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Real Michiana: Clearing the clouds of grief

Real Michiana: Clearing the clouds of grief

ST. JOSEPH, Michigan -- The death of a loved one can be traumatizing no matter the age. One counselor at Lory's Place is helping her groups clear the clouds of grief through openness and understanding.

A mural of the beach wraps around the walls of Lory's Place, a center for grief healing and education.

It's a safe haven where kids, teens, and adults come to peace after the passing of loved ones.

“I was really close with my aunt. Her and I were [in]separable...Like once you hung out with her, your whole world would change," said 15-year-old Drake Warner.

When Drake was in fourth grade, his mom broke the news that his favorite Aunt Cassie--just 21 at the time--had overdosed and died.

“I yelled out no why would she leave us? And I started crying. I can remember it like it was yesterday," he said.

Drake needed a life ring to cling to and found his beacon of light at Lory's Place.

“Grief in itself is just extremely isolating. You have all these feelings inside and you don’t know what to do with them...and if you haven’t experienced a significant death or if you’re not in the midst of grief, you’re not really going to relate in the same level as someone who is sitting at that table," said Amanda Iliff, Family Services Coordinator at the center.

Drake has been attending Amanda's program for years now.

“Amanda is a really good person to talk to. Whenever you’re stressed out or having one of those days, you feel like you don’t want to do anything, you can talk to her. She understands people," he said.

“In my adolescence, I had some significant deaths in my life...so I think I tend to connect a little bit better with them...Not everything is textbook. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being present with people and allowing yourself to fully listen and be attentive to people and supportive," said Amanda.

Even so, she says those moments when someone breaks down are still tough.

“Oh yeah, sometimes it’s extremely painful, but I know that there’s value in it," said Amanda.

“You start to feel better. You make all sorts of connections with other people," said Drake.

They do activities like writing down memories or messages they'd give to their loved ones and storing them in a mason jar. There's a punching bag if they need to take out their anger.

Most importantly, says Amanda, there's a strict confidentiality rule: whatever they say in group stays in group.

“I’d say it’s very rewarding, and from the outside looking in, often times people will ask how do you do that and why do you do that? And it’s because we know that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that if they come in here and they do their grief work and they invest in the programming and invest in each other that a lot of healing will take place," said Amanda.

Drake says Amanda was the one who truly helped him heal. 

Now, he wants to be a grief counselor at Lory's Place to prevent others from meeting the same fate as his aunt.

For more background on how and why Lory's Place was started, click here.

Since the non-profit was founded in 2004, its counselors have helped more than 30,000 people.

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