Michiana family opening family grief support center after losing loved one

PLYMOUTH, Ind. — Dustin Cullen died in a single vehicle car crash in August 2016.

The Bremen husband and father left behind his wife, Viki Brown, and their three children, Caythan, Lilian, and Dean. 

Brown says the death turned her family’s life upside down, but, more than three years after Dustin’s death, they’re now using their grief to empower families in Michiana experiencing a loss. 

Brown is in the process of opening Dustin’s Place. 

“It’s been an amazing journey to sit back and watch,” said Brown. “The fact that Dustin’s [death] is going to be used to help others grieve and that death doesn’t have to just be the end of someone’s life but that it can be the start of other people’s journeys with them.” 

The 501c3 non-profit is a peer support center meant to help children, teens, and their families during the grief process. 

The center, which is slated to open in January, will be one of four child-grief focused peer support centers in Indiana. 

“There are so many families grieving in our community and the surrounding communities that just don’t have the services, whether they can’t afford it or they don’t have the ability to drive to those locations to do it,” said Brown. “It’s just such an important thing that these children have the ability to process the grief that they’re having so they can continue forward in their journey.” 

A recent report says 1 in 12 children in Indiana will experience the death of a parent or sibling before they turn 18. 

That’s more than 129,000 Hoosier kids living everyday without a mother, father, brother, or sister. 

“Childhood trauma is very detrimental,” said Brown. “It holds strong in a child’s life.” 

Brown says a significant death impacts a child’s overall growth and can lead to developmental issues as an adult. 

“I think too many times people say kids are resilient, they’ll get through it, but they grieve too,” said Brown. “It might not look the same as an adult where they’re cuddled in a bed all day long, but they’re still grieving. It looks like failed classes or it looks like upset tummies.” 

At Dustin’s Place, kids and their families will attend group sessions every other Monday based off of their age or relationship to the person they lost. 

The sessions will feature activities meant to discuss the death like, elementary-aged kids making picture frames to encourage them to talk about their loved ones. 

“It takes away the loneliness,” said Brown. “You no longer feel like you’re the only one.”

Brown and her kids went to a peer support center in Goshen, Ryan’s Place, and says it made a huge difference in their grieving process. 

“We sat in the van on the way home and I said, ‘Alright what’d you think?’”said Brown. “Lily… just went on and on. She loved it… but Caythan, sat down and said, ‘You know what mom, there’s a boy there. His name is Ryan. He is seven years old and his dad died too.’ It was that sentence that I realized this is what he needs. He needed to be surrounded by other kids where he was no longer the kid whose dad died.” 

Registration for Dustin’s Place is now open. The center is also looking for volunteers. 

“When you’re in a room with others experiencing it, they don’t just look at you with sympathy,” said Brown. “They are like, ‘Oh I get that. Yeah it does suck to lay in bed at 2 a.m. and not have your husband next to you or yeah, you’re dad doesn’t go to your baseball games anymore and that’s really hard.’ Just knowing someone else truly feels those feelings and you’re not alone, you’re not weird for feeling that way.” 

To register or sign up to volunteer, click here

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