the consulting firm of West Monroe Partners in Seattle.  He is tall, lanky and has an easy laugh.

This story has little to do with his consulting career.  Instead, he describes a loving family re-constructing their lives as they emerge from an emotional whirlpool. Here are his words:

RitaIn late 2009, my wife, Jeni, went to the hospital to remove another brain tumor. She’d had one before, and a strong regimen of chemotherapy followed that surgery. We thought she was out of the woods, but the tumor returned.

Through the medical staff I found the Safe Crossings Program, which helps families – and especially kids – to cope with loss. I was most concerned for our little 5-year-old daughter, Rita.

Rita likes art, she likes fantasy, she’s a gifted reader and very good at math. She’s direct. Also very good at karate. [He laughs].

The Safe Crossings counselors and staff encouraged our family to be direct about my wife’s illness. Rita knew her mom was going to die, but of course it never really hit until one day in early 2010. It was in the morning that my wife, Jeni, took her last breath. And moments after – quite by coincidence – our Safe Crossings counselor pulled into the driveway to pay us a visit. I met Lulu in the driveway. ‘My wife just died,’ I said. ‘How am I going to break this to Rita?’

Lulu took me by the arm and said quietly, “Lee, let’s go into the house. We’ll do it together.”

Through my wife’s illness and after her death, the Safe Crossings staff helped Rita and me in so many ways. I received lots of well-intended advice from family and friends, but the best advice – the advice that carried me through this whole ordeal – came from Safe Crossings.

Lee shares the changes in his life four years later…

Rita has matured in so many ways. She’s 9 now, and she has a mothering tendency that is the result, I think, of her traumatic experience. She can verbalize her feelings, and she understands that she’s been through a lot for a fourth-grader. She has many friends today, and her teachers really appreciate her.

As for me … I’ve met a wonderful woman and we’re engaged to be married in 2015. In fact, Rita chose to introduce Elizabeth to her karate teacher by saying, ‘This is Elizabeth, my new mom!’

As I said, Rita’s direct. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When Lee talks about the help he received from Safe Crossings, he uses words like “confidence” and “lucky” and “hopeful.”

One in 7 children will lose a loved one before age 18. For every Lee and Rita, there are many more families who need the help of counselors, camps, grief therapy. Vulnerable youngsters need guidance to help rediscover their joy.

Lee Carswell supports Safe Crossings Foundation because he believes so many families need the kind of help he and Rita received. If you, or someone you know, needs this kind of help, please contact Safe Crossings Foundation.

Please, too, consider a year-end gift to help us spread the word about these vital services. As Lee says,

“Despite our loss, Rita and I are the lucky ones.”

You can offer hope and encouragement to kids like Rita and parents like Lee by donating now to Safe Crossings Foundation.

Your Gifts Helped the Isaac Family

Years of on and off cancer eventually ended with a terminal diagnosis.

In 1997, at the age of 26, Joshua Isaac found a small bump on his hand; his and his family’s cancer journey began. Joshua married her childhood sweetheart, Kim, the same year he was diagnosed with this rare sarcoma. After treatment and with the cancer in remission, Kim and Joshua built a family; they welcomed son Jacob in 2000 and then Sam in 2003. However, in 2003 they were hit with bad news; the sarcoma’s returned. Joshua endured chemotherapy, radiation and ultimately the amputation of his hand, allowing him 20 months of cancer-free living, during which time Sophie was born. Sophie was only five months old when the Isaac family learned that the cancer had returned for a third time and it had spread to Josh’s lungs. This time the diagnosis was terminal.

Safe Crossings supported them in their home and enabled the three kids to release emotions.

Kim searched and searched. But she could find nothing until she found Safe Crossings. It’s the only organization we know of that deals with anticipatory grief. A wonderful social worker met with Jacob and Sam regularly to help them recognize their emotions… It’s good to know the kids have someone they can speak to who they trust.”

Initially, it was difficult for Kim to find the services she needed for her children as they faced this anxiety-ridden situation. It was through a friend she learned of the Safe Crossings Program and its unique anticipatory-grief services. The fact that this service included coming to the family’s home made it so beneficial to meeting Kim and Josh’s young family’s need. The Isaacs contacted Safe Crossings who initiated visits with therapists Stacy and Lulu.  They met regularly with the Isaacs, playing with Jacob, Sam, and Sophie and providing them a safe venue in which to release their emotions. The therapists also initiated important memorializing projects, making hand prints with Josh and the kids while he was in hospice care. When Josh died in 2010, just two days after his 38th birthday, Kim turned immediately to Safe Crossings for guidance on how to help her children through one of the toughest times of their lives.

All of the children were able to move forward through attendance at Camp Erin.

All of Kim and Josh’s children have attended Camp Erin this and were impacted positively by seeing other children who could relate to their on-going grief. This opportunity helped the children move forward immensely. Your generous donations provide major funding for Safe Crossings services and Camp Erin, always provided free of charge.

My children have lost the only dad they’ll ever know. Safe Crossings has given them a tool box for dealing with their grief.”

Mattie Learned to Process Grief with Safe Crossings Program

Mattie Bess is not new to grief. She has been embracing it since her father passed away in 2005 when she was just 13 years old. Her mom was concerned she might not be able to give Mattie the support she needed so they got involved with The Healing Center, a grief support community for adults, children and families that offers individual and group support with informal events and social networks. Her counselor at The Healing Center recommended that Mattie also attend Camp Erin, a weekend bereavement camp. Mattie found other teens at both The Healing Center and Camp Erin who could relate to her. The counselor at her high school just didn’t get it and her friends were supportive but often didn’t know what to say or do.

She found friends facing similar challenges.

A couple of months after Mattie’s dad passed away she found an old roll of film she sent to get developed. When she got the photos back, there were pictures of her dad on the film. Her friends who were with her didn’t know what to say as Mattie started to cry. Mattie has found that her experience at both The Healing Center and Camp Erin has helped her make friends who understand her and who she feels she can support as well. She enjoys her friendships with others who have “been through it.” When Mattie finished Camp Erin, she thought how cool it would be to come back as an adult and help other kids who needed support.

Now Mattie is giving back as a volunteer – one that can really relate to the campers.

Not only has Mattie come back to Camp Erin as an adult volunteer, but she is now working as the Program Coordinator at The Healing Center. She got community support when she needed it and knows how much it helps, so she wants to give back….in a big way.

What Mattie refers to as the best part of the healing journey is how she has learned not to have the death of her father always be a bad thing in her life. She has learned to remember and celebrate him, not just grieve him. “You can’t escape the fact that they aren’t around anymore, but you can go on.

When Mattie finished Camp Erin, she thought how cool it would be to come back as an adult and help other kids who needed her support.

While volunteering Mattie was asked by her campers why she volunteered at camp. She likes sharing her story and that the kids can relate to her as someone who has been there and now is on the other side wanting to help them.

As we were talking, Mattie expressed why she likes working at The Healing Center, “The children come through the door whole, but at that moment they don’t see it, and we help them find the wholeness again.”

Camp Erin: A Place for Kids to Just Be Kids

The simple experience of being with other kids who have lost a loved one can be a life changing experience for grieving children. They realize that they are not alone in their grief and through forming friendships and sharing their experiences with each other, they often learn to open up in completely new ways. Camp Erin is a place where kids can do exactly that, and the best part is that there are camps all over the country so children across the United States can access this amazing resource.

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Camp Erin is a weekend, overnight camp for kids and teens between the ages of 5 and 17 who are grieving the death of a loved one. Offered free of charge to its participants, it is a high-energy, fun camp with grief support and education woven in. Most importantly, it is a place for kids to just be kids.

The camp is named after Erin Metcalf, a 17-year-old patient of Providence Hospice of Snohomish County who died in 2000 and was a close friend of Jamie Moyer (former All-Star pitcher for the Seattle Mariners) and the Moyer family. The Moyers provided start-up money for Camp Erin in honor of Erin’s memory.

Camp Erin is more than your typical camp. While it is a traditional camp that emphasizes fun, it also provides support and education to kids who are grieving the loss of a loved one. In addition to typical camp activities (evening campfires, nature walks, arts and crafts, games and more), Camp Erin provides opportunities for healing and companionship not found in other settings. Campers engage in activities designed specifically for their age. The camp is facilitated by professional staff, as well as trained volunteers. Adult “Big Buddy” volunteers offer additional support and companionship for campers.

Click here to find the camp nearest you.

Depression and Complicated Grief are Two Separate Things

What we often hear about people we know who have lost a loved one, is that through their grief they have fallen into a deep onset of depression. But what specialists are saying now, is that Complicated Grief is its own disorder, separate from depression and therefore needs its own treatment.

One of the primary differences between depression and complicated grief, researcher Dr. M. Katherine Shear says, is that depression involves the absolute lack of ability to produce positive emotion, while grieving someone often involves the positive emotion one felt for that person. Shear, who is a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University School of Social Work, has developed new strategies to help people battling complicated grief which she has conducted in her own studies. So far, people treated with therapy specifically targeted to their grief condition faired better than those who were treated with depression-based therapy.

This type of research may become a milestone in the realm of grief-related mental disorders and could be a huge step in the therapy practices worldwide.

You can read the summarized article written by Steven Reinberg Here.

Honorable People Help Honorable Organization

Sellen Color logoBob McCleskey, CEO of Sellen Construction has raised $50,000 so far from the building industry in the Seattle area to honor one of their fallen. Here is the letter Bob sent to his colleagues:

I need to ask you a favor. I very rarely reach out to my peers in the industry for anything, but this time it’s a good cause AND it has a very important connection to our business.

My first and most important job as CEO at Sellen is to make sure that everyone gets back to their families safely every day. Our vision at Sellen is to be the safest builder in the industry, period. We devote a tremendous amount of resources toward achieving that vision. The worst nightmare for any company leader is getting “the call” that in spite of all our efforts something tragic has happened. Unfortunately I got that call a few weeks ago – Jason Vanlandingham, a 38 year old father of three, died while working for a subcontractor on one of our projects.

Every time I hear about a serious injury or death in our business I pause and reflect on the dangers inherent in our industry and I pray to God that we could somehow eliminate all accidents. But as hard as we try we sometimes fail. And when a co-worker of ours doesn’t come home the effect on their family is difficult to comprehend.

That’s where my request comes in. For the past six years I have been helping raise funds for an organization called Safe Crossings Foundation. They work to provide grief counseling, including summer camps, for kids who have lost a loved one. I can tell you firsthand that their work turns lives around. I know one young man who shared with me that he harbored serious thoughts of suicide after losing his father, until he attended Camp Erin, and now he’s raising money himself to help send other kids to camp. I know more than a few friends and associates who have found the need for Safe Crossings in their own families. The services are highly effective and they’re free.

Now for the ask. I am trying to put together a $50,000 table (or two!) of industry leaders for the Safe Crossings luncheon on October 31st. That’s ten (or twenty) of us at $5,000 each. I know that’s a lot and I know that you and your company get asked every week to support one good cause or another. But this is different. It’s a way to honor a fellow worker in our small industry, and it’s a tangible way to positively impact those young people whose lives have been turned upside down by the loss of a loved one.

I hope you will consider this request thoughtfully. It’s very important to me personally and to the work that we all do. If the October 31st luncheon date doesn’t work for you I’m OK with just your check, but my first choice is to have you there with me and with other industry leaders. You will come away knowing that your investment is in good hands and that it is an important gesture that acknowledges the dangerous work we do every day.

Here is the link to the Safe Crossings Foundation website. http://www.safecrossingsfoundation.org

I’ll call you soon to talk about this and to answer any questions.



Bob McCleskey, CEO

Grieving Students: What’s Your Role as a Teacher?

As a teacher you are a very important person in children’s lives, so when you encounter a grieving student you may wonder exactly what your role should be. While there is no fool-proof method for helping a child through this difficult time, there are some things you can do to make their time at school a little easier.


The National Alliance for Grieving Children has put together a simple and informative guide for teachers who are dealing with grieving students. Overall, they say that what kids need most is for you to be there for them by letting them talk about their fears, concerns and feelings. They need to feel safe and not judged by peers or supervisors.

To see the full guide, click here:


We Want to Improve Your Health!

A study by UnitedHealth Group and the Optum Institute finds that volunteering is linked to better physical, mental, and emotional health!

The survey of more than 3,300 U.S. adults reveals that 76% of U.S. adults who volunteer say volunteering makes them feel physically healthier, and 78% report that volunteering lowers levels of stress, which results in feeling better than adults who do not volunteer.

With that said, we can always use volunteers for events and in the office! Your efforts will help us support children grieving the loss of a loved one – together we can help them get back to just being kids.

Please contact Marci Servizi at marci@safecrossingsfoundation.org or 206.652.4723 if you’re interested!

Above, volunteer “Big Buddies” at Camp Erin dress to impress their campers.

Childhood Grief is Complicated

Every person certainly grieves differently, as does every child. So often, it becomes all too easy as a parent or adult close to a child to unintentionally overlook the child’s struggles with life as well as death. Children are the greatest observers and the greatest absorbers. They notice many of the little things that adults often try to shield from them and catch on to new information quite quickly.

When someone close to a child has died, guiding that child through their grief can be incredibly challenging. How do you know if your child understands what has happened? How do you begin to talk to them about death–and grief? And how can you help your child deal with their grief in a healthy way?

These questions are some of the hardest to answer because the answers can vary so extensively. The National Alliance for Grieving Children has some great ideas, however, about how to answer these questions–like the suggestion that grieving children can feel better when around other children who are going through something similar, children can become one another’s support system simply because they help each other feel less alone.

This is the cause that Safe Crossings Foundation particularly supports through funding the Safe Crossings Program which uses group therapy and group activities for children and teens as a main coping technique. The National Alliance for Grieving Children also provides a wide array of suggestions on how to help children grieve. Click here to read more.

Giving Helps Us Heal

healingMy name is Marci, and I am not only the Development Director at SCF, but a long-time volunteer at Camp Erin-King County. As I prepare for my 10th year as a big buddy at Camp Erin, I reflect on how much I have gained by giving back. My father died when I was 12 and I didn’t have a Camp Erin. Each year I go, I am so appreciative of the kids that let me walk with them as they heal and as I continue to heal as well.  Safe Crossing Foundation is always looking for support, come volunteer for us and we will help you heal. Contact info@safecrossingsfoundation.org for more information.

Harriet Hodgson talks about how giving helps us heal in her article below:

Grief Seven Years Later: Healing and Hope
by Harriet Hodgson
*View Harriet’s website by clicking here.

Seven years ago my elder daughter died from the injuries she received in a car crash. Accepting her death was hard because three other family members – my father-in-law, brother (and only sibling) and our twin grandchildren’s father – also died. Our family suffered four losses within six months. To be honest, I didn’t think I would ever be happy again. You may have had the same thought.

Still, hope is available and, slow as it may be, we can grow from grief. Looking back now, I am able to see how multiple losses changed my life. More important, they changed what I do in life. How am I doing today? How are you doing? Seeing the full effects of a loved one’s death takes time and we learn as we go along. Here are just some of the things I learned.

Laughter helps us heal. Early in my journey I told my husband that “my sense of humor may save me.” This turned out to be true. At first, my laughter was forced and rusty as an old door hinge. As time passed, however, I found more to laugh about. My deceased daughter was as funny as any stand-up comic. Today, when I laugh, I laugh in memory of her and say to myself, “Helen, this one is for you.”

Family helps us heal. The members of my extended family rallied to help us. They ran errands, fed us countless meals, and perhaps most important, listened to us. Every grieving person has a story to tell and needs to tell it. Telling our stories and saying our loved ones’ names helps to keep them alive in our minds. Family members still encourage us to tell stories about our departed loved ones.

Self-care helps us heal. Again and again, I was advised take care of myself. What did that mean? I realized that I had to identify the best self-care strategies for me, and continuing my writing career is one of them. Always a goal-oriented person, I set new goals – small ones, big ones, and even silly ones. Eating right, getting enough exercise, and a good night’s sleep have also helped me survive multiple losses.

Giving helps us heal. I write grief healing books and give many books away. In addition, I give talks about grief recovery and reconciliation. Every time I give a talk I gain more than I give. You may give in many ways, donating to your local hospital in memory of your loved one, making a memory quilt from his or her clothing, or becoming a hospital or nursing home volunteer.

Never give up on hope is the most important thing I learned. Just when life seems darkest, hope appears – a visit from a family member, call from a friend, or help from a stranger. No matter where you are in your grief journey, keep believing in hope. You are worthy of happiness and will heal in time. As time passes, your loved one will become part of you, a soul-mate to remember with love and joy.